Date Posted: June 26, 2011
Print Edition: June 24, 2011
No matter how you feel about prostitution, the fact of the matter is that the world’s oldest profession isn’t about to go anywhere anytime soon. Prostitution has flourished in the most restrictive societies, and no number of laws, social censure, or punishment are going to make it go away.
Prostitution isn’t illegal in Canada. Every activity surrounding it is, including a ban on bawdy houses, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and living on the avails of the trade. It is these laws that have recently been challenged in Ontario. At first glance, the laws seem reasonable. Nobody wants to be walking down the street and catcalled from a hooker. For that matter, nobody wants to walk down the street and be assailed by street vendors, Mexico-style. Canadians like to be left alone. Making a law to shut up sex workers only allows us to walk by and pretend they’re not prostitutes, and feel better about our cities.
These are nice enough laws for “respectable” citizens, but dangerous ones for sex workers. The ban on communicating for the purposes of prostitution has women jumping into cars with strange men without first discussing price or place and disappearing to who knows where. It has women skulking about dangerous, lonely areas, such as back alleys.
The ban on bawdy houses appears to make the same sort of sense. Who wants to explain to the kids why so many men are coming in and out of the house next door or XXX brothels lining the city sidewalks? But again, all this law has done is put women on the streets, instead of the comparative safety of a home or brothel. This set-up has made it all too easy for the likes of Robert Pickton to prey on sex workers, forced onto the streets and into bad areas.
Making it illegal to live off the profits of prostitution effectively makes every sex worker a criminal. The purpose of prostitution for the vast majority of sex workers is to earn a living. It’s not pocket money. Thus criminalized, calling the police if beaten, threatened, or raped by a customer becomes dangerous. Often, the sex worker gets thrown in jail along with her attacker.
I can think of a myriad of reasons why we shouldn’t condone prostitution: disease, exploitation, gender inequality. But that’s beside the point. If prostitution is going to exist, we need to protect our fellow human beings. Canada’s out of sight, out of mind attitude does nothing to help the problem and everything to perpetuate the danger surrounding the sex trade. Ironically, most people don’t even see sex workers as criminals, but as victims.
Making prostitution illegal doesn’t prevent such victimization; it traps sex workers and perpetuates it. Decriminalization and regulation don’t mean supporting prostitution; they mean supporting women.