28 May 2012

CC02 - Legalised Prostitution

Why Hookers Shouldn't be Criminalised

In March, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided to legalise brothels and heavily modify many laws regarding prostitution in Canada.  Many people opposed this decision, declaring that prostitution is evil, immoral, or dangerous, and thus, should remain outlawed.  Personally, I've never seen the logic of those arguments, particularly ones based solely in ideology, the "I don't like prostitution, so it should be outlawed" arguments.  Oddly enough, not only are religious groups opposed to the legalisation, but feminist groups are as well, openly declaring that it's now easier than ever for "perverted men to prey on vulnerable women," once again showcasing the misanthropic feminist narrative that men are pure evil and women simply objects to which things occur, which is, of course, nonsense.

The whole debate around prostitution shouldn't be seen as an ideological one.  It should be treated as a pragmatic one, because the simple fact is that prostitution exists, it has always existed, and so long as humanity reproduces sexually, it will most likely continue to exist.  Disliking it or believing it immoral is just as irrelevant to the issue as open, wholehearted support.  Instead, the issue needs to be addressed from a practical standpoint, to ensure the rights, safety, and autonomy of sex workers and their clients are protected.

The big problem with the prohibition on prostitution is that, by making it illegal, we encourage human trafficking, pimping, and drug abuse within the criminal system.  People who work in legal brothels, that are sanctioned and regulated by the government, are there of their own free will, are treated with respect and dignity by the establishment, the law, and the users (and if they're not, the brothel has security), are clean and drug free, and can negotiate their own price. It's the illegality of prostitution that makes it so dangerous for its workers.  This is why the argument that banning prostitution is the only way to protect sex workers doesn't make any sense.

There are three big problems with the concept of prostitution being illegal.

The first is morality. Some people believe it's wrong to buy and sell sexual favours. Some people believe it's perfectly fine, and others, quite frankly, don't care. The great thing about morality is that it's personal. If you believe that prostitution is wrong, then don't be a prostitute or hire a prostitute. Morality cannot be legislated, and doing so should never be attempted.

The second is that by making prostitution illegal, you take the power away from the workers and give it to the people who control them. When the demand for a service doesn't go away as its supply diminishes, the price for that service goes up, and it changes prostitutes from the they who render service to commodities to be bought and traded. Human trafficking, drug addiction, and abuse are all systematic tools used to control the flow of that commodity. It's by forcing prostitution underground and into the black market that dehumanises the prostitute, not the act of prostitution itself.

The third problem is less about the prostitutes themselves, and more about society as a whole. When the government decides that we, as a society, are not allowed to do something, then they have to spend money enforcing that. Beyond the obvious human cost of illegal prostitution, the policing and prosecution of prostitutes and the health care for their continued drug addictions and/or injuries are all drains on the economy, and any money that is made flows into the criminal network instead. Legal prostitution could be regulated and taxed just like any other business, and would be a net financial benefit to the public purse.

Let's use the analogy of cigarettes vs crystal meth. They're both drugs, they're both addictive, and they're both highly detrimental to a person's health. But the only difference is that cigarettes are legal and meth is not. Every major problem with crystal meth (that differs than those of cigarettes) stems from the fact that meth is illegal. You don't see stockpiles of paper being stolen to make into tubes, or some person's basement exploding because (s)he was sloppy drying his/her tobacco plants. There's a whole industry built up around producing cigarettes safely, cheaply, and up to standards set by the government.  The only real legal issue regarding cigarettes is smuggling, and that's more a result of excessive taxation than illegality.

The same should be done with prostitution. Take the power away from the criminal syndicates who prey on people in bad situations or kidnap them from all over the world to be trafficked into sexual slavery, and give it to the person actually doing the work: the prostitute.

By allowing a legal venue for prostitutes to organise and support themselves (usually in a regulated brothel), perhaps even unionised (I've seen stories about the prostitutes unionising in brothels, but I cannot remember from where), we open a legal channel through which those services can be accessed. If it was suddenly cheap, easy, and safe to hire a healthy friendly prostitute in a brothel instead of the dangerous, expensive and risky process of hiring some gang member to lend you a person to rape while (s)he is high on meth or chained to a pipe, then don't you think that demand would shift away from the illegal prostitutes and into the brothels? When demand goes down, there's no money in running prostitution rings, and prostitutes stop being commodities and return to being service providers.

By allowing brothels to be sanctioned by law, we take one huge step towards protecting all prostitutes (and their families) by providing a setting in which willing and capable workers can choose to work safely, and take the demand away from criminals who see prostitutes as nothing more than livestock.  And, if the prostitute decides (s)he isn't interested in being a prostitute anymore, quitting is no different than any other job.  There's no gang or drug addiction to keep the prostitute trapped in a situation (s)he isn't interested in continuing.

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