The Traded Sex - The Decriminalization Debate, and why yelling with your fingers in your ears isn’t solving any problems
Everyone who does know Canada’s laws will be able to tell you that Legalizing Prostitution is not the solution, because, as I’ve mentioned, the practice is already perfectly legal. It’s just the talking part that’s illegal, and the indoor facilities that house the messier bits…which of course makes perfect sense.
The raging debate tends to be over whether or not prostitution should be Decriminalized…that is, should we regulate the process and put women indoors in windows a la Amsterdam and rake in tax revenues? This is a stance taken on by several feminist organizations and pragmatists in the name of cleaning up the streets, regulating the now chaotic industry, and stopping the women involved from fearing the agencies meant to protect them, like crown prosecutors and police.
This regulation would ensure condom use, HIV tests, and clean sheets. It might provide security, saving some lives in the most direct way. And since the survival sex trade is already visible to anyone driving down Hastings or Kingsway, then we might as well have window displays, and make a few bucks of revenue in the process. And so the argument goes.
Others feel that the practice should be outright illegal, and there’s a lot of feminists and pragmatists on that side, too. The act of selling one’s body, often fuelled by forces of extreme poverty and desperation, is degrading and speaks to social problems that should be solved in other ways. The fact that most sex trade workers are women (and often are girls) speaks to the misogynistic nature of the industry - this is not something that the government should sanction. Amsterdam, with its safely enclosed spaces and sexy window dressings, has a dark underbelly.
HIV positive women and those with addiction issues rarely work in the legally sanctioned brothels, but they surround them, and live off of the tourist industry of Johns that pours into Amsterdam to seek out an easy lay. Legalized prostitution rarely solves the issue of survival sex workers, who remain on the outskirts of the law and are the most likely to be victimized. The legalization of prostitution creates not only a boom in Johns from far and wide, but also women - women from Eastern Europe or Asia or Africa, sold, enslaved, promised a job elsewhere, put into debt by their journey, beaten, raped…it’s not a nice story.
Those interested in Human Trafficking, or how women the world over are bought and sold so that men can buy sex, should look into the subject - the movie Lilya 4 Ever is a stunning film based on poverty, prostitution, and sex slaves, and will having you sobbing into your puppy for weeks on end.
The argument between Decriminalizing or Criminalizing waged on and neither camps were saying much to the other besides ’you’re stupid,’ and ’you hate women.’
This created an impasse which went nicely with the stance of most politicians, who didn’t want to have to talk about Prostitution anyways.
A nice update has come from the land of ice, snow, and vampires…aka socialist paradise Sweden. Sweden passed a law a few years ago which criminalizes pimps and johns but leaves the sex trade workers themselves alone, and thus capable of going to police, reporting bad dates, and seeking out social services.
This law will often be summarized as “criminalize the men, help the women.” And while I agree with the nature of the law itself, I dislike the stereotypes it implies, and the anti-male sentiment which encourages (mostly male) politicians and law makers to not go near the issue of prostitution, and discourages an entire half of the population from caring. I myself am as guilty as anyone in this respect…so I’ll take this moment to try and correct myself: Both men and women and boys and girls can be, and are, sexually exploited. There are male and female sex trade workers, male and female pimps, and male and female consumers of sex. Women can commit horrible actions, just as men can. The language of ‘men = johns’ and ‘women = workers’ is meant to represent the vast majority of situations and victimizations, as well as my personal knowledge on the subject. However, that is not solely the case and we would do well to remember that, too.
And finally: occasionally, individuals will cite ‘moral objections’ to the legalization of prostitution. Morality, being a vague and individualistic term, is difficult to pin down, but can usually be translated as follows: a) it makes me feel icky, b) it is unfamiliar to my cultural norms and therefore confusing and/or hateful, or c) I lack further evidence and therefore am citing my view as a religious stance to support an otherwise unfounded argument. And sometimes, people use the term ‘morals’ as a synonym for ‘ethics’ - if you yourself do this, please don’t. Ethics are discussion of right, wrong and permissible behaviours based on logic, reason, and orderly thought. Morals are…not.