Saturday, April 21, 2007

Canadian sex workers deserve better
April 20, 2007

It’s no surprise that federal Justice minister Rob Nicholson is against decriminalizing prostitution. A party with Alliance roots just isn’t going to see its way clear to taking action on the issues of the sex trade.
But it’s still pretty galling to have to read Nicholson’s comments on the matter. Decriminalizing prostitution would lead to the exploitation of women, says Nicholson, and therefore can’t be tolerated.
Nice theory. But what he’s actually saying is that he upholds the status quo.
In other words, the tens of thousands of Canadian women and men who work in the sex trade will just have to figure a way out of it, because the government isn’t prepared to do a damn thing about their working conditions. The killings and disappearances of hundreds of sex workers will continue unabated, because nothing is going to change.
I just don’t get it. The sex trade exists because the men of our communities buy sex. There’s a demand, therefore there’s a supply. That’s how a free market works, as Nicholson well knows.
So even if Nicholson’s dream came true to end the steady flow of Canadians of all ages into the sex trade, not even 24 hours would go by before someone had hooked into a new supply of sex workers from some distant land where people needed money. Got to feed that demand.
The sex trade is on our streets, and in our newspapers, phone books and magazines. It’s on our televisions. It’s in our DVD players. Aside from drugs, sex is just about the most readily available service in any city - and on sale around the clock to boot.
Not only that, but it’s the one service that unites the world. Communist-controlled, dictatorship, capitalist, military-led, profoundly religious - whatever the form of government, sex is always for sale somewhere in the country.
Sex is also common tourist fare. I visited Cuba years ago and saw grandpas from Toronto and Montreal buying young girls for as litle as $5 US. More recently, I had the distinct displeasure during a trip to Prague of being seated for a restaurant meal next to three American sex tourists engaged in a loud and loathsome conversation about the night before. Here in Victoria, workers plan for the tourist season.
So what could possibly be our rationale for shutting out the workers?
Why is their workplace unregulated and without oversight? Why do we even have such a thing as outdoor sex workers? Why do the workers live in shame and profound stigma, judged at every juncture of their lives, while their buyers enjoy ease of service and complete anonymity?
And why do we carry on in this foolish charade about how we’re going to address prostitution in Canada by “focusing on reducing its prevalence?” Give me a break, Minister Nicholson. Just say it straight up: You’ve got no intention of doing anything about Canada’s sex trade.
Reducing the prevalence of prostitution is likely an impossible goal even in an ideal world unless all efforts were focused on reducing demand. But that goal is even farther out of reach in a time when governments are also slashing social supports on all fronts.
Children in particular drift into the sex trade because there’s no support system around them - in their home, at their school or in whatever recreational activities they might have been doing had they ever b een connected to them. Outdoor sex work is also primarily an issue of social disadvantage, along with whatever it is that sends men to prowl the streets for sex and violence.
Nicholson’s comments are particularly nervy given that his party has often led the charge around social-spending cuts. I’d sure like to hear his theories on how our country will reduce the prevalence of sex workers while actively priming the pump for more disadvantage.
And what the heck is wrong with the rest of us? There isn’t a single other mainstream service whose workers face the same kind of routine danger - all due to a lack of workplace regulation and oversight. With a workforce that’s at least 90 per cent female, it would be tough to find a more pressing women’s issue.
Yet time and again, the decades-old debate fizzles out with pious musings about the need to prevent exploitation and violence against women. And nothing changes.
We pay a terrible price on a number of fronts. Children continue to suffer in an industry that we completely ignore. Adult Canadians labour in profoundly unsafe conditions. Neighbourhoods break down under the wear and tear of hosting the local prostitution stroll.
I’m still fuming over the Canadian Labour Congress’s dismissal of this issue as one that its members are too “divided” on for the congress to take action. I would have thought workers’ rights trumped moral judgment. Who are we to judge how someone earns a living - especially when our own brothers, sons, friends and lovers are the buyers?
Our paralysis is tragic. Conditions are worsening, and all we do is continue to dither over whose ideology has it right. Unbearable.


Stephen K said...


I think you forgot to put the link in.

Jody Paterson said...

Thanks for the heads-up! Ah, the tricky aspects of technology - like making sure your"paste" worked.