I remember being a kid, and hearing on the news that someone had been arrested for “Soliciting.” Where I lived, this was apparently code for prostitution, in particular the streetwalking sort. I understood this as a child, and I knew what it meant.
So when I moved to Ontario and saw people’s mailboxes with stickers on them which read “No soliciting,” I thought, gee, Ontario has door-to-door hookers? How about that!
In Canada prostitution is in fact, already legal.
However, in some jurisdictions there were prohibitions on various parts of the trade, and her in Ontario until a few days ago, it was illegal to “communicate for the purposes of prostitition,” to “live off the avails of prostitution,” or to “operate a common bawdy house.”
These laws are obviously exceedingly well enforced. One of the first things that got pointed out to me in Collingwood, ON was the brothel. The classified ads of the newspapers are surely not full of ads for sex services. And living off the avails? No, of course, it’s just spare cash, right? Right?
So, three sex workers hired a lawyer and mounted a constitutional challenge to these laws. The judge examined them, and struck them down, stating that the current laws “place prostitutes at greater risk of experiencing violence,” by prohibiting them from operating out of a place wherein they can screen clients and have help close by.
Listening to the CBC’s “Cross country checkup,” one could be forgiven for assuming we are a nation of old bags afraid that our husbands are going to run out and hire prostitutes the second it becomes fully legal. These women who called in seem incoherently terrified that prostitution should become legalised, one describing what is essentially the current situation and asserting without evidence that things like underage prostitution and human trafficking would surely get worse if prostitution were legal and licensed. Does the evidence back this up? Amsterdam? Sure, it’s sleazy, but are the women worse off, or better? One writer for the National Post went so far to describe prostitutes as “people of low character” and “unworthy of respect.”
My two cents, worth approximately that: Legalise it. Make it easier for women (and men, but mainly women) who are in this situation, by choice or not, to control their working conditions, to control who they see as clients. Make it easier for them to make a choice about where they work, and for whom, and with whom. Make it easier for them to get off the streets. Make it easier for them to access the specific types of medical care they need.
Getting them out from undercover makes them more visible – not less – to authorities. They no longer need to fear arrest or abuse from the police. The police suddenly become a resource, a source of protection.
If your argument is that legalising it makes it morally sanctioned, that’s total bullshit. Alcohol is legal, alcoholism is not morally sanctioned. Smoking is legal, and is becoming more and more socially unacceptable. Your mother will kick your ass for lots of stuff that is legal, and that’s where morality comes from.
The law is not your mother. The law exists to protect society, and a society is judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. If you’re selling your body to live, that’s pretty vulnerable. I don’t care how you got there. It’s society’s job – the law’s job – to make things as safe as possible for these people, too.