Recent court rulings in Ontario have brought the question of prostitution to the forefront of the Canadian public policy debate. They have also led to the usual calls by the prostitution lobby for the legalization of their “trade.”
A shocking number of otherwise intelligent people in this country have hopped onto the progressive bandwagon of advocating for legalized prostitution. Many of those people are probably red in the face as they read this column, noting that I use the word prostitution, instead of their more politically correct “sex trade.” Colonizing mainstream language to normalize these activities is but one step on the road to Canada enabling one of the most inherently abusive industries known to mankind.
Uninformed people of all political stripes, including many misguided libertarians, frame this debate in the same light as the alcohol prohibition of the early century. They make two distinct claims that I will endeavour to respond to. First, that prostitution is not inherently an industry of abuse and social vice. Second, that legalizing and regulating prostitution will eliminate those vices currently associated with the practice. In the words of an editorial by The Economist in September, 2004, “Criminalisation forces prostitution into the underworld. Legalisation would bring it into the open, where abuses such as trafficking and under-age prostitution can be more easily tackled. Brothels would develop reputations worth protecting.”
There is no strong objective data to stand upon when arguing that prostitution is not inherently a social vice of significant proportions. Dr. Richard Poulin is a Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa, an authority who has studied the nature of prostitution thoroughly. In 2005 he published a study entitled “The legalization of prostitution and its impact on trafficking in women & children”. His findings include the following:
- Studies of street prostitution in England established that 87% were victims of violence in the 12 months prior to responding to the survey;
- The average age of entry into prostitution in Canada in 1998 was between 14.1 and 14.8 years old;
- 80% of Canadian prostitutes were children when they began being prostituted;
- Women and girls working as prostitutes experience a mortality rate that is 40 times the Canadian national average;
- The total number of individuals prostituted around the world, many of them forced, many of them trafficked, sits at 40 million and is consistently rising;
- A research study in Chicago revealed that 21.4% of women working as escorts had been raped more than 10 times;
- A study in Minneapolis showed that 78% of prostitutes had been raped by customers or pimps an average of 49 times a year;
- 49% of American prostitutes have been victims of abduction, transported between states against their will.
These statistics paint a clear picture. Violence is not simply a result of prostituting, it is intrinsic to it. There is no avoiding this reality. Women and girls are enslaved into sexual commodification, and are treated as such by those who claim to own them.
Meaningless, says the prostitution lobby. All of these ills can be solved if we simply legalize!
But again, the data falls flat on that proposal. Those voices made the same claims in Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, and other nations, and those claims proved not only false, but backwards. The inherent violence and social chaos of prostitution is amplified where it is legalized, not reversed. The social advocacy of the legalization lobby is detrimental to precisely the people they want to help, the prostitutes themselves.
80% of prostitutes in Amsterdam were born outside of the Netherlands and were trafficked there illegally. These are the largest numbers in Europe. Legalizing brothels and red light districts do not create safe spaces for prostitutes: they create safe spaces for pimps and organized crime. Denmark has seen an increase in human trafficking tenfold since they legalized prostitution.
The much lauded Dutch prostitute’s registry is used by only 4% of the country’s prostitutes, the overwhelming majority of which are the tiny proportion of Dutch citizens who actually still participate in the trade. There are thousands more child prostitutes in Amsterdam today than there were before legalization.
Legalization benefits pimps and their organized crime bosses, whose profits in legalized jurisdictions have jumped dramatically as a result of legislation which favours their terrible work.
Legalizing prostitution doesn’t eliminate illegal brothels. In the Australian state of Victoria, where legalization has occured, illegal brothels outnumber legal ones 4 to 1.
The conclusion is clear: prostitution and its worst attributes proliferate massively wherever the trade has been legalized. In the words of Dr. Poulin:
There are two major consequences of the legalization of prostitution. First, the institutional officialization (legalization) of sex markets strengthens the activities of organized pimping and organized crime. Secondly, such strengthening, accompanied by a significant increase in prostitution-related activities and in trafficking, brings with it a deterioration not only in the general condition of women and children, but also, in particular, that of prostituted people and the victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
Any movement towards easing restrictions on prostitution is one step towards easing trafficking, boosting the profits of international crime, promoting the violent abuse of women, and increasing the incentive to participate in a system of sexual slavery.
The Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, and other governmental authorities should continue their morally superior, fact-based opposition to prostitution. This isn’t a trade. This is abuse. No matter what the legalizers tell you.