Don’t ignore the real issue on prostitution
NationalPost.com – FullComment
13/06/17. Julia Beazley
Last week, an article in these pages (Legalize the Sex Trade, Kate Shannon and Sandra Ka Hon Chu, June 11), saw the authors declare that “the science is unequivocal: criminalization of sex work in Canada, and globally, has been an abject failure in protecting sex workers from violence, predation and murder.” While I might question which particular scientific studies the authors were referring to, I don’t disagree that the laws have failed to protect. The criminalization of sex work — more specifically, of people who are being prostituted — has indeed failed.
Canada’s existing laws have proven ineffective at discouraging prostitution and protecting women. But the evidence is unequivocal that decriminalization or legalization of prostitution has been a greater failure. Countries that have legalized prostitution have found it neither provides more control over criminal behaviour nor offers greater protection for women from violence. It has also led to increased rates of sex trafficking.
The only model of law that has proven effective is the so-called “Nordic” model, first enacted in Sweden more than a decade ago. This model recognizes the vast majority of prostituted persons are not for sale by choice. Sweden’s law focuses its punitive powers on the johns, the pimps and the traffickers.
Swedish legislators started from the premise that prostitution is only and ever a form of sexual violence and exploitation of vulnerable women, men and children. Rather than try to manage or control prostitution, they determined to abolish it, establishing legal and social measures that take aim at the roots of sexual exploitation. Under this model, prostituted persons are decriminalized and those who purchase sexual services are criminalized; with fines geared to income and possible imprisonment. It has proven to be the most successful prostitution policy developed in a democratic society; and has been replicated in Norway, Iceland and is in various stages of consideration in France, Israel and Ireland. Targeting the demand has been demonstrated to be the most effective means of reducing rates of prostitution and sex trafficking.
Why is this? Because the violence experienced by women in prostitution is not rooted in the laws on paper, or in how they stand up to a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The violence directed at women in prostitution is rooted in the demand for paid access to women’s bodies — and the fundamental inequality that underlies this sense of entitlement.
The reality too often ignored in debate over which laws are best is that prostitution itself is inherently dangerous. It’s not the laws that endanger women in prostitution. It’s not the street corners or the alleyways that prey on, rape, assault and murder women. It’s the pimps, traffickers and buyers whose disrespect and devaluation of those women goes unchecked. To suggest that if prostituted women had time to make better choices about which customers to accept, or to negotiate the price and acts they will perform, they would be less subject to violence, is to put the responsibility for reducing violence squarely on the wrong shoulders.
In Sweden, children are taught in school from a young age that the purchase of sex is not just illegal, it’s unacceptable; it’s violence against women, and contrary to gender equality
The violence is rooted in the underlying view among the people, mostly men, that purchase them that women in prostitution are somehow fundamentally different from their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and daughters. This misperception justifies treatment of women as objects to be bought and sold. The very existence of prostitution requires a subclass of people who are available to be bought, sold and rented; people understood to be somehow just a little less equal than everyone else. The Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia have discovered that legalizing prostitution does not change this.
A key to the success experienced in Sweden is a public awareness campaign that accompanied the change in law. Children are taught in school from a young age that the purchase of sex is not just illegal, it’s unacceptable; it’s violence against women, and contrary to gender equality. This may be the most effective in the long run, because children are growing up with a different understanding of what respect between the sexes means.
If we truly want to stop the violence experienced by women in prostitution — and I believe we all agree at least on that point — let’s do as Sweden did, and tackle the problem at its roots.
Julia Beazley is a Policy Analyst with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
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LEGALIZE THE SEX TRADE
NationalPost.com – Full Comment
13/06/11. Kate Shannon & Sandra Ka Hon Chu
This Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada is set to hear Bedford vs. Canada, a case on the constitutionality of criminal laws governing sex work.
The case, brought forward by three sex workers — Terry-Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott — is a direct result of the refusal of consecutive federal governments to respond to enormous volumes of evidence that these laws do more harm than they prevent.
The science is unequivocal: criminalization of sex work in Canada, and globally, has been an abject failure in protecting sex workers from violence, predation and murder, and has exacerbated vulnerability to HIV and other health inequities among sex workers.
While the buying and selling of sex between consensual adults has never been illegal in Canada, criminal laws prohibit working together indoors, owning or renting an indoor place for sex work, living off the avails of prostitution, or communicating in public spaces for the purposes of sex work by sex workers, clients or third parties. Together, these laws make it virtually impossible for a sex worker to work legally, even though the act itself is not forbidden. Evidence has consistently shown that these criminal laws engender stigma, force sex workers to work in isolated and hidden spaces, and prevent access to basic health and support services, including legal and social protections.
Indeed, Justice Susan Himel’s landmark ruling for the Ontario Superior Court, striking down the challenged criminal laws, was based on a large body of expert evidence that laid bare the striking hypocrisy in Canada’s approach to purportedly protecting some of our most marginalized citizens. Justice Himel’s ruling concludes: “By increasing the risk of harm to street prostitutes, the communicating law is simply too high a price to pay for the alleviation of social nuisance.” Enforcement of the communicating law displaces sex workers to isolated areas and forces them to rush transactions with clients for fear of arrest, limiting sex workers’ ability to screen clients or safely negotiate the terms of transactions and condom use.
The failure of criminalization was made most evident by the devastating legacy of the missing and murdered women in Vancouver, most of whom were sex workers struggling with poverty and addictions, aboriginal sex workers and other vulnerable populations. Moral and political ideologies are an unconscionable substitute for evidence-based public policy on sex work in Canada.
Punitive approaches to clients continue to force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations and fear police, placing them at continued risk for violence
Protecting the health and human rights of sex workers means removing all criminal laws surrounding sex work, including the purchase of sex. Calls for Canada to follow countries such as Sweden and Norway in criminalizing clients (sex buyers) and third parties are willfully ignorant to the continued harms to sex workers of a criminalized and policed environment. There is no evidence that criminal sanctions targeting clients has any impact on reducing harms to sex workers or the conditions within which a sex worker works, nor does it have any effect on deterring the demand for sex work. Instead, punitive approaches to clients continue to force sex workers to provide services in clandestine locations and fear police, placing them at continued risk for violence and undermining their ability to negotiate the terms of transactions. Taxpayer dollars continue to be invested in anti-prostitution policing rather than addressing issues of violence and exploitation in the sex industry and our broader community, or improving access to health and support services for sex workers.
This federal government has at times shown an alarming disregard for evidence that does not align with its political and moral preferences. It is our sincere hope that the Supreme Court looks beyond controversy and moral outrage, and recognizes the rights of sex workers to work in the safest conditions possible without fearing the law.
Kate Shannon, PhD, is assistant professor of medicine and director of the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative at the University of British Columbia. Sandra Ka Hon Chu is senior policy analyst at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.
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