Prostitution, Non-State Torture, Bill C-36, and My Letter to MPs

By Jeanne Sarson | Oct 8, 2014

To MPs:
Joy Smith,
Bob Dechert,
Stella Ambler, , and 
Françoise Boivin,
I write to each of you because you were on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights and its study of Bill C-36 when I and my colleague, Linda MacDonald, gave our verbal evidence. We also submitted a brief.  Our evidence, based on over 20 years of grass root work, was to disclose the continuous non-State torture suffered by women who were forcedly prostituted as children and or as women.  Their pimps were their parents, other relatives, guardians, spouses, and other like-minded.  Their homes were not safe.  Women speak of the “torture parties” held in their homes, the homes of others, or other places secured by the torturers.  We expanded on these aspects in our brief entitled, Pimps and Johns: In-house Sexualized Torture of Prostituted Women and Girls is always potentially Life-threatening, submitted to the Senate Standing Committee.

The reasons I write are:

1. To sincerely thank each of you for hearing Linda and I, and others, speak of the reality that pimps and johns inflict non-State torture, more specifically sexualized torture.  I found it most respectful that you each communicated back to us verbally during the hearings using the word “torture”.  This was validating and respectful for the women we support to hear.  It promotes their dignity versus being ignored, dismissed, or told they are lying which has been theirs and our most common experiences. 
2. To express my concern about the incongruency between the instructions for submitting briefs to the House of Commons or Senate Standing Committees and the actual practice. Governmental instructions for submitting briefs clearly state that “recommendations to the committee must be as specific as possible, especially suggested amendments to bills. They must also be summarized at the end of the brief.”  Therefore, Linda and I made the clear recommendation that section 269.1 on torture of the Criminal Code of Canada needed to be amended so that non-State torturers—pimps and johns—be held criminally accountable for acts of torture. It was a disappointment to learn, if I understood correctly, that our recommendation could not operationalized because the topic of torture had not been included in the proposed bill.  There is a serious non-democratic incongruency between the instructions on submitting briefs and the practice that occurred at the hearing. I suggest such an incongruency needs correction.  The positive aspect was being informed that evidence given at Standing Committees becomes legal documentation that can be used in a court of law; how often this occurs I do not know. 
3. Further to the issue of the exclusion, thus invisibilization, of torture in Bill C-36 I want to point out that in Bedford v. Canada, 2010, paragraph 26, reference is made to the physical and psychological torture suffered by Terri Jean Bedford.  Furthermore, in Bedford v. Canada, 2010, paragraph 531, it is implied that pimps and johns can be charged with torturing under section 269.1 on torture.  This is not a legal truth as only State actors can be charged with torturing under section 269.1 unless we are to assume governmental representatives are engaged in pimping or are acting as johns in their governmental positions.  It is unsettling to me that in the Supreme Court rulings of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, [2013] the truth of torture victimization in prostitution disappeared.  I believe this has serious destructive consequences on our evolving social, relational, gendered, and legal culture.
4. That non-State torture perpetrated by non-State actors, pimps and johns in this specific situation, requires a Criminal Code amendment has been Linda and my goal since 1993. 1993 was the year we first listened to a woman’s severe suffering and flashbacks.  Since then, staying present for hours with women who process their flashbacks takes us into the reality that there are those among us who act with intentional brutality.  The torturers’ cruel energy and pleasure at inflicting sexualized brutality is expressed and felt as these accompany flashbacks. Even as I write to you my feelings of their brutal coldness returns creating in me a bone-marrow chill that came when staying present with women’s suffering flashbacks.  The United Nations uses the word human “evil” when referring to torture victimization—it is the only word that comes close to describing the feelings.  Staying present as women describe their destruction, their terrifying and horrifying sense of being treated as an “ìt” or beyond it-ism treated as “a nothing” is being witness to their life-threatening dehumanizing torture ordeals.  Such non-State torture ordeals must not continue to be legally invisibilized, misnamed as an assault, or dismissed by saying only State actors will be held criminally accountable for torturing.  It is wrong that non-State torturers’ intentional and purposeful destruction of women and girls prostituted is not distinctly criminalized in Canada.  Torture is a jus cogens crime. It is an universal human right that no one be subjected to torture that must be protected under all circumstances—this must include women and girls—all persons—who have endured non-State torture in prostitution. 
5. Since Linda and my specific recommendation for the inclusion of non-State torture in Bill C-36 by amending section 269.1 on torture in the Criminal Code could not be tabled I am asking for you assistance to help us find other opportunities for proposing such an amendment to section 269.1 on torture in the Criminal Code of Canada. 
In closing, I specifically repeat my sincere thank you to each of you for hearing and acknowledging that non-State torture happens to women and girls, including as young as toddlers, who are forcedly pimped and trafficked into prostitution.  Linda and I have been working so very hard to find ways to make within our culture an inclusive social and legal space for the women we have come to know so well and for others so tortured. Women often tell us they feel like aliens because of the painful social exclusion they experience because their torture victimization is not socially, culturally, relationally, or legally acknowledged.  This needs to change if our humanity is to progress.

Jeanne Sarson
October 5, 2014 


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