Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Making Prostitution Safer?

Brothels have been legalized in Ontario in the hopes of making prostitution safer for sex workers. There are arguments on both sides, with some celebrating this decision and others warning it will increase demand and therefore danger for sex workers in addition to not helping the majority of prostitutes who work on the street. This ruling won't take effect for a year in order to give lawmakers time to prepare the legislation brothels will be held to, and it may be appealed in the Supreme Court, but in the meantime arguments are yet again flying back and forth in the papers and online whether these decisions make any sense.

One of the last papers I wrote for my BA was on this topic, just after a number of laws against prostitution were first struck down (on appeal, the law forbidding publicly communicating for the purpose of prostitution was upheld). I was surprised to see women on both sides of the debate arguing passionately, and I wanted my own opinion to be based on more than a knee-jerk reflex. I wasn't sure what to expect: I was confident that lower-class prostitution would be demonstrably harmful and exploitative, but I also looked for evidence to support exceptions when prostitution is not a last resort fuelled by poverty or drug addiction.

This is the paper. After spending days reading articles and studies and stories, I was emotionally exhausted and convinced that no matter how prostitution is packaged, it's always dangerous. Physically and emotionally, women get wrecked when they sell their bodies, and the reality of the trade is that most do not choose. The downfall of the laws being struck down in Ontario is that they will only grant protection to a minority of sex workers, while the majority will continue to be oppressed and abused with even less hope of ever getting out. Worse, it normalizes a dysfunctional and harmful view of women and sexuality.

It is important most of all to recognize that legalizing brothels does not empower prostitutes; it empowers madams, pimps and johns.

Something that struck me while researching that paper was that legal prostitution increases the demand for bodies, and these will be obtained by any means. Already, women are trafficked to meet the demand for prostitution in Canada, and it happens right under the surface of our daily lives - this month, a prostitution ring was busted operating out of an apartment building I pass on my way to church. This article talks about the reality of human trafficking in our province.

If women are to be protected, laws must come down on pimps and johns. Until that happens, "empowering" or "protecting" prostitutes by letting them work indoors only puts the problem of abuse and exploitation out of sight.

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