Current Justice

Prostitution: by choice or by force?

Red Light Green Light film sheds light on sex trafficking in Canada

One movie turned Michelle Brock’s life upside-down.

It was 2006. Brock was at a conference in Atlanta, Georgia where the organizers were giving away a few hundred tickets to pre-screen a film. Out of 10,000 people in the audience, Brock and her team won six tickets. They saw the film. “Michelle didn’t speak for a few days after,” says Jared Brock, Michelle’s husband.

The film was Trade, a movie on sex trafficking and the modern-day slave industry.  Michelle was rattled to her core. She had witnessed injustice and poverty growing up in Africa, but she physically recoiled against what she calls “a multi-billion dollar industry of rape for pay.”

“We’ll do something about it,” Jared told her.  And they did.  With Jared’s help, Michelle began running banquets, art shows, concerts, and university events to raise awareness. In 2009, on the cusp of college graduation, Michelle applied for an exit grant.

“If you get the grant,” promised Jared, “we’ll make a movie about sex trafficking.”  They knew nothing about making movies. She got the grant, and Jared kept his promise. They bought a camera from eBay, learned how to use it, and drove 11,000 km in 17 days to find out whether sex trafficking was really happening in Canada. Their first film, Enslaved and Exploited: The Story of Sex Trafficking in Canada, was born.

So many people have seen their amateur documentary. It has educated Members of Parliament, border service officers, crisis shelter workers, professors, church leaders, and abolitionists all over Canada.

But their work was not yet done. In 2010, the Brocks decided to give three years of their life pro bono to the making of a second documentary.

Little did they know when they started work on Red Light Green Light they would end up touring this second film just as the Supreme Court of Canada rolled out a decision to decriminalize prostitution. This happened in late December, giving Parliament until the end of 2014 to amend the law.

The Brocks initially didn’t want to concentrate on the legalization issue. It was too inflammatory, too complicated. But the more victims they met, the more research they did, and the more interviews they conducted, the more they knew that prevention was the key to alleviating the mass suffering caused by human trafficking.

Prostitution and human trafficking are intertwining issues.

Demand for paid sex drives the supply. When demand exceeds the supply of willing workers, trafficking inevitably happens. In making their second film, the Brocks flew to investigate the famous social experiment of Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s legal red light district revealed some sad truths: the Brocks discovered that the increased demand for paid sex made it nearly impossible for Amsterdam authorities to prevent mass human trafficking. Does this mean that prohibition is the only solution?

No, say the Brocks, there is a third way, apart from the two extremes of decriminalization and prohibition.

It’s called the Nordic Model, spearheaded by Sweden (the law was passed in Sweden when more than half of its members of parliament were women). Sweden now penalizes sex buyers rather than sex sellers. Research has shown a corresponding decrease in human trafficking. 70 per cent of Swedes are now in favour of the new prostitution laws because it boosts gender equality.

But gender equality gets dicey. Feminists land on both sides of the issue. One side says a woman has a right to sell her body. They are in favour of full decriminalization. If prostitution is her chosen avenue of employment, they say, then it should be a legal profession. The other side favours the Nordic Model. Women are disproportionately victimized by the prostitution industry, they say. So penalizing Johns rather than prostitutes upholds a woman’s right to safety and a prostitute’s access to exit programs.  Greater still, it gives everyone else the right not to be trafficked.

Red Light Green Light will be screening across Canada this spring. I caught up with Jared and Michelle Brock at a recent Vancouver event. Jared bustled around the venue, exuding energy, making connections. “We work 16 hours a day,” he said. “I get 200 emails daily, we were in Halifax just three weeks ago. Today we were on the radio, on television, published in Huffington Post. It’s crazy.”

“But I’m just the sidekick, the supportive husband,” Jared says.  “This is Michelle’s calling. It’s her baby.”

If a supportive sidekick can give three years of his life, maybe I can give a few hours to pursue the truth about human trafficking.

Jared and Michelle Brock can be found online at Visit to watch the trailer, to sign the petition to prevent sex trafficking in Canada, and to find a screening near you in Spring 2014.

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of The Light Magazine.

Flickr photo (cc) by podoboq