Editorial Comment

Protecting Prostitutes

    One of the most newsworthy events in Canada in 2013, was the Supreme Court striking down prostitution laws and the peripheral activities that go along with it. They have given the government one year to either introduce legislation that protects the safety of sex-trade workers, or risk having another legal vacuum as we have with abortion legislation.
    Now, admittedly, I am no expert on prostitution. There is no red light district in Calmar, that I am aware of, so it isn’t an issue that has ever really impacted on me, or those around me. Besides the obvious moral aspects, not to mention the “ick” factor, I would be too afraid of disease to seek out a professional tryst, anyway, even if such services were available locally. However, that is just me. I’ve seen figures suggesting having sex available to people in a legal and responsible way may actually reduce sexual assault statistics. In some cases, being able to hire non-emotionally attached sex partners, to make up for a libido gap in marriage partners, is the answer that saves the union. This would likely be a rarer situation than a sex trade worker ruining a marriage, but even that may change if the trade gains legitimacy.
    Despite my lack of firsthand experience with the sex trade, having read about the issue as it has unfolded in the Canadian media, it seems there are two types of prostitutes. There is the self-directed variety, which goes into the trade with their eyes wide open and can make a good living off the avails. Then there is the other-directed type, the kind that falls victim to a pimp and winds up far worse off than she or he was when they began turning tricks.
    The problem is that the laws kicked to the curb by the Supremes served to deal with the worst elements of the other-directed worker. There is a huge difference between a pimp that bribes, coerces or otherwise forces women into the sex trade, and a guy hired to provide security for a self-directed call girl. Both are living off the avails of prostitution, but in these examples, one is the boss and the other is the employee. These are very different situations and the new law that is created, well, hopefully created and not neglected, will have to take into account the difference.
    Similar concerns arise over the “keeping a common bawdy house” legislation that the clock is currently ticking on. I appreciate it does create a heightened danger for call girls to use their own dwelling to entertain their customers.  On the other hand, are we ready for red light districts to begin popping up in strip malls? It seems unfair to change a law to protect such a small segment of the population if it allows a business that is morally repugnant to a large sector of society to flourish. Is society for the majority or for a small minority?
    It does seem odd the Supreme Court is so concerned about protecting people who are making a lifestyle choice that is essentially dangerous and contrary to the morals of the majority of the citizenry, not to mention, is often transacted illegally. Without society changing their minds on it, prostitution appeared to go from illegal, to being legal with many restrictions, to being legal with no restrictions, other than taxes and licensing in a fairly short time. How did this happen? Who benefited from it? What is next… being not only legal, but government run? Crown corporation bordellos?  It isn’t out of the realm of possibility. After prohibition, the government took over liquor distribution from the gangsters; and managed to get into the gambling business, too. It’s hard to tell the government from the gangsters!
    The segment of society that has no connections to the sex trade does find it unsettling when the pro-hooker forces use the language of industry when discussing sex-trade workers rights and whatnot, as if they are no different than welders or seamstresses or teachers. The fact is, they are different. There aren’t social services outreach workers trying to talk welders and teachers out of their profession like they do for prostitutes. As parents, we all want our kids to get good honest work, but we do not want our children to go into the sex trade, even if they’re wildly successful. Call it a hold-over from outdated mores or a reflection of the rampant moral decay prevalent in society, but either way, it would not be something a mother would brag about to her friends.  Old, perhaps, but it’s not a vocation that’s been respected throughout history, yet the highest court in the land deemed sex worker safety issues important enough for them to address. I don’t recall the Supreme Court weighing in on the safety of 7/11 employees or cabbies or warehouse workers. Why do they have a particular affection for this trade?
    I suppose it could be argued having the flesh industry regulated would provide some positives for society, health and safety-wise.  At least the workers would be checked for disease, and tracking contacts to advise if there are problems would be easier. Still, it begs the question how much responsibility society should bear for individuals choosing to do something illegal. Making the profession legal doesn’t change the nature of it. It is not a profession like any other. Trying to make it fit the “normal job” template is a slippery slope. I once read a story in Der Spiegel about a 60 year-old German woman denied unemployment benefits because she refused work at a licensed brothel. It was, after all, a legal activity and gainful, taxable employment. Those who think it can’t happen here may want to think again. Pandora’s box has now been opened on prostitution in Canada and there’s no way to put that genie back into that metaphorically mixed can of worms.  

Your move, Mr. Harper.

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