Our Lives to Fight For: Students Advocate for the Abolition of Prostitution


“If you stop talking and pay attention, racially and economically marginalized women are telling us very clearly that they do not want their daughters, sisters, aunts, or mothers bought and sold by men.”

By Alexandra Mackenzie | Twitter: @OLTFF

In my fourth year at Simon Fraser University–last year–I took class with an amazing professor who gave us an assignment to create a campaign about a social issue. Nine other women and I chose to create a documentary with an abolitionist perspective on prostitution and trafficking in Canada. We called it: Our Lives to Fight For.

Our film focuses on interviews with activists fighting to end the sexual exploitation of women and girls. However, what started as a simple school project grew into something I believe changed my life. I’d like to share with you what it taught me about advocating for human rights.

You can watch it here:

Our Lives To Fight For from M on Vimeo.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Prostitution is violence against women and a direct deterrent to gender equality. It may be the most normalized human rights violation in existence. Systemic inequalities such as sexism, poverty, abuse, racism, and trafficking coerce our most marginalized women and children into the sex trade. Realizing this taught me to examine my own privilege. But this is about more than just realizing that I am lucky to be white and middle class in Canada. Examining one’s privilege is really about LISTENING. I believe that, as a society, we have failed to listen and as a result we have abandoned our most vulnerable citizens.

In Canada, Aboriginal women are strongly overrepresented in street prostitution, while impoverished women from Asia are trafficked into brothels and massage parlours. When you look at the back of newspapers such as The Georgia Straight, you can see women blatantly advertised to men based on their age, ethnicity, body type, etc. Patriarchal ideologies are so entrenched in our beliefs that we have ceased to even question this and often even frame it as an issue of choice and empowerment.

While there are a very small amount of middle class women who “choose” prostitution, laws are only effective if they protect the most vulnerable and marginalized. This is why legalizing prostitution does not work. In countries, like the Netherlands, where prostitution has been legalized, sex trafficking has increased exponentially. Illegal brothels outnumber the legal ones and disadvantaged women and children are not safer from johns, pimps or traffickers. Most importantly legalization normalizes the male demand for paid sex.

However, if you stop talking and pay attention, racially and economically marginalized women are telling us very clearly that they do not want their daughters, sisters, aunts, or mothers bought and sold by men. These are the voices that we need to place at the forefront of the prostitution debate. Laws surrounding prostitution need to protect the equality, freedom and human dignity of our most disadvantaged women and children. Not the rights of the few privileged women “choosing” prostitution and certainly not the rights of pimps, traffickers and johns.

Realizing my own privilege also taught me that we all have a human obligation to speak out about violence against women. In the past I was too anxious to speak in public or even let anyone read something I had written. While I still have much room for improvement in these areas, I now force myself to speak out and write regardless. Because it simply isn’t about my pride, embarrassment or anxiety, it’s about the women and children who are have been raped, beaten, abused, and degraded because of the male demand for paid sex.

Lastly I want to address the often used excuse for allowing prostitution to continue: “We will never get rid of prostitution, it’s the oldest profession, so we should just accept it”. One of my personal heroes, Trisha Baptie, says: “Abolition as a movement is about dreaming BIGGER. I don’t think people have dreamed as big as full equality.”

We need to envision and work towards a Canada in which no women or child is for sale. We need to demand better from our government and those around us. We need to start listening. There is no other alternative. As I type this, prostituted women will be murdered, beaten, raped, degraded, and dehumanized. We simply do not have time to wait any longer.

“You, a well-trained person, can stand with the abuser or with the rebel, the resister, the revolutionary. You can stand with the sister he is doing it to; and if you are very brave you can try to stand between them so that he has to get through you to get to her. That, by the way, is the meaning of the often misused word ‘choice.’ These are choices. I am asking you to make a choice.” –Andrea Dworkin, 1993

For more information please check out our documentary at www.ourlivestofightfor.wordpress.com.

UPCOMING EVENT: Next Wednesday, Oct. 5, we’ll have a viewing of the film, Our Lives to Fight For, followed by a discussion at the SFU Surrey campus from 7-9pm. Come and learn about the Nordic model of Prostitution law, abolition and why this is crucial for our Canadian women.

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Mackenzie recently graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Communications. She is one of the co-founders of Our Lives to Fight For, a small SFU student group advocating for the abolition of prositution. She hopes to become a human rights lawyer.