I've been thinking a lot about prostitution lately, mostly because it's been crossing my path a lot. In my circles, people have been talking about the Canadian court challenges to prostitution laws. Then there was my trip to Amsterdam - you can read more about that here http://vueweekly.com/front/story/the_red_light_keeps_on_burning/
And then, I had the chance to talk with Jessica Yee on Monday. Jessica is a self-proclaimed reproductive rights freedom fighter. One of the many things she works on is rights for sex trade workers.
The only thing I've learned from all of this is that no one is really doing it right.
I thought the model in Holland was pretty good but Jessica disagrees with me. She thinks that actual legalization is a problem because it puts too much control in the hands of the state. She is concerned with how the buying and selling of the red light rooms and valuation of the property affects how much sex trade workers have to pay for them. She thinks that having it legal only in those spots and the amount that has to be paid for those rooms, and that now, people must have an EU passport to work legally in the windows, bars a lot of women from working there. And as we all know, just because it's illegal, doesn't mean it's not happening. She worries that women will still work illegally and in unsafe situations with customers who want to pay less.
It's the same way in Sweden. Sweden plan to decriminalize the selling of sex but criminalize the buying has been praised by a lot of people, particularly conservatives who advocate the prohibition of prostitution. They think that this is a more 'humane' approach to the problem because it doesn't persecute the sex trade workers who they see as victims. It only punishes the people who buy sex. But it's not that simple. If you punish the buyer, you also punish the seller. Jessica told me that sex trade workers in Sweden are saying this does not work for them. It has only served to push prostitution farther underground where workers have less access to protection when they need it.
Jessica thinks that simple decriminalization is the answer. New Zealand is one of the few examples of that. Since 2003, brothels, escort agencies, and soliciting have been legal and unregulated there. This provides workers protection against prostitution but do they really have legal recourse if the need it? Are they taken seriously and supported if they report and assault. It's not just about whether sex trade workers and their clients are free to do as they please, it's about whether that activity can take place in a way that minimizes the risk of violence. Does this model do that? I don't know.
There is a lot of opposition to the Prostitution Reform Act in New Zealand. Ideologues and anti-prostitution advocates tend to have big mouths and lots of money. I think there's a good chance that they will force a change to this Act - either by pressuring the government to repeal it, or by just chewing away at it with small, probably local amendments, which is what they are trying to do right now.
The big question is, what will happen in Canada? With a Supreme Court challenge looming, there is a possibility that our vague and useless prostitution laws will be thrown out. What are we left with in that case? I'm guessing that the Harper government is crapping their pants about this one on a daily basis. The last thing they want is to be the government under which prostitution became legal in Canada. I don't think they would be for decriminalization and I certainly don't think they are ready to take on the task of how to legalize and regulate it. But I also don't think they want to be the ones to tackle this head-on and draft a new, clear law that actually makes prostitution illegal in this country. They're stuck between a rock and a hard place on this one and it'll be interesting to see where they go with it.