Prostitution in Ontario

A court in the Canadian province of Ontario is due to consider a challenge to the country’s prostitution laws.

“The case is brought by three female sex workers, who argue that current curbs “violate their constitutional rights and threatens their physical safety”.

They want laws against brothels, sex advertising and prostitutes living off their earnings to be struck down.

The Crown is expected to defend the laws and argue that decriminalization would encourage sex tourism.

Ontario’s Superior Court is due to hear the case on Tuesday.

The women’s lawyer has said that if the current prostitution laws are changed, sex workers would be more likely to go the police if they are attacked or face any problems.

Critics also say provisions preventing prostitutes from “running or occupying a bawdy house (brothel)” force them to tout for clients away from a safe location.”

Ontario toes the line of prostitution, according to Ontario’s parliament it is not illegal to exchange sex for consideration. But it is, however; illegal to engage in sexual acts in a place that is used for the purposes of prostitution and in public. It is also illegal to live “on the avails of prostitution” or in other words it’s illegal to be a pimp, and run or own a brothel.

Ontario needs to either fully ban prostitution or enact laws to protect prostitutes from disease, abuse, and poor employment conditions. While I do not support legalizing prostitution (due to my deontological views on degradation) I do acknowledge that if prostitution is not criminalized there needs to be laws in place to protect the well-being of prostitutes.


17 Responses

  1. My primary reason for supporting regulated legalization of prostitution is roughly this: Even if there are statues in place protecting sex workers from disease, abuse, and unsafe working conditions, fear of being prosecuted for sex work would be a strong disincentivise for sex workers to take advantage of them, fearing arrest for admiting their profession.
    Or do you mean that only soliciting a prostitute or making use of their services should be illegal? If that’s the case, it establishes a weird double standard; it would be legal to offer and perform a service, but illegal to actually use that service.
    Now, I’m no deontologist. But even if we admit it is one of the obligations of the state to minimize its citizen’s degredation, we must ask, What is degredation? Who decides? Many people would find sex work degrading; most of them would probably say working at McDonald’s or a sewage treatment facility. Not all prostitutes are forced into sex work because no other live livelihood option is avaliable to them (though begging or starvation would be worse indignities). Some choose sex work over fast food or sewage-treatment type jobs, maybe because they think the money will be better; maybe because the thought of it (at the onset, at least) is less repulsive than those jobs. Where there is not an immediately pressing concern for citizen’s safety or the public health, it always seems borderline to dictate what consenting adults can do between each other. I doubt very many sex workers would say with unalloyed honesty they feel “empowered” by their work; but it seems disempowering in-of-itself to say they ought to feel degraded because of what they do.

  2. I’m not saying they should feel degraded for what they do, I’m saying that what they do is inherently degrading (for me to qualify inherently would take a LONG time explaining my metaphysics of sex) so it’s a different kind of degrading than working in McDonald’s or a sewage treatment plant. I think that we should strive to create a world in which no one has to turn to sex work in order to make money to support themselves. And while I am totally against paternalism and the government dictating what rational adults do, I don’t think we will ever reach a situation in which no one is forced into sex work and no one feels they have to turn to sex work in order to up hold a standard of living.

  3. I agree with Logical. They need to step one way over the line and not straddle it.

    Though I do not understand the degradation comment as I can not tell if the degradation being referred to is of the person’s psychy or some version of a soul that is being degraded.

  4. I really wish now I had qualified that I do believe degradation experienced by sex-workers is probably qualitatively different from that experienced in other menial work (maybe even that involving sewage) for most prostitutes, insofar as these things can be meaningfully individuated by those who have not engaged in such activities.
    That being said, even if we can meaningfully and correctly speak of the “inherent” degradation of sex work*, some people will choose that degradation over others. I’m not sure how someone can be degraded if they don’t actually *feel* degraded; they can be harmed, certainly, physically, financially, or socially, but if they don’t actually feel shame or a compromise of self-worth, I don’t think they could be called “degraded.” I mean no offense, but it seems somewhat condescending to tell someone of sound mind and healthy pride they aren’t qualified to tell whether or not they are “degraded.” Not all sex work (and in that definition I mean prostitution as well as stripping and pornography) is done out of a fear for survival. An unknown percentage of it certainly it is—and perhaps the majority of prostitute sex in history has been initiated from desperation—but not all. I don’t have reliable data on that question in the US or Canada. Some sex workers might want to raise their standard of living from lower class to middle class, and take the route of sex work to do it. They might even recognize there are alternative routes to get there, e.g. job training or going back to school, but choose not to take them. So the aim to achieve a state wherein no one feels sex work is the only way to “hold up a standard of living” seems utopian. Of course, most goals striven towards are unattained or unattainable. When we strive, we more often alleviate the symptoms than cure maladies, most of which are terminal. So to strive towards the elimination of an activity which has been a feature of every human society in history seems misguided. Work to minimize it, yes, and ensure the safety of those who practice it, yes. The surest way to do that to me seems to tolerate but regulate the business. Sex workers who can go to the police without fear have a diminished reason for seeking out a pimp. Prosecuting only johns might put prostitutes at harm. Customers might resent the fact that if they’re caught, they themselves will be prosecuted but the prostitute would face no or lesser penalties, and take out that frustration on the sex worker.
    An unarguementative remark: Prostitution legality is one of those issues, along with abortion after the first trimester, that I feel kind of guilty about in taking any stance on.** I feel bad for saying that; sex workers command as much sympathy as any other marginalized profession.
    Yet given that lives are at stake on them, I feel obliged to think as critically about the question as possible; my questions to myself are often framed, “Which option would ruin the fewest lives?” Prostitution does ruin the lives of some prostitutes (not all, but an indeterminate amount). But I can’t but think a lengthy prison sentence, the indignities of “rehabilitation,” and the mark of conviction on a permanent record (to say nothing of the mortal dangers of underground, illegal operations) would be worse for more people.

    *Which I can’t imagine would actually be unique to sex work, but would probably manifest itself over all sexual relationships with radical power imbalances, i.e. a mistress being strung along by a married man making promises he has no intent to follow up on, an abused spouse who continues to have consensual sex with an abuser during “good days”, etc. etc.
    ** I think (and hope) this is not from indecision or a lap-dogish imperative to please everyone, but a recognition of value pluralism and the essentially tragic state of humankind.

  5. Kel– I would not say degradation of the soul, but definitely degradation of oneself in physical form.

    Bento– My counterargument is going to come down to my universal moralism and metaphysics of sex. I think it best for me to flesh out my argument else where. In short sex quid pro quo is a no go.

    On another note, I think it’s odd that you feel guilty forming an opinion on sex work. Men can be sex workers as well, just as it takes two people to make a baby.

  6. Logic-Is prostitution different from say alcohol or the drugs people take? Those degrade the physical form as well.

  7. Prostitution isn’t different from the way drugs or alcohol degrade the body. While I said that I am against the legalization of prostitution, I do not think the government should be so patronizing as to dictate what rational adult human beings want to do. I extend this to my thoughts about drugs and alcohol. If rational adults want to abuse drugs and alcohol, so be it. It’s their choice.

  8. LO: You’ll notice I used entirely gender-neutral terms to discuss sex workers.
    I feel guilty defending legalizing prostitution, abortion, and sweatshops because I recognize this usually means defending a state of affairs far from the ideal, and because it can involve a conflict of genuine values like those Isaiah Berlin predicted following from his account of pluralism, or a Hegelian tragedy.

    • My mistake Bento. As the saying goes, when you assume you make and ass out of you and me. I assumed that you meant as a male you felt guilty having an opinion one way or another, please forgive my mistake.

  9. No hard feelings about the gender-neutral language misunderstanding, if you were worried about that.
    Also, sorry for flooding your inbox with comment notifications. But one more final clarification.
    I feel I’ve been somewhat confusing. As to the “guilt” comment: “Guilty,” I think, was the wrong word. It would have been better to say I didn’t come to my position lightly, and even though I stand by it even in its underdevelopment, I’m still uneasy talking about it. I think this uneasiness stems from
    a.) simple embarassment from defending an unpopular position, even if it is one I think to be the most humane one to take on the question
    b.) enabling a profession I don’t disapprove of in-of-itself, but at the same time I could never reccomend anyone go into, given that
    i.) it is so easy for something to go so horribly wrong in many fields of sex work, and
    ii.) practicioners (especially female practicioners) will have a hard time ever living down the (largely undeserved) stigma in mainstream society. Some people have a neutral or positive experience with sex work; but by no means all do. Still, given all the possible bad consequences of that choice, they should not be hounded by or alienated from the law.

  10. I think you are misunderstanding me as well. By not legalizing prostitution I am not suggesting that I agree with present law enforcement practices of criminalizing prostitutes. Those who turn to prostitution should be “rehabilitated” which I realize is NOT the right word, but by “rehabilitated” I mean helped by social services (generously brought to you by tax payers) to find a job and get what they need in order so they don’t need to turn to degrading sex work.

  11. Logical:
    I realize that. But would this not-rehabilitation rehabilitation be mandatory? Because I could imagine some species of abuse if that were the case. But even in the absence of abuse, there is still the matter of an external actor circumscribing an individual’s autonomy in the name of averting their own standard of degredation.
    But if it’s not mandatory, would the choice for sex workers be “rehabilitation” v. prison? Or rehabilitation v. continuing their present work without legal penalties? If the latter is the case, is our disagreement really that pronounced? You said you disagree with the current practice of “criminalizing” prostitution. Is not disagreement with the criminalization of some thing implicit support of *decriminalization*? (The distinction of decriminalization v. legalization is a subtle but important distinction I’m not sure even I understand. I would need to do mro reading on the subject before I could say with any confidence if I support legalization or decriminalization. Either way, I’d advocate regulation of the practice, with at least Nevada-style mandates for condom use and annual health certification. Beyond that, I’m unsure as to what other policy specifics I would advocate, though I couldn’t support any measure without strong, active protections against coercive pimping and human trafficking/sex slavery.)
    Also, the Nobel Committee’s decision to grant Obama the Peace Prize is riddiculous. Blog about that.

    • Why would someone not want help getting out of sex work, specifically street prostitution, not the sex work Jesster is talking about? So, yes “rehab” is mandatory.

  12. Let me stir the pot a bit here – I come from the pro-sex work camp of feminism. Some women, and let me clarify SOME, not MOST or ALL, actually get into sex work because they enjoy it. These are not the street prostitutes I think ya’ll are referring to above. These are the women who moonlight as a dominatrix, for example. Often, as is the case with the dominatrix, there is no actual penetrative sex happening as part of the job. Some women enjoy playing with sexuality, enjoy being in a position of sexual power for a change, and just enjoy the idea that their job is to make other people feel good. In this context, I don’t think it is degrading by any stretch – it’s actually a form of female empowerment. I think you’d be surprised how many suburban moms and housewives are actually sex workers based on my definition above.

    I’m speaking just to the female-identified sex worker because of the feminist implications, though I also agree that anyone can be a sex worker (and they are).

    To address the prostitution out of necessity issue, there is a whole big can of worms involved in getting prostitutes into a place where they don’t turn to sex work anymore. (A solid chunk of my clients have turned to survival sex at some point because a solid chunk of my clients are either homeless or living in poverty). These people need good support systems. They need education. They often need substance abuse rehabilitation. They need interview-appropriate clothing. They need reliable transportation to and from work. They need child care. They need public assistance for things like food and healthcare while they get back on their feet. They need to be shown a tangible plan for how they can make enough to survive comfortably without turning to sex work and guided along that plan, because sex work is a lot more money for a lot less time. The issue basically becomes that no one is willing to devote that kind of time and those kind of resources to sex workers because of the stigma surrounding sex work in the first place. You don’t see non-profits set up specifically to get sex workers back on their feet, because who is going to cut that organization a check? There are several places doing that type of work as part of their case management program (mine included), but there just aren’t the resources to devote the kind of attention that is necessary in that case. It absolutely sucks, but I think that if the resources were there, people would take the initiative to get themselves out of sex work.

    And Bento, I thought the Obama Nobel Peace Prize thing was a joke. Now I’m a little depressed.

  13. Jesster–The “rehabilitation” I am suggesting is the kind you mention at the end of your post. Help getting out of prostitution and all that that entails.

    As for the other kind of sex-work you mention, I don’t see a problem with what you describe. It’s about positive empowerment and feeling good.

  14. Jesster: I don’t recall the exact figure, but I do know something like less than 10 percent of sex workers in the US are “streetwalkers,” and comparable figures repeat throughout the Western world. I think (?) LO and I are arguing about the fate of that >10%, and if not them, the majority of sex workers who aren’t well-off dominatrixes, or escorts charging $500/hr. I’m more concerned about the demographics who are in such a place that they might take advantage of the programs you suggest.
    LO: When you say “mandatory,” do you mean
    a.) the state could not refuse any sex worker who approached them for “rehabilitation”?
    b.) all prostitutes would be forced into “rehabilitation” whether or not they want to participate?
    I’m also not sure how your views on sex work can be called “deontological” if you have no problem with some kinds of sex work (e.g. that done by suburban dominatrixes) but not others. Wouldn’t genuine deontology be indifferent to the actual material circumstances of sex-working actors, and focus only on the principles involved?
    You’re probably planning on fleshing out the distinction in your planned longer post on sexual metaphysics, but I just wanted to express my confusion.

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