About 15 per cent of men pay for sex, according to statistics compiled by Melissa Farley at the Prostitution Research and Education website.
The majority of these men are 24 to 27 years old, fathers and college-educated men.
Statistics like this are one reason why the Christian & Missionary Alliance denomination established a justice initiative known as Defend Dignity to address the issue of prostitution and lobby for its abolition in Canada.
“We call ourselves an abolitionist organization,” Rev. Tyrone McKenzie, pastor of Lawson Heights Alliance Church, says. “Our aim is to get a groundswell of support for the issue by making connections with churches, women’s and faith-based groups, and non-governmental organizations.”
Defend Dignity came out of the work Regina-born Glendyne Gerrard was doing in C&MA women’s ministry and her personal experiences connecting with poor and oppressed women. Gerrard is now Defend Dignity’s director.
“She kept coming in contact with women affected by prostitution,” McKenzie says, “and as that contact grew, Defend Dignity became an organization of its own.”
Defend Dignity focuses on advocacy at the local and national level. The group works to connect locally with informational forums in churches across the country, and federally with members of Parliament. The organization has strong ties with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, which does most of the work at the federal level.
EFC’s political analyst Julia Beazley will be in Saskatoon to speak at a Defend Dignity forum being held on Sunday at Circle Drive Alliance Church, beginning at 6 p.m.
Amanda Stephenson, one of the event organizers, says the forum is travelling to a dozen cities across Canada. In Saskatchewan, Defend Dignity will hold events in Regina, Prince Albert and Saskatoon.
A group of experts will speak on the topic of prostitution in Canada. One of the speakers is Beatrice Littlechief, a former prostitute who is now an emergency services manager at Soul’s Harbour, a rescue mission in Regina. Other speakers include a police officer from Calgary, a political analyst, a representative from the Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women organization, and Jordon Cooper from The Lighthouse in Saskatoon.
A number of civic, provincial and federal politicians will also be in attendance to hear what the general public has to say on the issue.
“The purpose of the event is to get information out there,” Stephenson says. “People attending can participate by texting their questions throughout the event and having them answered by the panel.”
Stephenson says there will be a networking component to the evening, as “10 different local organizations, including The Lighthouse, The Bridge, Salvation Army and John School (which rehabilitates johns) will be on site with information booths.”
McKenzie says the biggest reason he is involved in Defend Dignity is because it is evident in scripture that Jesus cared for women who were affected by prostitution and sexual exploitation.
“As a follower of Christ, I, too, need to have compassion and advocate for victims of violence and prostitution,” he says. “The second reason is that there is a real need for men in our congregations to come to grips with the issue of pornography, which drives the whole prostitution industry. I find the statistics on pornography to be shocking.
“If I could do one day over again, it would be the day nude pictures flashed around playground in Grade 5. For many men, that was their first exposure to pornography, and in one way or another, they were affected. I believe no matter where we’ve encountered pornography, we can address the topic and take steps toward personal healing and wholeness. In our congregation, we’re trying to provide a solution for our men by getting them involved in the Harbour of Hope at The Lighthouse doing handyman renovations.”
One member of Parliament told the group if 50 MPs received 60 letters a month on a particular issue, and seven to 10 personal visits, that could be enough impetus for the government to put the issue at the top of its agenda. The event will provide an opportunity to write letters on the subject of prostitution to MPs, the prime minister and the minister of justice.
Stephenson says Sunday’s forum is free and open to everyone.
“We’re encouraging youth and young adults to make it a priority,” she says. “I grew up in Saskatoon and lived a very sheltered life. I didn’t know the realities of trafficking and prostitution until a couple of years ago.
“So many people, especially in the church, don’t want to admit it exists. But it does. This event is purely educational, to let people know what’s happening in our city.”
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