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Monday, October 11, 2010

Canadian Feminists divided over Prostitution

SEX - Prostitution is legal in Canada, but there are a lot of things which restrict how a sex worker is allowed to ply their trade in Canada. Recently Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down the following sections of the Canadian Criminal Code:

Section 210, which prohibits maintaining, owning or being a member of a “common bawdy-house.” The result is that brothels are no longer illegal in Canada.

Why is this important? Because brothels are safer than walking the streets or answering outcalls. With brothels comes security and bouncers for kicking out the rowdy men who don't follow the rules.

Section 212(1)(j), which affects those living “wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution of another person.”

With this struck down, prostitutes are able to support dependents, including children and partners. It also means that if they run a brothel they can pay to have a bouncer, an accountant, desk clerks, etc.

Section 213(1)(c), best known as the “communicating law,” which prevents street prostitutes from screening clients before putting themselves at risk.

With this gone prostitutes can now screen individuals they choose to have sex with, often because they don't feel comfortable with the person. Examples: Too creepy, scary looking, is a member of the NRA, or even just plain ugly.

The constitutional challenge was made by members of the Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) because they felt these laws were unfair and dangerous to the lives of sex workers, regardless of their intent.

Justice Susan Himel agreed and these laws were struck down because they endangered the health and safety of sex workers.

There are those feminists out there that argue that allowing brothels and screening will lead to an increase in pimping (which is still illegal in Canada) and organized crime / trafficking of women.

In major Canadian cities prostitution is not only common, its easy to find. Just open a NOW magazine in Toronto, flip to the back pages and you'll find advertisements for both male and female sex workers. You can also go to Craigslist or Kijiji. Or you can walk down one of the less reputable streets in the middle of the night.

For feminists however there is a huge ideological gap.

  • In the right corner we have the anti-sex-trade feminists, who believe prostitution should be completely illegal and that prostitutes should essentially be rounded up, forced to go to university and get decent jobs like the rest of us.

  • In the left corner we have the pro-choice feminists, who believe prostitution is going to happen regardless of what laws we implement because women sometimes just get desperate and are in a bad situation. They believe sex workers need to be protected, given more options for their personal safety and given choices so they can decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives.

    Its actually very similar to the whole "women have the right to a safe abortion" argument. On the right side we have people who oppose abortion entirely. On the left side we have people who believe abortions are going to happen regardless and thus we should try and make it as safe as possible.

    This isn't so much about "right and wrong", its about ensuring the safety of women who make those decisions, because they're going to make those decisions anyway regardless of what laws are out there. They're desperate enough to try anything.

    Justice Susan Himel of the Ontario Superior Court struck down as unconstitutional the bawdy house provision, which by preventing sex workers from sharing premises that ensured their common safety, increased their risk of exposure to violence.

    The “living off the avails” section, which criminalizes those being supported by a sex worker, was meant to target pimps, it also affects a prostitute's live-in family, including partners, parents and children, as well as security guards or bouncers who might protect her.

    The communication law was declared unconstitutional because experts all agree the greatest danger to street sex workers is their inability to safely screen johns before jumping into their cars.

    “For me it's not complicated to understand why there's a divide: it's two visions,” says Diane Matte of Montreal's Coalition Against Sexual Exploitation, who has a street-level view of the sex worker industry. “The SPOC women do not hide the fact that they want to open brothels,” says Matte.

    That much is certainly true. SPOC wants to open brothels and make prostitution a lot safer through government regulation and private security. The brothels would be owned by the prostitutes themselves, not by pimps.

    Matte wants a Nordic model, such as the laws currently in place in Iceland and Sweden, which has decriminalized sex workers while criminalizing their clients. But all that does is cause prostitution to driven further underground, where violence is more likely to happen.

    “As a criminologist I can guarantee you that that doesn't work because it doesn't remove the criminal element from prostitution,” says O'Doherty, who teaches at the University of the Fraser Valley. Making demand illegal only serves to drive sex workers underground, she says.

    As the world's oldest profession prostitution will never be eradicated until we've eradicated poverty entirely. And even then we will have another problem, women who don't have sex for money but instead just "slut themselves around willy-nilly for kicks". (For reference being slutty isn't a sin per se, but doing so without regard to personal safety, the safety of others, and ignoring the feelings of others is a cause for concern.)

    And lets face it, there's way more sluts than there is prostitutes.

    The primary difference however is that sluts have the option of screening their sexual partners and can have sex in the privacy of their own homes if they choose to. They can be safe about it.

    Which is what sex workers want to. Safety.

    Eventually they will hopefully find a different job, go back to school, etc. There is no pension plan when you're a sex worker. Eventually even sex workers have to start thinking about retirement.
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