OTTAWA — More than a week after the Conservatives introduced their controversial prostitution bill, one of their own MPs, Joy Smith, acknowledged the government had failed to get its message across and build support for the legislation.
The media focused on the interests of a small minority of sex workers with well-paid lobbyists, she told reporters Thursday. The voices of victims, those "prostituted and trafficked women, girls and young boys," had not been heard, Smith said.
In an interview with the Huffington Post Canada last week, Andrea Mrozek, the executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, said she felt Justice Minister Peter MacKay had not spent enough time talking about the victimization of women in the sex trade. Conservative backbencher Brad Trost also expressed concerns that the government had lost the public relations battle.
In an attempt to address those concerns, Smith stood Thursday next to a former prostitute, a brothel manager and a survivor of human trafficking. She hoped their "real story" would help build stronger support for bill C-36, "Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act."
Katrina MacLeod, 41, told reporters it does not matter where prostitution happens — abuse still occurs. Opponents of the bill argue it will drive prostitutes into more isolated and dangerous areas and prevent them from adequately screening their clients because johns will worry that they'll be charged by police. MacLeod argued no location was safe. She had sex in brothels and in her car but was assaulted, raped, her jaw dislocated and her hair pulled wherever she was, she said.
Here is her story, in her own words:
"I was actually 21 years old when I entered the sex trade, which is a lot older than most of the girls who entered. I was attending a women's abuse course — it was like counselling for women who had been abused — and… one of the ladies who was also attending, she offered me a job in her parlour. And she convinced me that I could get away from my abuser, as well as I could support my children. I had two children at that time. And at that moment, for me, I felt that what was the difference between getting abused at home or getting abused at work? And I took the job.
"I had already been molested and raped as a child, from the age of five. So I was very — uh abuse wasn't new to me. So these were things that were instilled into me before ever entering the sex trade. And that's what a lot of women suffer of. That's what happens, is you lose your worth somewhere along the line, when you are abused as a child, you feel like this is what men do.
"I spent 15 years in the sex trade. And it's a very — there's a pattern for most women. Is you get in, and all of a sudden you are seeing all this money, and you're like your head is swelling up and you're like 'Oh my gosh, all these men are paying attention to me.' Because really that's what we're looking for, when we are young and feel like we have nothing, we are looking for that father figure, we are looking for attention, we are looking for love. But that doesn't last very long, because the shame starts to kick in, and you realize what you are doing is wrong, but now you are addicted because of the money. So what happens is you need to numb yourself, and, numbing yourself, you start to take drugs. And you become an addict. And you get trapped.
"And after you spend more time in the sex trade, you feel that there is nothing that you are good for, and this is the only thing that you can do. I mean, what would I have put on my résumé? Ex-prostitute? It wouldn't have worked.
"It was actually a customer who helped me get out of the industry, but by getting me out of the industry, I became his own sexual prostitute.
"My customer was somebody who had come in and asked me the first time, 'Why are you here? You don't belong here.' Things that I longed to hear. Really wanted to know what had put me there, and emotionally I fell for it. And for then I started to feel guilty, for the first time, about having sex with other men. Because now I had been thinking about him. And he offered me an out of financial support, that he would take care of my kids, and myself financially if I left.
"And he did. He did take care of me and my kids financially for almost three years. But in those three years, I wasn't really allowed to do anything. I was starting to advocate for women. But then he came to me one day and he told me that I should consider doing webcam. So I knew right then and there, my worth meant nothing to him. He ended up leaving, and he left me homeless. And I had nowhere to go.
"So I actually at that point, had made an appointment with an old customer, 'cause I felt I had no way to make money. And I can tell you, I remember going to the hotel room and sitting on the bed, and looking at this customer, and going 'Kat, you can't do this. If you do this, you are never coming back. I am going to disappoint the girls that I have been helping. I'm going to disappoint people and hurt my children.' And my daughter's church had offered to help me financially as well as some mentors in her church. And I took the money. And they paid my first and last [month rent], and my spiritual parents have been walking with me ever since.
"That was … it's been almost three years now."
MacLeod and the other women, Casandra Diamond and Timea Nagy, said they were pleased with the legislation and a financial pledge of $20 million to help get prostitutes off the street. They all said they supported a new change that criminalizes prostitutes if they sell their services anywhere children or teenagers could be near.
If she had been arrested, MacLeod said, it would have made her realize that "there were consequences to my actions." She told reporters she believed the bill would force police to offer prostitutes help, in cases where they might be arrested.
Diamond said she was involved in the sex trade for more than 10 years and spent most of those years operating brothels disguised as massage parlours. Like MacLeod, she said she was also abused as of the age of five. By the time she was eight, Diamond said, she had been raped and abused by several pedophiles.
"Abuse was normal," she said.
In that light, she thought that what she was doing in the parlours where she counselled women not to sleep with clients was providing a clean and "safe space" for the women, she said. "I thought I really was doing them a favour and protecting them," she added.
"There were not laws in place to show me that actually, no, society doesn't accept this. It is not right to be exploiting people, no matter your station in life," Diamond said.
"So should I have been criminally charged? Absolutely. I affected many people's lives, ma'am.
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