By Lisa Zengarini
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops’ (CCCB) Commission for Justice and Peace has published a new Pastoral Letter on human trafficking and sexual exploitation in Canada. Titled “For Freedom Christ has Set us Free”, the document focuses on the trafficking of human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation from the perspective of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church, as well the current Canadian law, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA).
The aim is to draw attention to the “inherently exploitative and abusive nature” of the purchase of sex and on the need to continue criminalizing this practice in order to protect the vulnerable.
The introduction reminds sex trafficking in particular is an extremely lucrative, and for the most part unpunished crime with average annual profits from a single $280,000 in Canada alone.
The International Labor Organization estimates that globally there are 4.8 million people trapped in forced sexual exploitation. Between 2009 and 2018 Canada recorded a total of 1,708 police-reported incidents of human trafficking, with 63 percent involving prostitution offences and the number of these incidents have steadily increased since 2010. However, the letter points out that real figures, are much higher, due to theclandestine nature of the crime and the reluctance of witnesses and victims to come forward to the police.
A violation of the principles of the CST
The nine-page infographic version of the letter published on the CCCB website then emphasizes that buying sexual services violates several fundamental principles the Catholic Social Teaching, but particularly the ones relating to the life and dignity of the human person; the rights and responsibilities of the human person; the dignity of work and the rights of workers; the option for the poor and the vulnerable.
Prostitution is not a personal choice
It goes on to explain why prostitution cannot be considered a form of “work” or simply a personal choice. “Treating sex as ‘work’ masks the physical, psychological and sexual violence inflicted on the prostituted person. Prostitution involves selling something that by its nature cannot be bought or sold and is therefore inherently exploitative”, the letter says.
The letter then lists a series of questions and answers regarding the buyers; the victims; what legalization/decriminalization means, what survivors need to exit prostitution and finally what Catholics’ responsibility is on this issue.
97% of victims are girls and women
It draws attention on the fact that in Canada 97% of victims are girls and women and that most prostitutes belong to vulnerable and disadvantaged groups: indigenous girls fleeing violence and neglect; Asian women in brothels with no identification papers and limited English; immigrants who have minimal social supports and experience difficulty adapting to a new country; girls living in group homes, homeless shelters, foster care and those lured through the internet, from malls and from school grounds. The great majority can’t are forced to remain they have no other option for survival.
The violent and exploitative nature of prostitution
Noting the violent and exploitative nature of prostitution, the Canadian Justice and Peace Commission reiterates that it should not be decriminalized or legalized. “Buyers, pimps and traffickers, need to be held accountable for the harm they cause” and “stopping the demand for buying sex is the only way to prevent more crimes”, Pastoral Letter says.
Catholics called to act
Citing Pope Francis’ Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, the Bishops’ Commission therefore calls on Catholics “to open their eyes, to the misery of those who are completely deprived of their dignity and their freedom and to hear their cry for help”: “Catholics are called to follow the example of Jesus Christ who showed compassion to all, especially those suffering, the marginalized, those on the edges of society and those who conceal their needs through shame”, it says.
In closing the letter, the Justice and Peace Commission also urges Canadian authorities to “ensure that the law is upheld in order to halt the continued violations of human dignity in our country”.