“These are normal people—extremely normal people from all walks of life…”
—SunNews describing pro-life protesters
“These are normal people—extremely normal people from all walks of life…”
Last updated April 18, 2012.
A recent class with a pro-legalization instructor has spurred me to put down a lot of what I’ve been wanting to write since finding out about the Bedford v. Canada case. I will probably be emailing this to my instructor and the entire class — after sleeping on it.
The topic of prostitution and its legalization was brought up in our previous Human Sexuality class. I had briefly noted a concern, but there was no opportunity in class for debate, so I would like to connect with you all and share my views here. This is made more urgent for me since having read the chapter in our textbook and finding a stunning level of bias and lack of academic integrity. I think prostitution is an important issue for child and youth workers to understand, especially those who would be working with homeless youth. If you are interested in learning more about prostitution but would like to skip my soapbox, I have included some links to articles and resources below.
Having a concern for the development of children and youth and an essential concern for their mental, social, and physical health from an ecological perspective, I believe it is unconscionable for a CYW to express support for prostitution to any degree. We would not say that child abuse or domestic abuse should be legalized because many children choose to stay with their parents and many women choose to stay with their partners, and we would not punish children for being abused; yet, when it comes to prostitution, we make the uncritical assumption that women and girls in prostitution are free agents, downplaying the inherent abusiveness of the industry, and we treat women legally as if they were commodities to be regulated, legalized or prohibited, like alcohol or marijuana (one is not concerned about bottles of beer being emotionally abused, beaten, and raped).
We learned in our last Responding To Abuse class about the impacts of trauma on the brain. Prostitutes have an extraordinarily high rate of post traumatic stress disorder. One study of prostitution in San Francisco found that as adults in prostitution 68% of respondents met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis. It also found that while working as prostitutes 82% had been physically assaulted, 83% had been threatened with a weapon, and 68% had been raped; seventy-five percent reported having a drug abuse problem, while 27% reported having an alcohol abuse problem; 57% reported a history of childhood sexual abuse by an average of 3 perpetrators and 49% reported having been bruised or injured by a caretaker.
In prostitution, physical, verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse are not risks — they are an expectation, and in many cases routine. Given the abuse suffered by people in prostitution, which is no less than in any abusive family environment, and which they must accept in remaining in prostitution, it is little wonder that the average age of entry into prostitution has been often cited as being as yount as 12 to 13 in the United States and early to mid teens in Canada; prostitution is a predatory industry that can be sustained only by exploiting the members of our society that are most vulnerable physically, mentally, socially, and economically. As CYWs with an ecological perspective we have a professional imperative to remove children and youth from prostitution and to help adults escape it, just as we would remove children from abusive families and help women escape from abusive partners.
Despite the difficulty of obtaining accurate data on prostitution, especially indoor prostitution (pimps in brothels aren’t going to just present their underage girls to be surveyed by researchers), all evidence point to increases in trafficking and child prostitution, as well as a general increase in exploited women, following legalization. (See links below.)
Not only is there scarce evidence of harm reduction from legalization precedents around the world, arguing that the recent Ontario court judgment will lead to a reduction in child prostitution and trafficking turns reason on its head. The Bedford case has little to do with harm reduction for prostitutes. It is a constitutional challenge. Making something a constitutional right makes it more difficult to regulate, not easier! Furthermore, it is not any constitutional right of prostitutes that the court is affirming but the constitutional right of pimps to “life, liberty and security”. Meaning: we need to protect the pimps because, obviously, they cannot survive without selling women.
The prostitutes on the streets will continue to be victimized by the system. The only thing that might have helped street prostitutes — repealing the communicating provision that prevented prostitutes from screening customers for safety and which resulted in police repression that has endangered prostitutes — was rejected by the court largely on account of the “nuisance” associated with street prostitution. In other words, street prostitutes are punished largely for the actions of pimps, johns, and drug dealers. Pimps now have the constitutional right to sell women, whereas prostitutes can still be treated as criminals. Incidentally, no consideration is given while granting constitutional rights to pimps to the nuisance of child prostitution and trafficking caused by pimps and the potential nuisance of pimps operating, advertising, and recruiting overtly.
Another disturbing aspect of the court case is in its language of “exploitative” and “non-exploitative”, which assumes that prostitution is generally non-exploitative with exceptions. Suddenly, within this legal context we cannot describe the reality of the prostitution industry, which is: generally exploitative with arguable exceptions.
It is probably from this assumption of non-exploitation that pro-legalization proponents derive their other assumption that allowing for brothels and hired staff makes prositutes safe. This is a red herring since this case is really about giving pimps the constitutional right to sell women, and pimps are the primary — arguably the only — beneficiaries of the judgment. This assumption is also not rooted in reality. The dissenting judge puts it quite well on this one: “The world in which street prostitutes actually operate is the streets, on their own. It is not a world of hotels, homes or condos. It is not a world of receptionists, drivers and bodyguards”. Street prostitutes would not hire bodyguards even if it were legal, and I doubt brothel owners would hesitate to hire bodyguards when they have already defied the law in operating the brothel. Where, then, does this judgment help?
Where drivers and “bodyguards” exist, they are probably hired by pimps and work not in service of prostitutes but in collusion with pimps — their concern would be in seeing the johns hand over money to the prostitutes and seeing the prostitutes hand over money to the pimps, not anything to do with the safety and autonomy of the prostitutes. Where you have drivers or “bodyguards”, you also have serious trafficking and child prostitution concerns. You have to ask, to what extent does the existence of drivers or “bodyguards” limit the autonomy of prostitutes, reducing their ability to screen and refuse customers and increasing their abuse. To see how the legalization of brothels can lead to abhorrent human rights violations, and to see how assumptions of health and safety in indoor prostitution can be a cover for abuse, one needs only to look at the example of Nevada.
One of the biggest problems with violence and exploitation in the prostitution industry is not legal in nature. It has to do with the police, the justice system, the government, and society at large viewing prostitutes as existing outside the bounds of legal protection. This is a problem that Vancouver is beginning to acknowledge since the Pickton murders. Sure, we have laws against assault, but what do the police do when a prostituted woman limps into a station injured and half-naked making a complaint? They ridicule her.
If the government ends up collecting taxes from the prostitution industry, this would add yet another dimension to the problem. The government would then be profiting from the exploitation of women, effectively turning the government into a pimp, or an investor of the prostitution industry, with monetary incentive to turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and to resist alternatives. Case in point is Amsterdam, which recognizes the failure of legalization, yet instead of considering alternatives continues to dream of becoming some disnified prostitution tourist attraction.
There is one proven alternative to legalization and criminalization. Sweden has led the way since 1999 with prostitution law that has seen dramatic reductions in prostitution, including child prostitution and trafficking, while virtually every legalization effort has been followed by increases in the number of abused and exploited women and girls. Why do we in Canada not consider the Swedish model (oftentimes, not even acknowledging it) to reduce exploitation? Why does it appear unpalatable to us? The reason, I would posit, is because the Swedish model criminalizes the pimps and the johns while decriminalizing the prostitutes. It challenges the presumed entitlement of men to sexual access while sympathizing with women. This, I believe, is what we as a society cannot tolerate. Our society possesses a need for a class of women who can be perceived as deserving abuse, or towards whom abuse is perceived as having little ramification. It others abused women, allowing us to rationalize our degradation of women and our injustices and brutality towards women. It is a comfort and an affirmation to us that whores exist — so long as they are not a public nuisance.
The Results of Legalization
Nevada, United States
- Dutch Authorities Register 809 Human Trafficking Victims
- Amsterdam Travel: Sex Tourism and Human Trafficking
- Canada Considers Further Legalizing Prostitution While Amsterdam Mayor Admits Legalization’s Failure
- German’s legalized prostitution brought more exploitation than emancipation to women
- Germany Rethinks Legalized Prostitution
The Bedford v. Canada Case
- The Latest in Bedford v Canada: What does it mean?
- The Myths of Bedford v. Canada: Why decriminalizing prostitution won’t help
- Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, 2012 ONCA 186 (CanLII)
Prostitution in Canada
“…while Ray Conway was a good father, it was Gloria who took most responsibility for the family’s well-being.” —Narrator, Accidents Happen (2009)
I guess Ray Conway doesn’t beat his kids? And maybe plays catch with his sons every once in awhile?
Without compassion, there is no set of social, political, legal, economic, or ideological rules and structures which could impose or maintain freedom and justice. It is the great deception of the patriarchy—the whip within the ethos of the privileged—that there can exist logic without emotion, reason without compassion, objectivity without sympathy, and truth without empathy.
It should be obvious to anyone watching video clips of police action during the G20 protests that the police were NOT present in the streets of Toronto to prevent crime, to keep the peace, or to serve and protect. It seems clear, to me at least, that the police were in the streets in force under the persuasion that the people was their enemy.
Police, with their $1 billion and 20,000 strong army, turned a blind eye to vandals, allowing them to storm through the streets for well over an hour, and instead arrested and inflicted verbal, physical, and sexual abuse on peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and non-protesting passersby. Prisoners were held in dehumanizing conditions and were mocked and insulted by police officers. By the account of a photographer for the National Post, some prisoners were withheld water for 12 hours. People were stopped, searched, intimidated, and harassed not only for protesting but on the mere suspicion of an intention to participate in the protests. Even in Queen’s Park, the designated free speech zone, peaceful protesters, journalists, and passersby were surrounded and trapped, beaten with sticks, shot at with rubber bullets, and arrested en mass. Peaceful protesters and passersby were also threatened against participation in future demonstrations!
It is clear that the thug element of the police was out in full unbridled force during this summit, but all the events of the week, taken together, suggest a more invidious charge. The question that disturbs me more than all the clips of police brutality and reported incidences of abuse is this: were the police placed on the streets of Toronto with a political mandate? Were they on a mission to defame social movements and to criminalize community mobilization? Were police officers simply on a power trip out of control, or was there a cause for their actions that had an intention to terrorize and cow the people into submission? Did someone cut the leash and gave the green light to police brutality? What is it that gives a police officer the courage, and confidence in their impunity, to punch and beat down a non-aggressive journalist right in the open, surrounded by other officers, civilians, and cameras?
In 2007, Quebec provincial police was confirmed to have infiltrated a peaceful demonstration, masquerading as protesters in order to incite violence [link]. Activists and commenters speculate that “agents provocateurs” were also operating in the G20 summit in Toronto as part of the Black Bloc. In one clip, at least one Black Bloc member could be seen escaping behind a police line. Commenting on the peculiar behaviour of the police in ignoring the violent masked Black Bloc members as they rampaged through the streets, Naomi Klein asserts that police were playing a game of public relations, allowing violence to continue in order to provide a justification for the obscene and unprecedented cost of security for the summit; however, I can’t help but wonder if the real purpose of the $1 billion spent was to buy off the police. Certainly, the police did not belong to Canadian citizens for the duration of the G20 summit.
I’ve been in California the last few weeks visiting family (this is my excuse for not having posted since my “comeback”). As families often are, hand in hand goes fun and stress, hilarity and depression, and affection and conflict. I have some posts in mind relating to my
vacation visit, but for now how about a dose of distraction?
I heard on the radio yesterday some advice for couples who fight over differences in concern over the environment. The radio host advises the man to not throw recyclables into the trash when she’s not looking, and the woman to not try and make him give up his beef all at once. This is, I believe, the same radio host I heard a while back advising parents on the virtues of volunteering… for their daughters.
I am thinking about starting my very own couples advice column on this blog. At least two thirds of the answers will always begin with, “Ditch that fool”, followed by the reasons why you should. The rest will begin with, “You’re an asshole”. Any takers who want to share their relationship troubles?
After close to three years of blogging hiatus (has it been that long??) I have finally worked up the motivation (i.e., discontentment) to stick by my comeback post. Sadly, while I would say I’ve matured somewhat in other areas, the best adjective I can offer for the current state of my writing style is “rusty”. Please do stay with me for a few posts while I attempt to repossess my keyboard.
A few of you might be aware that this is actually my second comeback. To make sure I don’t relapse into obscurity again, I am committing this time around to being more forgiving of myself, and accepting of the fact that with however amount of thought and care I put into my writing, I will in time look back on much of it with mortification. It is inevitable. But it is also a good thing, indicative of growth.
We are the echo come
For the voices buried
How strange we must sound
Bursting through the room