Vancouver: Should prostitution be legalized?

Kailey Willetts, Cody Willett 01/10/08

Vancouver’s Pivot Legal Society has launched a challenge against sections in the B.C. Supreme Court that forbid the operation of sex-work houses (brothels), in a hope to decriminalize prostitution.

Two Martleteers weigh in on the pros and cons of legalizing the world’s oldest profession.

Kailey Willetts: Prostitution is a profession, yes, but it is a profession stigmatized with many negative connotations.

Prostitutes are often viewed as dirty and drugged out, unable to make their way in life with a “regular” job.

However, the very conditions that give prostitution its negative connotations (the drugs, the STDs, the beatings from pimps) could be avoided if prostitution was decriminalized and regulations on the industry imposed.

Cody Willett: The answer to persistent social problems like prostitution is neither regulated decriminalization, nor tough on crime stances. It has been, and always will be, smart policy aimed at the root of the problem.

The sad existence of a prostitute is due to the fact that they operate in an environment of exploitation and violence at the hands of men.

Therefore, we need to criminalize the buying of sex and decriminalize the selling of sex, while offering support for women trying to get out.

Kailey Willetts: Prostitution is inevitable, whether or not the buying is criminal, the selling decriminalized, or vice-versa.

As long as there are men and women wanting to buy sex, there will be men, women and even children selling it.

If it is criminal to buy sex it will be done behind closed doors, in alley ways and dirty hotel rooms without any sanctions protecting the prostitutes.

The exploitation and violence won’t end if there is demand for the sex trade unless it is decriminalized and controlled in safe, clean environments.

With decriminalization, prostitutes would no longer be people who have been manipulated into the trade by pimps for food, drugs and survival, but workers in a valid profession who have the right to choose what they do with their bodies.

Cody Willett: By talking about regulations and control, we’re really just talking about legalization (and ultimately taxation) here.

The Netherlands has taken this approach and seen some improvements in living standards for prostitutes.

However, human trafficking into the sex trade, inevitably linked to criminal organizations, flourishes and facilitates disproportional exploitation of the women and children pushed into selling sex.

Sweden has seen an astonishing reduction in trafficking and prostitution in general by criminalizing the purchase of sex.

You can glamourize and sanitize the sex trade, but making it easier for women to take up brothel work is defeatist when we could be getting them help and education, and ultimately off their backs.

Kailey Willetts: It is not up to society as a whole to impose the moral attitude that prostitutes should be getting “off their backs.”

For many, the sex trade is a choice, and society hasn’t always dictated that this is an immoral profession.

In Ancient Greece, for example, high-class courtesan prostitutes called hetaerae had the freedom to culture their minds beyond what was typically allowed for women and enjoyed respect in society.

The Moulin Rouge, built in 1889, started its life as a high class brothel before being transformed into a night club. The stigmatization attached to prostitution is not naturally ingrained into humanity, but has developed in Western society.

Even today, places like Amsterdam show that not all prostitutes are manipulated into the trade through drug addiction and violence, but have made a choice to embrace this profession.

If you happen to be a nympho, what better way is there to make a living?

Cody Willett: This has nothing to do with morality.

Prostitutes are metaphorically on their backs as long as society treads on them while they’re down and out.

Canada jails prostitutes for living on the avails of prostitution and communicating in a public place for the purpose of selling their bodies.

Men who take advantage of women who “choose” to sell their sexual services over starvation must be the ones society punishes.

Make all the nympho jokes you want, but the social costs of young women aspiring only to peddle poonani are incredibly steep.

Can’t we inspire them to be part of the solution to society’s problems by making it easier to become teachers, community organizers and elected leaders? Do we really want to legislate the bar lower?

As long as we allow men the option of buying, selling and thereby exploiting women, gender equality will remain an elusive goal.

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