Published on The Daily Femme – Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010

Contributed by Annamarya

Early last week, Ms. Magazine published a blog post in response to the late September ruling by Ontario Superior Court Justice Susan Himel that struck down key provisions of Canada’s prostitution law, that described the decision as “a landmark ruling for women” and a “step toward eradicating ‘whore stigma.” In the 132-page ruling, the Canadian judge, who sided with the three sex workers, Valerie Scott, Terri-Jean Bedford and Amy Lebovitch who raised the challenge,  wrote that not only does Canada’s Criminal Code violate the sex worker’s constitutional rights by placing restrictions on most aspect of prostitution but also forces “prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of person as protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” which is what the three women argued in their suit.

The blog authors raise a valid point: Why is there this sweeping belief that the industry of prostitution “victimizes women”? Is it because the “whore stigma” of anti-prostitution ideology — that sex workers are incapable of “critical thought and informed decision-making” — is rooted more within our inability to accept female sexuality, independence, empowerment, and career/financial ambition? If prostitution is viewed as something inherently sinful, then where are, as the writers point out, the men and transgender sex workers in the equation? True, women are degraded and sexually objectified in media and entertainment often without consent but if women choose prostitution out of their own volition, why do we dismiss their decision and still treat them as weak puppets? I can’t help but feel that we do so as a result of the misguided moral belief that women are to remain prim, proper and quiet , something that’s been consistently pounded into our heads for centuries.

But for me, it’s more than debunking the “whore stigma.” On a grander ideological scale, is sex work intrinsically dangerous or does criminalizing the industry pose a greater danger? I’m inclined to believe the latter. Case in point: As experts on behalf of the sex workers testified and the judge cited in her ruling, street prostitution is more dangerous than indoor practice as it forces workers to “establish client contacts hastily and without opportunity to assess the situation.” Particularly, provisions in the Canadian law limits where and how prostitution is practiced safely and are an impetus to the reluctance of reporting violence and property theft. So, in the scope of things, there are only benefits to decriminalizing sex work. Firstly, it’d allow workers to operate their own businesses, hire administrative and sales talent as well as health staff, and implement policies and procedures. Secondly, they can offer mandatory self-defense training and sex health education courses, so workers are well-informed of the risk and opportunities of their profession, can engage in proper sex practices, and protect themselves. Thirdly, companies would be subject to the same taxes as other businessnesses, as well as the same rules, regulations and best business practices. Additionally, it’ll give sex workers the legitimacy they need to report any criminal behavior without the fear of arrest, thus increasing the chances for law enforcement to crack down on human trafficking. Also, local law enforcement can keep a list of legal brothels, develop and maintain a safe business district for them to operate within, and perform random monthly checks for any illegal activity. But most importantly, other than requiring workers be drug and disease free, brothels and individual workers can develop qualified client lists, and run background and criminal checks, along with an extensive STI screening to make sure they’re clean before they offer their services to the client.

Of course, legalizing sex work would in no way eliminate all the dangers within the sex trade industry. But at least by decriminalizing prostitution, the government would give workers the opportunity to practice their chosen (and chosen is the operative word) profession without the fear of being reprimanded, thus allowing them to enforce safer practices amongst themselves and within brothels. What do you think?

Ms. Magazine: Why Decriminalizing Sex Work is Good for All Women

CNN: Canadian judge strikes down prostitution law


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