The number of men paying for sex has doubled in the last decade, with approximately one in seven paying for sexual contact at some point. Many men are not deterred when they discover women were trafficked, pimped, or coerced.

On a worldwide scale, approximately 12-18 million adults and two million children are forced into the sex trade. Many trafficked persons come from South America, Africa, East Asia, and Eastern Europe, ending up in North and Central America, Europe and the Middle East.

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Cathy King giving her presentation, with Cara’s red dress nearby. Credit: Amanda Sokal

These facts are from Cathy King’s presentation during Sexual Exploitation Awareness Week in April. King is a social worker and activist. In 1997, her 20-year-old daughter Cara was one of seven missing or murdered women in Edmonton.

King doesn’t focus on consensual acts between consenting adults. Instead, she focuses on protecting children who are neglected, abused, or sexualized.

“Children born into unhappy or abusive circumstances may not know how to be nurturing or protective parents. Adults who are not grounded in respectful and caring relationships may not be able to contribute constructively to their community.”

Why do men purchase sex?

Many have been asked this question at John school. It’s a sentencing program where men arrested for the purpose of purchasing sex and who have no previous criminal record attend a full day class. Attendants listen to former sex trade workers and families of missing and murdered women speak on their experiences.

According to King, these were some reasons given:

  • Many wanted to satisfy an immediate urge.
  • 21 per cent wanted certain stereotypes.
  • 20 per cent were dissatisfied with their current relationship.
  • 15 per cent wanted an encounter with no emotional commitment.
  • Some men would rape someone if they didn’t have access to immediate sex.
  • Others wanted to control the encounter and do things not normally allowed.

Why are some women targeted more than others?

During King’s presentation, she referenced a woman she once interviewed who said, “Why shouldn’t I get paid? I work hard! I make my clients feel good about themselves, and I am discreet. It is the ultimate girlfriend experience! What more can they ask?”

However, few sex trade workers are there voluntarily. Most are trafficked or forced onto the streets by pimps who use mental, physical and financial abuse to keep them enslaved.

Some women enter the trade after being caught up in life on the streets. Others see it as a preferable alternative to low-paying jobs.

Juanita, a sex trade survivor, spoke at the event. She is an educator with CEASE and works with young women who are at risk of being exploited. She survived 22 years on the street. As a child, her grandmother told her “You’re sitting on a goldmine, baby! As long as you have a p**** you’ll never go hungry.”  

What are some solutions?

In 1999, Sweden was the first country to pass legislation prohibiting purchasing sexual services, putting the onus on the customer rather than the sex trade worker. This is known as the Nordic Model. Since then, Norway, Iceland, Northern Ireland, and France have followed suit.  

Kate Quinn, the director of CEASE (The Centre to End All Sexual Exploitation), said when asked if she thinks the model is a good strategy.

“Yes, because it calls on all of us to step up and say we will not tolerate this activity. We will not accept women or children anywhere being exploited or abused. On a small scale we did this in Boyle McCauley.”

Quinn said after her neighbourhood went to city council, many streets were changed to one way streets, making approaching sex trade workers difficult. They also installed signs saying prostitution is not tolerated. These changes helped reduce prostitution in the area.

If you or someone you know needs help, there are resources available:

  • Sexual Assault Centre 780-423-4121
  • CEASE 780-471-6137
  • Crossroads Van 780-405-6539
  • Kindred House 780-424-4091
  • Income Support 780-415-4900
  • Suicide Distress Line 780-482-4357
  • Chrysalis Anti-Human Trafficking Network 1-866-528-7109

Header Image: The main display, using photos of Cara and the theme of the Medicine Wheel. Credit: Amanda Sokal.