Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Better Sex Work Solution

The Conservatives are busy farcically debating their prostitution bill. I assume they are rather bored listening to dissenting opinions that they have no intention of incorporating in any way but they are keeping themselves entertained by chortling at the gang rape of a woman who came to speak in favour of their bill.

I think it's fairly clear what the best solution to the prostitution problem is. Which kind of country is safer for women who engage in sex work: One where sex workers have to work in secret to protect the people using their services, or one where a sex worker can successfully sue the owner of the brothel they work at for sexual harassment? Full legalization is the best way to reduce human trafficking and violence in sex work. To paraphrase Sky Roy, no one gets kidnapped and brought to Canada to cut hair.

Yesterday I saw a blog post - probably through huffington post but I can't find it now and only read the byline at the time - that was in favour of the new law. I recall a phrase to the effect of, "We have to stop pretending that prostitution is something that happens between consenting adults."

I'm not going to jump on that person for their hyperbole. I imagine they know that sometimes sex work does happen between consenting adults but that they are concerned about what they perceive as the majority of the time that it does not. They are wrong because making sex work illegal tends to run the people who have other options out of the business while it leaves those who have no other options in it. The results of the Nordic model tend to support me on that one, I think.

What we need instead is a regulatory tool that encourages people who actively choose sex work and discourages those that don't. Fortunately we have such a regulatory tool - a self-regulating professional college.

An appropriate minister would create a panel of industry experts who, with support from the civil service, would create a governance structure for the college as well as probably setting out some initial rules such as qualifications. The college would then govern itself setting industry practices. It wouldn't be an offense - criminal or otherwise - to exchange money for sex with for anyone, but it would be a non-criminal offense to use a title that suggests you are a member of the college when you are not. Likely the college would be given claim to the title "sex worker" but I'd give them "prostitute" and a few others for good measure. I'd want to make it so that if a newspaper reported on a story about non-registered sex work they would have to resort to phrases like, "Ms. Smith - who exchanges sex for money but is not registered with OCSW" rather than having a convenient term.

Because no one would be forced to register we'd still be modelling our system after New Zealand. But in addition to that we would have a way that a person could know they were using the services of a trustworthy professional who was not coerced into the business. Those adults who actually wish to exchange their currency for sex with another consenting adult there would have a clear way to do so, and the benefits of registering would grow over time. Would you hire an elevator mechanic to fix your elevator if they weren't registered with an appropriate trade organization?

As things stand in Canada sex work is very difficult to acquire in an ethical way. If we find that men who use the services of sex workers tend to be misogynists and tend to view the women who serve them as objects it is not because there is anything inherently misogynist about wanting to have sex and being willing to pay. It is probably, though, in significant part because men who do not view women as objects would feel extremely uncomfortable purchasing sex from someone who, for all they know, may have been coerced into the work.

There are people out there who couldn't possibly enjoy a sexual experience in which they suspected the other person was being dehumanized and at the moment those people largely wouldn't know where to go to find sex for money - just like many people I know wouldn't have any idea where to get cocaine or even pot. New laws should create a system that works for the consenting adults while working against coercion, trafficking and slavery. I'm pretty sure the bill currently on the table will do exactly the opposite.

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