Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sex workers owed decent workplaces
Dec. 15, 2006

In its own small way, the police raid on 18 Greater Vancouver massage parlours last week has a bit of the “weapons of mass destruction” scam about it.
Like the invasion of Iraq, the raids were staged under what would turn out to be false pretenses. Raiding a business is, after all, fairly serious stuff in a democratic country. The justification in this case was that the businesses in question were involved in human trafficking, possibly brought into Canada against their will. The raids would in fact be helping people escape a desperate situation.
“Previous experience dealing with human trafficking on a global level has shown the victims of human trafficking are often found working in establishments such as the ones searched last night,” RCMP Supt. Bill Ard said confidently the day after the Dec. 8 raids.
Could be. But not this time. None of the 78 women found at the massage parlours were illegal immigrants. None were younger than 21, nor did any want a transition bed when one was offered to them after the raid.
The raids were pitched as a means of reaching out to enslaved women forced into the sex trade against their will. Instead, those same women ended up accounting for the majority of people arrested in the raids. A week later, charges have yet to be laid against anyone.
What that means in terms of government spending is that some 200 police officers were involved for months in plotting a big raid on 18 B.C. massage parlours, which ultimately turned out to be nothing more than yet more hassle for a group of workers who were theoretically the “victims” when the raids started taking shape.
What that means in terms of adherence to democratic principles is that raids on 18 legitimate businesses were carried out under false pretenses. The raids were sold as rescues, but nobody was looking to be saved.
Solicitor General John Les depicted the raids this week as a “huge shot across the bow” for anyone considering getting into the prostitution business. Oh, please. The sex industry will barely register a blip from the raids. The only ones who will feel the pain are the women who work in the sex trade, who will once again go looking for even darker corners to escape the scrutiny of police.
How can we continue to be surprised at the presence of a sex trade in our cities? As long as there are men who want to buy sex, there will be women and men who will sell it. That’s how it’s been in our community since the first non-aboriginal settlements took root, and in every other community around the world for as long as human history. Surely we can’t still think that this is a matter for the police.
Misguided police raids in Vancouver back in the 1970s were a significant factor in the spike in street prostitution in the years after that. Up until then, B.C.’s sex trade had mostly been an indoor industry, operating in places like Vancouver’s old Penthouse Cabaret. After the busts, sex workers were displaced to the Downtown Eastside. A frightening rise in assaults, rapes and murders involving those workers soon followed.
Three decades later, we’re apparently as baffled as ever about what to do about prostitution beyond more of the same. And no small wonder. We’re clearly stuck if we still believe that complex, costly police raids dressed up like rescues are how we’ll “crack down” on the sex industry.
Not only are such raids a disturbing waste of money, the people who bear the brunt of the impact are typically the very workers identified as needing to be saved through police intervention. All that the latest raids have done for the women rounded up at the 18 massage parlours in Coquitlam, Surrey, Richmond, Burnaby and Vancouver is to push the workers into even more invisible places in the future to avoid hassles with police. Some may even end up working the streets, which are as dangerous as ever to those forced to do their business there.
What’s to be done? It starts with coming to grips with the sex trade, and the fact that it exists no matter how much we wish it didn’t. We’ve all got our views on the morality of the trade, but there comes a point when continuing to do nothing is the most immoral act of all.
The ugly aspects of the sex trade most definitely have to be routed. Exploitation of a child, sexual slavery, coercion -all must be vigorously pursued and punished. But at the same time, we desperately need to address working conditions for the thousands of Canadian adults who continue to work in the sex industry. In an age when even lumber is bought ethically, we at least owe that small courtesy to those who sell sex.
Sex sells, and the buyers are us. All the pointless police raids in the world can’t change that.


Susan Jones said...

There are few gifts one can give that last a lifetime, the inspiration you’ve so willingly and unselfishly shared with the world through your talent is one. I’ve been a fortunate benefactor, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and the very best of the new year to you and yours.

Anonymous said...

So you are saying it is perfecly OK to bring young women to Canada from Asia and make them/let them work as prostitutes in massage parlours without a permit?

Those girls were prostitutes. Just read the escort review boards. You can find "reviews" about them. Some of them even says if they have a tight pussy....

If you as a woman think that this is OK, I am glad you are an EX-journalist.

Jody Paterson said...

Dear anonymous:
No, I'm not saying that at all. Nobody should be coerced or forced to work in the sex industry, or any other job for that matter. All I'm saying is that if an adult chooses to work in prostitution - which is legal in Canada - then she or he deserves a safe, fair, regulated workplace just like the rest of us.

Jody P