The case for making prostitution illegal stems from the premise that the world’s oldest profession is actually the world’s oldest oppression– treacherous, exploitative and demeaning to sex workers (and to those around them who wish to remain decontaminated). When I say prostitution, you say ‘Oh – my – God!’ Undoubtedly, across the centuries, prostitution has been a significant source of unease to those who wish to regulate society and make the world a purified moral habitat, where people never dare engage in similar indecencies such as sex. It is religion which initially introduced the view that prostitutes are the living embodiment of grave sin, and governments have since used that preconception, packaging legislation to fit their ideology.
Recently, the Canadian government signed into law Bill C-36, under which prostitution per se is not illegal, but paying for sexual services or advertising their sale is. To make things simple, that’s like saying selling groceries per se isn’t illegal, but opening a shop and accepting money in exchange for goods is illegal. So basically, you’re making it next to impossible for vendors to work, thus indirectly destroying their earning capacity.
I can hardly deny the conceivable dangers of legalising prostitution; there will always be those who perceive legality as a platform for criminal activity. Those people will be seen as being aided by the law instead of being deterred by it. What confounds and dismays me however is the Conservatives’ claim that the purpose of Bill C-36 is to protect women from violence, when by the looks of it, its provisions do exactly the opposite!
Last year, the Supreme Court of Canada in the Bedford case, agreed that the law should not make sex workers’ lives more risky, thus inviting the Parliament to step in and fill the void in legislation. After 12 months of careful consideration (or not?), the Conservative government came back with the exact same piece of legislation, which is still, obviously, unconstitutional, and endeavours to dry up the sex market, making prostitution illegal. It’s a no brainer that, for example, banning the advertisement of sex, immediately forces sex workers to lose intermediacy, in the form of screening, and thus drives them to conduct in the shadows, in dangerous face-to-face parleys.
Conservative MPs on the Justice Committee considering the bill, promote the notion that prostitution directly contributes to the modern-day slave trade and claim that they are not against prostitution as such, but rather aim to go against ‘Johns and Pimps’, who lure and entrap young women into human trafficking. Let’s be clear; there is no shred of doubt that human trafficking is a vile wretchedness, which must be obliterated. Victims of human trafficking suffer immense physical and psychological torture, being enslaved, raped and abused on a daily basis. And while it is true that there is some overlap between human trafficking and prostitution, they are definitely not always mutually inclusive.
But what, I wonder, is the genuine driving force behind this bill? Conservative MPs who support its passing, talk about Jesus, compassion and the ability to provide sex workers with ‘honest work’ instead! Do I smell subjective bias? Is this more of an ethical decision, which is being sugar coated as an attempt to stop women from being trafficked? The Minister of Justice at a press conference on the day that Bill C-36 was tabled effectively confirmed that if two sex workers were standing side by side in a public place, selling sex, that would be an offence. When noted by a reporter that that would effectively make them stay on their own, thus further endangering their own security, the Minister of Justice simply replied: ‘Not at all. We’re not making them do anything. We’re not forcing them to sell sex.’ Wow there!
It seems to me that Bill C-36 works on the supposition that selling your body for money is so awful that no sane person could ever choose that freely. What about those who voluntarily make an informed choice to enter the sex profession, do they not deserve the protection of the law? Does it mean that because they chose to work in the sex industry, they automatically lose that right?
Bill C-36 involves a silent punishment. A punishment, which not only absolves the Government of any accountability but screams: ‘I’m not the one putting you in danger; you are, by selling yourself for sex. We are offering you a way out; but if you still choose to be a sex worker, then you shall suffer the consequences’
And I ask, how does this bill face the reality of the world? How does it protect women from sex predators, when it essentially denies them their basic means to safety? Bill C-36 is a downright failure when it comes to meeting the challenge posed by the Supreme Court, and it was a simple one: protect the lives of women by not driving the activity into progressively dangerous shadows.