Why does anyone even care about prostitutes unless they’re up to no good? Andrew are you doing what I think you’re doing? The answer is I’m not up to no good. I am however very interested in the growth and development of our minds and society.
Why are the rights of sex trade workers important to me? Why should the rights of sex trade workers be important to you? They are human rights, despite what society wants you to believe, and sex workers are people. When the government of Canada, or any government, infringes on the rights of a portion of the population, regardless of size, it sets a precedent; for all of us.
I got interested in the rights of sex workers when, in December of 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCoC) struck down the laws regarding prostitution and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin stated “It is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money”. I, like a lot of other people, were shocked. After doing a bit of reading I discovered that our laws regarding prostitution were imported from England, over a century old, and were only intended to moderate the “nuisance” of prostitution rather than the sexual act itself. (No talking about prostitution, no gathering or organizing for prostitution, and no living off the proceeds of prostitution.) It sounds more like the rules to Fight Club than anything else. Finally, for her degree, my wife had to do a presentation arguing against the legalization and regulation of sex work and I was put to work helping her to do her research. I was surprised to learn that legalizing and regulating the sex trade can go too far as well.
Let’s start at the beginning. Why is prostitution illegal? It is the “oldest profession in the world”. Sex workers have been following around armies since the beginning of recorded history and likely before that. There was even “comfort battalions” for the Imperial Japanese Army during WW2. So why not regulate it? Can you imagine the tax dollars that industry could pull in? What could go wrong? Prostitution is illegal because it is “immoral”. Sex is sacred. Marriage is sacred. Minimizing the act of sexual intercourse to a transaction and making it as readily available as alcohol and tobacco goes against the principles modern nations were built on; Christian principles. The word immoral is used in many communities to outlaw things such as prostitution. There’s only one small problem though; it happens anyway, illegal or not, overseen or ignored.
Is pornography a similar issue? It’s legal. Examine the double standard created simply by having a camera in the room and paying both participants to conduct the sexual act. When actors and actresses are paid to have sex in front of a camera it’s legal and responsible for 30% of internet traffic.
Since most sex workers are women we must also examine patriarchy and objectifying women. For most of human history women have been property. Imagine! Women considered little more than chattel. Women have been subjugated by their patriarchal societies. How long did it take to break the societal bonds and earn such basic human rights as going to school, voting, owning property, joining guilds and unions? It’s no surprise that most pimps are men and it cannot be ignored that sex work sells, or at least leases, the use of objectified body parts.
What about the government? A person’s liberty is an important concept and one that must not be tread upon. The government of Canada, or any government, has no right to tell a person what they can and cannot do with their own body. People sell their bodies for manual labour, medical testing, or for the fluids or hair. We can even scar our bodies with tattoos and piercings and our children’s bodies with religious ceremonies such as circumcision. A balance must be struck between a person’s rights and the people’s demand equality and safety for every member of our society.
Think about regulation. Ok, let’s regulate the tar out of it! We can make sure no one with an STD sells sex. We can make sure no one with an STD buys sex. We can make sure no one with a criminal record or gang affiliation owns or operates a brothel. We can make sure sex workers are licensed, pay taxes, and get regular medical checks. Can’t we? Well if you make the regulations that stringent the majority of sex workers and brothels will continue to operate illegally which defeats the purpose. So if strict regulation won’t work why not try loose regulations. Let’s get sex workers and the names of their establishments and their owners down and at least keep track of them. What would that accomplish? This would be better for tax collection I suppose. But STDs would be an issue and abuse from criminal or former criminal owners would be prevalent.
Sex tourism and human trafficking are additional consequences of legalizing the purchase and sale of prostitution. People touring the world for the best sex trade locations create a greater risk of exposure to STDs for the worker. Legal purchase and sale of sex also creates a demand for more and more young women to be sold. It becomes more likely there will be illegal immigrants and people forced into sex trade against their will.
There are examples of each of these ideas around the world. I won’t mention which countries use which ideas because I do not fully understand every detail of their laws. I will say this: way to go Sweden.
So what works? How do we ensure a woman’s equality? How can we give liberty to the workers to do as they please with their own bodies? How can we protect them from the abuse of a pimp or client? How can we avoid sex tourism and human trafficking? How can we de-shame sex workers, allowing them to be fully honest with their doctor or psychologist/psychiatrist? I think there is a really easy way. Legalize the selling of sex and make illegal the purchase of sex and the operating a brothel.
Think about it. A woman or other sex worker would not be told what they can and cannot do with their body. Liberty and equality covered. Any abuse from a pimp or client can be reported to police with no risk to the sex worker of reprisal or criminal record. Safety somewhat covered since any business involving strangers has inherent risks. No market would be created because technically purchasing sex is illegal. Human trafficking and sex tourism concerns covered. Lastly, there would be no risk of being reported or considered a criminal when disclosing the sex worker’s profession to doctors and therefore they could easily seek medical help.
I’m sure that’s not the solution some were hoping for.
In August 2014 comedian Jim Norton wrote an article titled “In Defence of Johns” stating that people who purchase sex have nothing to be ashamed of. I would agree. There is nothing wrong with the sexual urges humans are programmed with and there is nothing wrong with acting on them.
A succinct rebuttal written by Charlotte Alter titled, “Dear Johns: Actually, You Should Be Ashamed to Buy Sex” states that, “Jim Norton is not entitled to sex but women are are entitled to dignity”. This summarizes perfectly what I’ve been saying and reinforces the need to protect the sex trade worker and outlaw the demoralizing behaviour.
Clearly the debate rages on and will rage on until the end of civilization.
Please let me know what you think.