You know, up until this week, I firmly believed that prostitution should be legalized, that government should tax and regulate it, and that we should have red-light districts to avoid the NIMBY problems that result in Johns cruising residential streets and kids slipping on used condoms on the way to school.
Then I started talking to professional sex workers, in Ontario court right now to strike down sections of the Criminal Code which lead to their getting exploited, assaulted, raped, robbed, arrested, jailed, deprived of normal relationships, and, worst of all, killed.
They convinced me that decriminalization -- and not legalization -- was the way to go. This is the aim of their constitutional challenge.
And they're right. Total legalization would lead to regulation, including forced medical exams and other invasions of privacy. (Lots of explanation here and here, if you care to learn more.) Sex workers are perfectly capable of getting medical certificates from their own doctors and hanging them on their walls.
Sex worker rights are human rights. Complete legalization would effectively make sex workers cede control of their bodies to the government. But sex workers don't enlist, the way soldiers do. They are entrepreneurs, independent business people, and they should not be subject to any more licensing procedures than any other service.
By coincidence, during the 2008 election campaign in the US, San Franciscans had to vote on Proposition K, which would decriminalize prostitution, much like the way it has been operating hassle-free in New Zealand for the past few years.
Prop K did not pass.
But this is Canada -- and the Crown will find it, in my not-so-expert-legal opinion, tough to argue that sex workers are less human than the rest of us. But we won't know the outcome of this for at least a year.
Meanwhile, how many sex workers will end up floating in the lake?
Anyway, here's the column, with some links and other goodness.
If there's one thing that divides feminists, it's the sex business. On one side, you have those who regard the world's oldest profession as a form of slavery, which only desperate women would get into, or get forced into. They maintain that it victimizes all women because it makes men see them as sex objects, or worse.
On the other side, there are those – count me among them – who look at it as a career choice, and a necessary service. It has nothing to do with patriarchal structures because it probably predated any form of patriarchy – and may well outlive it.
It's the woman's body and she's free to use it as she wants, we say.
After all, nobody stops race car drivers from risking their lives for fame and fortune, thrills and chills. So why put the brakes on sex workers? Why criminalize sex – a perfectly natural act – when drinking, smoking, gambling and other vices are not a crime?
The funny thing is, prostitution is legal in Canada. It's everything that allows a worker to safely ply her trade that will land her in jail.
All of which results in exactly the kind of exploitation from which the sex police want to shield prostitutes.
"People have a moral problem with us," says Amy Lebovitch, interim executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC). "The media definitely play a part. They've created this view that sex for money is exploitative – but sex goes on every day."
So why should the religious right and righteous left impose their morality on sex workers, despite how virtually all the research indicates that sex workers' are put at risk by laws that cause more problems than they prevent?
This was the battle in San Francisco during the 2008 election campaign. Proposition K, which would have corrected the criminal approach to sex workers, while redirecting police resources to traffickers and pimps, missed passing by some 60,000 votes last week.
As for Lebovitch, she is no victim.
"I began in the profession because I wanted independent security," she tells me. "There are always going to be people involved in it for all sorts of reasons – to pay off debt, or to go through school or because they enjoy it. There isn't just one box you can put all us into it. I don't feel exploited."
This is why, last year, SPOC mounted a legal challenge to strike down three provisions of the Criminal Code: s.210, which forbids the keeping of a bawdy house, s.212 (1) (j) which makes living off the avails a prostitution a crime and s.213 (1) (c), which bans communication for the purpose of prostitution.
All week, sex workers, lawyers, academics, experts and the Crown have been duking it out in a closed boardroom at the Superior Court of Justice. The case will be heard well into next year.
SPOC says that barring bawdy houses prevents women from working in their homes, or sharing spaces with other sex workers. Not only is that a violation of their human rights, but it forces them into the streets.
Living off the avails means they can't be in normal, healthy relationships because their partners will be charged.
As for communication, to make a deal, women must climb into cars with strangers before they can safely assess the situation.
None of these laws, say the experts, have ever prevented the real problem – human trafficking. In any case, there are kidnapping, abuse and rape laws on the books for the slave trade.
In fact, the Criminal Code, as it now stands, makes it easier for traffickers.
"These laws create an environment where trafficked girls are prevented from going to the police because they're told they will be deported if they do," says Lebovitch. "If these laws are struck, sex will move from the underground into the open where people can see it as a legitimate choice."
All sex workers want is what all the rest of us working girls do.
Says Lebovitch: "We want to be able to live with partners. We want to have safe lives. We want our rights and freedoms."
Seems fair enough.
Just because sex workers do what they do, doesn't mean that they should get screwed.