Editorial Comment

Legalizing S.T.E.W.S.

 

The Ontario Court of Appeal, the august body that, over twenty years ago, allowed women to go topless in their jurisdiction, recently reviewed laws that historically banned three major sex trade activities. The court heard evidence these laws did more harm than good in protecting the safety of whoopie workers. The move is hailed as a victory for rent-a-romance service providers but others in the industry claim it legalizes the worst elements of the business. (For brevity sake let’s call them STEWs; short for a non-existent but possible future labour union; the Sex Trade and Eroticism Workers.)
The first law kicked to the curb was one disallowing STEWs to ply their trade in a dwelling. The court agreed this law forced STEWs into the street to transact their business. They felt seedy motels and parking garages are more dangerous for nookie merchants than their own abode, although having this type of clientele know your home address may not be particularly safe, either. Now it will be possible to open legal brothels within 12 months of the ruling, unless an appeal is sought. Understandably, parent groups and religious leaders have expressed views ranging from alarm to outrage. They see it as the government ignoring the majority to encourage a freedom only sought after by a morally challenged minority. It does seem as though moral behaviour is being chiselled away, often by people claiming to champion freedom. Many religious leaders feel they are ignored when they try and exercise their right to free speech; being condemned as “out of touch” if they don’t cave to the new freedoms. 
The next law discarded by the court dealt with STEWs’ support workers; drivers and bodyguards essential for the profession. The court specifically retained passages that ban living off the avails of prostitution in an exploitive way or “pimping”. Still, it is probable legalizing STEWs support workers will make it harder to prosecute cases where oppression exists. 
The third illegal activity reviewed by the courts dealt with communicating for the purpose of prostitution which was upheld as a reasonable limit to the freedom of expression. The province will therefore allow all activities associated with prostitution except talking about it. How truly Canadian. At least there won’t be scantily clad women adorning windows along streets as they have in Amsterdam.
The provincial court rulings were the perfect two-pronged pass in legal and political circles. The edict will force both the federal Justice Department and every municipal government to examine the law and see where it fits in with their respective jurisdictions. The federal government, when the law is inevitably appealed to the Supreme Court, will be forced to scrutinize all legislation dealing with prostitution. They must make adjustments to satisfy a number of masters. There’s public order and decency to consider while factoring in, worker safety in “the world’s oldest profession”, while bearing in mind everyone’s rights and freedoms. Municipal governments, as when they were forced to accept strip clubs and body rub parlours, will have to make allowances in their zoning areas for the new entrepreneurs. They will bear the biggest brunt of the court decisions, being the government closest to the people.
This ruling raises fundamental question regarding the obligations societies have toward its members. How much responsibility should society accept if someone chooses a high risk occupation? Bear in mind at no time in Canada has prostitution been illegal, just activities associated with it. The answer is the government does, indeed, intervene in high risk jobs to minimize the danger to the workers. Safety equipment for oilmen, fall gear for roofers, and bullet-proof glass for cabbies are just a few examples of the government legislating safety practises in the workplace.
Unfortunately, however, the type of STEW that will be protected by these new realities will not be the ones that need protection the most. High-priced call girls with a head for business already have the apparatus in place. The new laws will bring them a semblance of legitimacy. They may even pay the appropriate amount of taxes. The sad fact remains that the women it won’t help are the under-aged, the substance-dependant and the mentally challenged; the most vulnerable to violence in this particular job.
For these women, a life on the streets is not a choice they make because they would rather please clients for money than work a nine-to-five. These unfortunates end up in the trade through coercion, naivety, or even downright stupidity. Most arrive there likely having made a number of bad choices long before ever choosing to be a STEW. 
There was another way the court could have gone, rather than throwing open the doors to houses of ill repute. We could have done like In some countries, such as Sweden, where the sex trade is policed from a whole different approach where only the person buying sex is breaking the law. The law makers have made a decision in those places where the blame clearly lies in sex-for-money transactions, and enacted laws accordingly.  Surely this is better than arresting victims, although sometimes police intervention is the only conduit to social workers some of these girls may ever get.
The province has 60 days to appeal the ruling before any changes can take effect and will also be delayed while the Supreme Court of Canada deals with the expected appeal.
Hopefully, that court will recognize some of the unintended results of relaxing prostitution laws. For one thing, by sending it to the feds, Ontario has made their problem everyone’s problem. It won’t be long before STEWs demand brothels in your community no matter what province you reside in.  Thanks Ontario.
Germany writhed in the throes of this very issue a decade ago, and ultimately legitimized prostitution as a business. It created quite a furor when a 57 year-old woman was denied employment insurance benefits because she refused a job at a brothel; a legitimate business enterprise.
Is this the road we wish to follow?



 
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