This week, the Canadian government proposed a raft of changes to the way that its legal system treats the sale of sex. A bill entitled C-36 has now been passed which is designed to shift criminality away from sex workers.
The C-36 bill outlines various new restrictions as to where sex workers in Canada are allowed to operate and how their services are allowed to be sold.
To start with, it’s clear to see that the country is at least facing the right direction in terms of these issues. The C-36 bill has been designed with the safety of sex workers in mind – Canadian politicians are all agreed that the continued criminalisation of prostitutes has no value either for them or society.
This issue is vital, because a nation cannot begin to protect its sex workers if it considers them to be criminals. They’re not criminals, they’re people. If you don’t think that the criminalisation of giving away something that belongs to you is absurd, you’re a strange human being in my book.
Your body, my body, their bodies should never belong to a government.
For this reason, I’m very pleased to hear that Canada is trying to open up discussion around this issue, especially if such debate is centred around the protection of women. I’m not so pleased about the fact that Canada has still managed to get it all wrong.
The C-36 bill has already prompted protests from sex workers and women’s rights advocates. Whilst the promise that vulnerable women won’t be slapped with jail sentences and hefty fines is always a welcome one, the new rules restricting the sale of sex to offline mediums and certain parts of the city haven’t been quite so well received.
According to the new laws, sex workers can no longer advertise or sell their services through print media or the internet. They must always be a specified distance away from schools and any other place where children might be expected to gather – which let’s face it, could be anywhere. The sale of sex will not be punished, but the purchase of sex will remain illegal. This includes businesses that profit from the prostitution of others – brothels, massage parlours, escort agencies and the like.
If a prostitute cannot operate in the built up areas of a city, she will be forced to operate in the remote ones. If a prostitute cannot solicit custom on the internet, she has no way of vetting potential johns before she meets them. If a prostitute cannot work within the confines of a monitored premises, she will be forced to solicit on the streets – in alleyways and dark corners, in all of those places it’s easier for us to ignore.
Plus, how can decriminalising the sale of sex have a positive effect on vulnerable women if it’s still illegal to pay for it? For the johns, the game will not change – it will still be necessary to hide such exchanges at any cost. This inevitably means that the game will not change for vulnerable sex workers either. It will still mean gambling with violence, rape and even murder every time that they meet a new client.
I sorely believe that the best possible way to protect sex workers is to completely decriminalise prostitution. If you want to protect, you must first include. In this modern society, there is simply no reason why sex workers cannot be taxed and legislated just like the rest of us.
There is simply no reason why sex work should not be taken off the street, given government recognition and fully legislated with strict laws regarding age, contraception, etiquette, pay and safety. In places like Nevada and Amsterdam, this system is already in place and violence towards sex workers is at a significantly lower rate than it is in the rest of the world.
A typical Amsterdam brothel will have at least one panic button in every room. In a Nevada brothel, you’ll find CCTV, contraception, clean bedding and towels in every room. In both Nevada and Amsterdam, a woman has the right to refuse a client. It also her right to stop being employed by a brothel at any point.
These are the measures that protect sex workers, the ones that recognise that CONSENTING prostitutes are trying to earn a wage, just like everybody else. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with their career choice – I personally find loan sharks, banking executives and Jeremy Clarkson to be far more odious than any prostitute – they deserve to be safe regardless of your opinion.
If we want to catch and punish the real criminals, the people who traffic children, rape women and murder prostitutes without a second thought, we desperately need to redefine what it means to be a sex criminal.
A fully aware and independent woman who consents to sex in a safe and clean environment, for money or otherwise, is of no less value than an office worker, a train driver or a McDonald’s burger flipper. The same rules apply for any respectful, self aware man who chooses to seek her services.
It’s this truth that we need to remember, before we can open our eyes and arms to those who simply make different choices to our own.