The Supreme Court of Canada will hand down its ruling on whether or not to uphold Ontario's legalization of all laws surrounding prostitution in that province next Friday, December 20, 2013. Some of you have mentioned that you want to be a part of this conversation but are relatively new to the issue. To that end, I have developed some basic graphics (very basic) to help bring you up to speed. There are, of course, deeper nuances, major players, & more to the stories at hand than what is presented here… but I hope it gives you a starting point.
There are two main camps in the legalization of prostitution in Canada debate:
1. Abolitionists — fighting for the end of the sex trade in Canada, knowing that it is abusive, coercive, violent, and dangerous.
2. Harm Reductionists (or Radical Consentualists) (my term) — fighting for the rights of people in the sex trade to live full, healthy lives by continuing to sell sexual services legally, safely and in good health.
**A QUICK NOTE ABOUT FEMINISM — some Canadians are under the misguided impression that this debate is being fueled by feminists, and that feminism itself is evil. I, myself, am a feminist and I am fully and wholly an abolitionist. To say that all feminists are the same is to say that all Christians are the same. If you are at this point, I would respectully ask that you take a break and do some reading on the many forms and faces of feminism. Not all forms are evil, extreme or bad; likewise, not all forms are perfect, in full agreement with each other or the solution to all of our problems. Nor is this debate fuelled solely by feminists. There are many other groups with deeply vested interests in the process and out outcome of this issue.
The left side represents a basic argument of The Nordic Model; the right sides represents a basic arguement for full legalization. Both arguments contain elements of morality, consent issues, economic supply & demand cycles, and concern for the status of women and children in Canada. As you can see, BOTH sides agree that the laws surrounding prostitution in Canada must change.
Legalization argues that there is greater protection for prostitutes through their process. Yet it does not — indeed cannot — address the reality that many prostitutes are forced to enter the trade as children, are denied choice from the beginning, experience drug and alcohol addictions, have lived through repeated traumas of sexual abuse, and are from impoverished or at-risk communities. One cannot deny these realities simply by legislating them away. One could argue there would be safer places for those over 18… without STIs… without addictions… who have consented… who have no debt (creating desparation to survive)… or who have never been abused. For this model to succeed, ALL those in prostitution would have to be removed and start again. Even legalization advocates agree that this is impossible. Not only would current violence and dehumanization remain, I believe it would increase dramatically.
Again, there are elements of agreement between the two camps. Both sides seek to empower women long oppressed and put into dangerous situations. However it is how to best seek that empowerment that fuelling the debate.
These are the outcomes argues by both sides if Canada pursues a full legalization of prostitution in Canada. This model reflects ones adopted by such countries as The Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand. However, Germany and The Netherlands are both discovering that the women and children found in their brothels are (increasingly) trafficked women from Eastern Europe and Africa, rather than local women. When women who have no status, ID or nationality in a foreign country, they have no access to the legalized health and safety supports meant to help those in the sex trade.
These are the outcomes argues by both sides if Canada pursues The Nordic Model in Canada. The Nordic Model reflects legislative moves in countries such as Sweden and Norway. Both countries have seen sharp declines in the demand for paid sex, prostitution and sex trafficking; while the representation of women in other professions is increasing. Those who demand paid sex are penalized, while prostitutes are given healthier, more life-affirming opportunities to enter other professions. Despite arguements to the contrary, this process does not deny a woman's sexuality or her equality. In fact, it elevates them and nurtures them.
Is it a perfect solution? Not at all. Criminalization could run the risk of driving human trafficking further underground where law enforcement cannot touch it, but the same is true of the other argument. Many of those who demand sex will go to any lengths to get it, including breaking the law and evading it at all costs. We are well aware of the signs and red flags to be watchful of as groups seek to continue buying and selling women under the radar.
Many Canadians still believe that prostitution is a choice, and that buyers (largely men at this point, but I do agree that there are women who demand paid sexual services) ought to have the free right to consenting partners. As seen above, however, the majority of prostitutes in Canada have had their right to consent stripped from them. The playing field is far from equal.
As for the issue of morality — an issue radical consentualists accuse abolitionists of relying too heavily on — this is highly subjective and highly contextualized. Yes, many abolitionists come from faith-based and spiritual backgrounds, believing that women are wondrous humans, created in a divine image. Sex trafficking and prostitution only demeans and destroys that humanity.
Despite what radical consentualists would have us believe, they too rely on morality to advocate for their argument. That being said: Canadians are entitled to choose whatever profession they wish, to make a living wage from it, and to access sexual services as part of a fulfilling lifestyle. Not only does this demean vibrant sexuality, it only ends up benefitting a largely male contingent. Furthermore, it still assumes that women will take the role of sexual provider while men will be the sexual beneficiaries. Boys will not be taught to become prostitutes, as this is "women's work".
I hope this helps a little bit. As always, shoot me any questions you might have! And, as always, the comment section is moderated, so any comment deemed offensive or abusive will be deleted and the commentor blocked.