Jonathan Brun

How to end prostitution

Prostitution comes in various forms and it is very hard to say where it begins and where it ends. People marry for money, the rich guy gets the girl, attractive female waitresses in scant clothes; people constantly use sex, or sexual innuendo, as a way of generating income. However, the actual practice of sexual intercourse in exchange for money seems a fair definition for “prostitution”.

Last week, a superior court of Ontario struck down a series of federal laws that were designed to criminalize prostitution (Globe and Mail Article, Big Think Article). In doing so, they have opened up the doors to brothels and the legal status of sex workers. In his decision, judge Himel makes clear that the decision is based on concern for the safety of the sex workers, not the morality of the practice. The two sides brought together 12 years of studies and data and the judge unequivocally decided that the safety of women in the sex trade was better protected if the trade was done in brothels, not on the street.

My thoughts on this issue have changed somewhat. I used to be in favour of judge Himel’s view, I felt that the current criminal system pushed sex trade underground and compromised the safety of the prostitutes. By making it legal, the trade could be monitored by the government and the health and safety of the people involved would be better cared for.

However, while my views on the safety of sex workers remains the same, the immorality of the practice is a serious consideration. By permitting prostitution, we indirectly (or directly) encourage the objectification of woman and their subjugation to the desires of men. While decriminalization may be done for the safety of the workers, a society that decriminalizes prostitution implicitly says it is an acceptable profession. I think the majority of Canadians would agree it is not a moral profession, so herein lies the rub. (Scary stats here).

A perfect society would certainly be free of prostitution, if we are not working towards that, what are we working for? The question becomes, how do you eliminate or reduce prostitution? Clearly, criminalizing prostitution does not work – there is prostitution everywhere in the world and its illegality endangers the very women you are trying to help. Criminalizing the client does help; in Sweden, the Sex Purchase Law has dramatically reduced the prostitutes and clients that trawl the streets.

As with most problems, prostitution needs to be tackled from the side. The root of the problem is that when the deals are done under the table, out of view of society, bad things happen. So, why not make the entire system transparent? If the people involved in the trade, both client and supplier feel their trade is a legitimate one, they should have nothing to fear. In Sweden, when men are caught with prostitutes, their names are published on a shame list. Prostitution has dramatically dropped in the country.

People who frequent ladies of the night should not be ashamed of it. I would say that those who support legalization of prostitution should be equally in favour of listing all the names of the patrons. I have no qualms with endorsing a baker I frequent or a plumber that helps me, so people in favour of open and legal prostitution should have no issue declaring who they frequent.

We can then use the reduced enforcement costs (courts, police, etc.) to fund education programs and job placement for women. As with anything in society, it is very hard to isolate factors – why do people frequent prostitutes? Surprisingly, many do it for companionship – which indicates another failure in society and in their own relationships. So, perhaps we might offer counselling to some of the people who frequent prostitutes for companionship rather than purely sexual reasons.

Why not let judge Himel’s decision stand, but institute a law that states, “The names of all prostitutes and all clients will be published on a website managed by the government.” Who could possibly be opposed to this? It might just solve our problem and help move society towards greater equality between men and women.

Published on October 3, 2010