Like most people, I have never known much about what actual sex work entails–television shows, stories, and cultural attitudes toward the profession is generally where our views come from. After hearing of Canada’s initial decriminalization of prostitution (which has been quickly halted by Justice Minister MacKay), I decided I needed to learn more.
Prostitution is generally viewed as a dangerous job conducted in seedy motels, a transaction between a powerful, patronizing male figure, and a frightened, undoubtedly younger, women, who was no doubt forced into the situation. While sadly, this is often the case, it is a very narrow view of what prostitution is/can be.
For many, sex work is a very fulfilling job. The acts themselves don’t have to take place in a back alley somewhere, or in the back room of a “24/7 Massage Parlor”–they are in very boring offices, with lights, security cameras, and condoms. Workers are treated with respected and are hardly marginalized. The experience can be healing for clients, and the relationships are quite valid.
On the other end of the spectrum, things are more confusing–and this is what MacKay worries about–yes, there are certainly under-aged sex-workers who turn tricks in less than favorable conditions. But to assume that criminalizing this outright does anything to protect or help these workers is a very naive view. It’s no more productive than making sex education and birth control difficult to acquire for teens–they’ll still have sex, but just without any concept of staying safe and informed.
An organization known as the Sex Worker’s Project (made up of sex workers and their advocates) address many of these issues, and works to enact policies that help sex workers. HIV/STD contraction is high among sex workers, in no small part thanks to some workers having to hide, choose dangerous locations, and clients that aren’t screened.
The Sex Workers Project seeks to help make and keep workers visible. I applaud them in their efforts to keep people educated and safe. It is easy to marginalize anyone deemed nontraditional, forcing them from the “tribe” into the role of pariah. As this topic continues to be debated in Canadian government throughout the year, it will be interesting to see how proposals may evolve. Justice Minister MacKay himself has said that he plans to study international laws on prostitution, for a better understanding of how other countries have handled the issue. The most important thing, in this writer’s opinion, is to remember the human element.