My name is Alice Lee, and I am speaking as a member of the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution. We are a Canadian Asian women feminist group based in Vancouver. Our membership represents a range of life experiences common to Asian women including prostituted women, as immigrants, naturalized Canadians, permanent residents, foreign students and Canadian born offspring of Asian immigrants. We are a volunteer group with extensive front line work experience. Many of our members have provided concrete aid and support to battered and raped women including prostituted women.
Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution has applied for leave to intervene in the Bedford vs Canada Supreme Court of Canada case and we have been granted intervenor status.
We work on this issue because as Asian women, we have a major stake in how society chooses to deal with prostitution. Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution is very concerned that Asian women are being prostituted from indoor venues such as massage parlours; that Asian women are already disproportionately represented in indoor prostitution; and that many more Asian women will be placed in these venues for prostitution if police are no longer mandated to investigate. We know 80-90% of women prostituted in licensed massage parlours in the lower mainland are of Asian descent. This percentage does not include those that are not licensed. The majority of women who are prostituted are poor and women of colour. This is true worldwide and Canada and Vancouver is no exception. The promotion and practice of prostitution serves to uphold the racist and sexist stereotypes and imposes a tremendous burden on Asian women, making us clear targets for the industry.
There is no question that women in prostitution face violence. We are concerned that any development that normalizes prostitution will also normalize the violence and coercive tactics used on women in prostitution. We are concerned that this violence is currently not recognized, ignored or effectively prevented because the acts of violence and coercion takes place indoors, in private spaces and is hidden. For Asian women these spaces include the Asian massage parlours that operate throughout the lower mainland of Vancouver.
We believe that it would be more just to stop arresting women who are prostituted while still allowing police and our criminal justice system to continue to arrest and prosecute the men who are the buyers, sellers and profiteers from prostitution.
The decision of the Bedford court case will have a direct and critical impact on Asian women’s ability to self determine, as individuals or as a group. Prostitution promotes very racist ideas and imposes those stereotypes on all Asian women. Any steps to normalize prostitution makes it much harder for Asian women, women of colour and aboriginal women to effectively defend ourselves from racism and discrimination.
Normalizing prostitution will normalize the racism and sexism that impede Asian women’s ability to have access to the equal protection of Charter rights such as security of the person.
We hope to help the court come to a conclusion that takes the racist and sexist impacts on women into account.