Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Safety of Prostitutes

It was decided a long time ago not to criminalize prostitutes. For thousands of years (it is "the world's oldest profession" after all), prostitutes were treated like thieves, or at least like public nuisances. Gradually, our legal system discovered that many prostitutes were victims of circumstances (or of patriarchy, or of gangsters) and couldn't bring itself to punish them for their own bad luck,

But we still didn't want it as a society. We didn't want women on street corners propositioning men in front of families. We didn't want men driving cars slowly down streets where prostitutes were known to work and propositioning daughters and wives of decent folk. Hence the laws against communicating for the purposes of prostitution.

We didn't want houses of ill-repute, brothels, operating openly, with all the imagined shouting, fighting, fornicating, and accompanying criminal activity and overall bad influences on the community they were presumed to bring. Hence the laws against keeping a common bawdy house.

We wanted to go after the exploitative pimps who we all knew were keeping poor women trapped in prostitution and taking the bulk of their earnings for themselves to finance their repulsive lifestyles. Hence the laws against living off the avails of prostitution.

But the Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled against all those laws saying they denied the freedom and safety of the person Charter rights of prostitutes. For reasons you can look up if you're so inclined.

Proponents for the freedom of sex-workers to be sex workers were delighted, whereas social conservatives and feminists for the abolition of prostitution were appalled. The fraudulently-installed harper regime, under the leadership of our moronic, corrupt "Justice Minister" Peter MacKay returned with a law (which will surely be tossed-out upon a challenge), based partially on what is known as the "Nordic Model" of prostitution regulation; in that it targets the clients, the buyers of sex, rather than the prostitutes themselves, the sellers of sex. (It also criminalizes prostitutes though, outlawing communication for the purposes of prostitution, and providing criminal penalties for conducting the business anywhere near where a child might come into contact with it. This bit of overreach is what will doubtlessly have the law thrown out.)

When all is said and done, I think the reality of prostitution for most people who have ever been in the trade has been a bad thing. And therefore, I'm prepared to say that if the "Nordic Model" works, and it really reduces prostitution without producing all the dangers for those who remain in the trade (especially if it doesn't reduce their numbers by all that much, producing an absolute increase in human misery) then it should be tried.

As a result there is a heated debate between sex-workers and their advocates and abolitionists. The sex-workers accuse the abolitionists of making their lives more difficult and dangerous and the abolitionists accuse the sex-worker freedom advocates of being dupes to patriarchy and, furthermore, that they are putting their imagined "freedoms" before the actual sufferings of other women (especially minorities, especially - in Canada - indigenous women, who are disproportionately forced into the trade). As Sooey Says says, it is unfair to blame abolitionist feminists for the male violence that they claim will result from this continued criminalization.

I'd like to offer some of my own speculation. All of the things that sex-worker freedom advocates talk about: Operating from a safe space, having a phone number to screen calls, having a security system, ... don't apply to some poor woman, perhaps a drug-addict, working the street. But much more work is going to be necessary in our society be able to stop poor women from going out to the streets in desperation to  try to sell their bodies. Aboriginal rights activists and feminists,, especially those who had been former sex workers themselves, ... that's not going to have much impact on the desperately poor aboriginal women who are going to inevitably find themselves in the trade.

What is needed is genuine alternatives to prostitution. (Which is why I wonder about the persistence of prostitution in the Nordic countries with their advanced welfare states.)

What is needed is an assault on the mental prejudices, such as misogyny, that poison society in all sorts of areas, including the sex trade. But racism is another one. Less misogyny and racism will mean greater equality and social justice for racialized minority women in our society and less likelihood that if a man finds himself with a prostitute who is a racialized minority female, that he will feel ENTITLED to treat her like garbage.

My position is that there is nothing inherently wrong with prostitution per se., but there is a lot wrong with our society. There is so much wrong with our society, that if the Nordic Model works, then it should be implemented. But if the Nordic Model doesn't reduce prostitution by as much as its advocates claim and it makes things more dangerous for those who remain, then it should be abandoned.

There is nothing inherently wrong with coffee really. But it is often harvested by exploited peasants who are murdered if they organize against their exploitation. There is nothing inherently wrong with lap-tops, but they contain the mineral coltran, which is often mined by child slaves, and they are often manufactured in Chinese sweat-shops by workers whose working conditions sometimes drive them to suicide. We continue to  drink coffee and work on our lap-tops while issuing blanket condemnations of prostitution and calling for its utter abolition. And, no, I'm not trying to back-handedly condemn abolitionists of glaring hypocrisy. I'm saying only what my words say: That I believe there is nothing inherently wrong with prostitution but I recognize that the conditions for most prostitutes are appalling. It is the factors (anti-sex psychoses/misogyny/racism/economic injustice) that make it horrible that should be attacked. But that's true with or without the Nordic Model.

Here ends my series on prostitution.


Scotian said...

Thank you for one of the better works on this topic I've come across as of late. I have a fair bit to do today so I am just going to think about what I've read and give you a more detailed response to your entire series later, but I didn't want to leave without first saying that I am very appreciative of what you wrote. I see many of the problems with prostitution having far more to do with societal attitudes in various issues including the ones you listed but also about sex/sexuality itself. Well, that is enough for the moment, I'll get back to you later today or tomorrow.

thwap said...

Thanks Scotian. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the kiwi model is the only real way to go.

John King said...
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