They need rescue, not regulation
Barbara Kay, National Post · Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010
Prostitution has Canadians' attention, thanks to a recent Ontario court ruling striking down barriers to an openly marketed, regulated and accessible sex trade. Judge Susan Himel's ruling was based on a Charter "rights" provision. But that's a red herring. The challengers want more than society's permission to ply their trade openly. They want cultural validation of their profession. They want society to respect them.
So during the ongoing battle up to the Supreme Court, look for strategies to extort respect for prostitutes by equating them with traditional disempowered groups, like women, gays and blacks. The Sex Workers' Rights Movement plans to use the "equality argument" and the fact that prostitutes face "social isolation" when pressing their case. But being female, gay or black is a neutral condition, not an activity, and not inherently anti-social. Prostitution, while a permanent, ineradicable and arguably even necessary accessory to communal life, is an ignoble line of work and inherently unworthy of social respect. Legalization won't change that.
But moral relativists will try. They began by replacing the pejorative word "prostitute" with the morally sanitized locution "sex worker." Another ploy is image-spinning by sympathetic media boosters. Take the middle-class former hooker "Jade" whom John Moore adduced in his Post column last week as a typical Canadian prostitute. Jade had a management job that wasn't "fun," so she took up prostitution. Jade respects herself, we're told. Moore seems to imply that because she respects herself, we should too. Not going to happen.
In Jade's world of prostitution's upper tier -- escorts, call girls and the like -- selling sex is freely chosen by calloused souls with no sexual scruples. They may be abused by their johns sometimes, but they are in no danger from the world's Robert Picktons. In their case the hedging laws have always been easily bypassed with society's sanction.
In the pathetic demi-monde of lower-tier prostitution -- streetwalkers, drug addicts, child-trafficked aboriginal children -- it isn't regulation that is needed. Robert Pickton's victims wouldn't have taken advantage of (or been welcome at) legal brothels. Such women, neither autonomous nor opportunistic, are victims of circumstances, who haven't the luxury of choice. These women don't need the "harm reduction" of legal enablement. They need rescue. Their plight would only worsen with legalization, because it would discourage efforts to save them.
In his new book, Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking, UBC law professor Benjamin Perrin counters harm-reduction theory with 10 years' worth of research. Interviewed on CBC's Cross Country Checkup Sunday, Professor Perrin upended the magical thinking that sees legalization as the solution to the sex trade's inherent corruption and peril.
Professor Perrin informed listeners that:
- Every country that has legalized prostitution has not only "failed miserably" to curtail trafficking and violence, but there is a clear connection between legalization and increased trafficking and violence;
- legalization increases demand (it's estimated one in two German men frequent prostitutes);
- legal brothels are no guarantee of safety from abuse, because clients believe they "own" their sex provider for the hour they hire them;
- and 85% to 90% of prostitutes trafficked into sex want to escape but can't.
Prostitution legalizers are like drug legalizers. They believe that if a social ill is ineradicable, we should simply redefine pathology as normalcy and declare those caught up in its toils self-respecting and therefore worthy of our respect. In reality, drug addicts and prostitutes don't typically respect themselves, nor should they. And of course the people promoting these myths -- morally relativist judges, politicians, pundits, academics, who live far from the sex trade's dystopia--are those least likely to suffer the consequences of such enablement.
Speaking of consequences, I'm taking the opportunity to call prostitution a dehumanizing and morally degraded behaviour now, because I think my right to do so won't long continue. Since activists are already using the vocabulary of other "rights" and "equality" battles, I predict we'll soon have to watch our judgmental language on this front. Once prostitution has been legally/morally airbrushed by the SCC, it will be deemed "offensive," "excluding" and "intolerant" to hurt the feelings of prostitutes. Don't be surprised if the next time you call a whore a whore, you're hauled up before a human rights commission for prostitutophobia.