I use the term “prostitution” because I am only discussing prostitution and “sex worker” is a more umbrella term. It is in common usage and no disrespect is intended.
I wanted to first deal with the issue of the equality of voices on the topic of decriminalization of prostitution. I do not claim that these voices justify prohibition. My sole point is that there are many stakeholders and they all deserve equal consideration. The notion I read in another thread that only people intending to work as prostitutes should be listened to. I could not disagree more. I am a liberal socialist not a libertarian anarchist.
Unionist’s entire post explained an important point perfectly. Here is the conclusion:
“There is no fundamental right in any constitution that I know to be an employee in a particular field, or to employ others in particular fields. The state can decide that no one should set up a plumbing business within city limits. It may be dumb, or it may seem unfair, but it's not an infringement on human rights.”
I can’t think of any field of legal work that matches anywhere close to the rate of injury suffered by prostitutes even when it is legal. 100% of workers are not harmed by prostitution but the acceptable rate of worker injury is strictly limited in a progressive society. It does not have to come close to 100% or even be as majority of workers. If an industry cannot meet very high worker safety standards it is shut down.
Proponents of decriminalization and/or legalization claim that when prostitution is legal it is just like any other job, like massage therapist, therefore much safer because it can be regulated. For Canada to legitimize an industry being “safer” is not enough. It has to be safe, not just safer.
Making moral judgements has become demonized as though the only morality that exists is religious and that the only just laws protect people from force. If all participants in an exchange are in agreement then it is no one else’s business what they do.
This is not the theory behind Canada. In Canada we believe in collective rights like health care and minimum wage. We also set an age under which children may not work. Driver’s licences are also controlled by age. A responsible 14 year old can’t drive but an irresponsible 18 year old can. We just chose an arbitrary age that we believe is a reasonable balance. We did these things not just to protect society but to mold our country and our communities into the kind of place we want to live. A place where children go to school for an extended period of time and are fully supported. We have a right to demand people wear seatbelts because accidents cost society. The price of living in a community is adhering to its laws regardless of personal agreement.
I believe it is PEI that bans strip clubs, and Verdun does not allow bars. It made the news when they allowed a micro-brewery to serve beer. Street food has been illegal in Montreal for ages. They are just beginning to allow a limited number of highly controlled food carts. We use community zoning because we believe that people in a community have the right to band together to mold their community to suit their desires. Some members of the community might not like it but majority rules. We have a right as Canadian citizens to mold our entire country not just our individual communities. That includes the right to consider fully banning prostitution.
Harm does not have to be proven for us to set standards that reflect our values as a country.
Many women in Saudi Arabia are perfectly content and happy with their lot in life. They consider themselves privileged that men must take care of them. That doesn’t mean western women can’t consider that life demeaning.
Individual prostitutes may feel that prostitution is not demeaning and that is their right but it does not mean that other people can’t argue that the profession as a whole demeans women as a whole. That is not a personal attack.
Prostitution does not just have an impact on prostitutes and their customers. It has an impact on broader society. It affects how children grow up perceiving women and sexual intimacy and their place in the world every bit as children are affected by how woman are viewed and treated in Saudi Arabia or Sweden.
New Zealand is the posterchild of the pro-decriminalization lobby:
June 27, 2013 - Sex Trade on Streets: New Zealand Urged to Address Rampant Street Prostitution
The New Zealand government is urged to do something about the rampant street prostitution in Manukau, Christchurch and other areas as it plans to shift the responsibility of dealing with the issue to local councils….
Ten years after prostitution in New Zealand has been legalised, sex workers can still be seen in suburban shopping streets. Residents have grown frustrated especially along Hunters Corner in Papatoetoe. …
Street prostitutes have been accused of thrashing and vandalising the neighbourhood and having sex in public. Some businesses have closed because of prostitution in nearby areas.
The world's first transsexual mayor, former street prostitute Georgina Beyer, admitted yesterday she was naive when the trade was legalised….
Beyer, a former Carterton mayor and Labour MP who championed the push to decriminalise sex work a decade ago, said lawmakers glossed over the issue. "We thought, naively, that with the liberalisation of prostitution, that it would not be desirable necessarily to be a street worker."
New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said human traffickers were probably involved in the importation of prostitutes. "My Asian informants tell me how rampant it is," Peters said.
However Debbie Baker, of the Street Reach support group, says one 12-year-old was working the streets for her parents.“She was going out there and earning money, taking it home and giving it to her parents.” Ms Baker says the girl’s parents knew what she was doing. A 14-year old girl arrested last night reveals she is working to streets to fund a drug habit. Police don’t charge the girls, instead calling in CYFS or family. But it’s not long before they are back on the streets. One girl who spoke with Ms Baker told he she would work the streets until she dies, aged 30.“I say, ‘Why 30?’ and she goes, ‘Cos that’s all I think I am worth’,” Ms Baker says. Her team tries to re-educate the girls, while police want better lighting in the streets. But underage prostitution has always existed; it used to be Hunter’s Corner in Papatoetoe, now it’s Auckland City. But with the pressure on in Operation City Door, business will no doubt move somewhere else.”
However, research and anecdotal evidence suggest that child prostitution is a growing problem in New Zealand. ECPAT NZ has recently completed the first stage of a three-stage research project on the extent of CSEC in New Zealand. Initial findings revealed that child prostitution is reported throughout New Zealand, in rural districts and towns as well as cities.
The racial aspect:
While the number of Maori children involved in prostitution is unknown, it is likely that Maori are over-represented among child prostitutes because the risk factors that give rise to children becoming involved in prostitution are more common among Maori families. Maori youth are more likely to have family problems, to abuse drugs and alcohol, live in poor neighbourhoods, and lack positive cultural identity. This latter point is exacerbated for many young Maori by the cultural alienation that has been produced by a perception of historical injustice; the urban drift of Maori; and the subsequent breakdown of traditional support structures. Some aboriginals consider prostitution an extension of the damage of colonization.
In Quebec strippers argued against the decriminalization of lap dancing. They believed if it were allowed that eventually it would be a requirement for the job. Now it is. Women don’t even get paid for their stage work. They have to pay the bar and do a certain number of free stage dances. They only make money from lap dances. Allowing strippers to lap dance did not improve their working conditions nor lead to higher pay. It just ensured that if you can’t work as a stripper unless you are willing to do lap dances. They do private backroom dances too but the men are not allowed to touch them and there are guards close by. I don’t think the rule is there because the owners want to protect the girls. I think the rule is there because they want to protect themselves. If prostitution is decriminalized I am certain that rule will vanish quite rapidly. The job of stripper will demand even more of them. A regulation law saying they don’t have to won’t help any more than the lap-dance law protected strippers from lap-dancing becoming the norm in their field of work. They won’t make more money either. They will just have to do more for their money.
There are a myriad of survivors of prostitution who believe that full decriminalization will lead to more harm for women not safer working conditions. These are experiential women. I give them great weight because these are women who have been the most harmed by prostitution excepting those who have not yet escaped. Who better to speak than the actual victims we want to protect?
Willing participants that want to continue working in the field are the very ones that are empowered enough to leave if they so choose. They have money, they can retrain and get out of the business. They don’t have to subject themselves to the violence of the industry. There is no moral imperative forcing us to accept and protect prostitution as an industry. We can deem it too harmful and expensive to be of net benefit to society.
Be it decriminalization or legalization everyone gets a vote on what kind of country we want Canada to be. We have a right to look at a full range of countries to see how it has affected them. We should be looking at the connection to increasing trafficking and child prostitution. We should be listening to survivors who are the acknowledged greatest victims. We should be listening to aboriginal women who consider it a vestige of colonial conquest. It is not progressive to ignore these voices because they are not as loud or not present on this message board.
To be progressive is to actively seek out the oppressed and listen to their voices not just the voices that are loudest.