Lies and falsehood from the prostitution lobby

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.

Brendan Steven is a contributor to Landmark Report and the Editor-in-Chief of the Prince Arthur Herald, North America's premier online student newspaper. He is a university student at Montreal's McGill University.

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13 Responses to “Lies and falsehood from the prostitution lobby”

  1. Shelly says:

    Fascist. Get out of the bedrooms of the nation and stop advocating for complete control of everyone. Cons are such hypocrites.

  2. Roger Marherk says:

    again, this is an opinion piece, why is this in the news section?

    • Greg S., Toronto says:

      News can't have opinion attached to it?

      • Roger M says:

        NO! because then it is no longer news, it is opinion,

        You dont see news casters saying "the dumb prime minister just did this…"

        News is the reporting of facts and thats it.

        • Greg S., Toronto says:

          You're stuck in the past Roger. The internet and new media allow people to share the news with their spin on it. That's why I read this, because it's not boring. All journalists have bias; I'd prefer for said biases to be open and upfront like they are in blogs.

  3. CDP says:

    "Colonizing mainstream language to normalize these activities"
    -What? Colonizing? I'm not sure you know what this word means. Furthermore, there is nothing more "normalized" than the world's oldest profession.

    • Greg S., Toronto says:

      It's a metaphor, and it makes his point loud and clear. Why do we have to make being a street whore sound more "pleasant" for the girls who choose to do it?

  4. K.R. says:

    Here's what I don't get. And I am actually looking for an explanation on this. Conservatives pride themselves on respecting individual liberty and putting personal needs above society's needs. However, whenever the right is defending criminalized prostitution (and NOT using the religious argument) they tend to throw out this argument that it's bad for society and should be illegal. Shouldn't it be up to the women? If anything bad happens it's their own problem? Why is it our business?

  5. Liv says:

    Who cares about the societial implications? It’s still their body and their choice is it not?

  6. BB says:

    Spot on Brendan. one of the few things the law needs to do is make sure that disadvantaged groups are not exploited. This whole “freedom” thing (by people who usually don’t advocate for freedom) in terms of the prostitution debate has gone on too long.

  7. Daniel Paolini says:

    Solid work Brendan. All you misguided libertarians can also check out my recent piece on this issue elsewhere on LandmarkReport. Last time I checked a "choice" made under the coercion of addiction and violence wasn't a free choice at all.

    • Mademoiselle B. says:

      And you can claim to know all this because… are a prostitute? No. Ok, you've met ONE prostitute who was coerced and that means all prostitutes are as well? Probably not even that. You've read it somewhere in a study or a book and that makes you an expert? Oh let me guess. You heard from one of the fanatics who parade as academics and don't even attempt to hide their bias or their agenda? Stop assuming you know anything about the sex industry and the people who work in it.

      What you completely fail to realize is that first of all, most of the studies that exist are about survival street level prostitution. Street level prostitution is estimated to be about 15% of all prostitution and survival prostitution is a portion of that. That means over 85% of sex workers are not represented. There is not a single typical sex worker and to address the issue as if there was (as the above piece does) is to fundamentally fail to understand the topic you're trying to argue. Period. Please stop pretending you have an idea.

      Yes, I'm a sex worker. Yes, it's by choice. No, I don't have a pimp, nor have I ever met one. No, I am not working to support an addiction. No, I was not raped or abused as a child…or ever. Yes, I have an education. Yes, I do have other options but still prefer this one at this time. No, I've never been the victim of violence as a result of my work. No, I've never done anything I did not want to do. What I've not consented to doing has always been respected. I was 26 when I became a sex worker.

      I do not expect you to understand it but yes, I actually do enjoy what I do. Not 100% of the time, but I think most people can say the same too. I can assure you I am not the only one, I am not even unusual and definitely not an exception. I know numerous others who are the same. I do not work on the street, you don't see me and you'd never guess if you met me at the library or the grocery store.

      Does that mean I'm claiming all prostitutes are just like us? No, because I know it's far more complex than that and I realize there are numerous other voices. I would never deny others their own individual experience. And neither should you deny mine or anyone else's. It is extremely arrogant of you to dismiss and ignore the very people who are personally concerned by declaring yourself more knowledgeable and capable to decide for us.

      Guess, what? It's not about you or up to you and it is never going to be. You don't know and you don't get to tell me. I am quite capable of making my own decisions and I deserve the same rights to safety as anyone else does. Whether or not you approve of my choice of work is YOUR problem, not mine.

      I prefer "sex worker" but I've also referred to myself as a working girl, escort, hooker, companion, courtesan and I have no problem with the word "prostitute".

      What we do not appreciate and in fact find deeply offensive, as I'm sure any adult who might be treated this way also would, is the fanatical anti-sex abolitionists and radical feminists' created term "prostituted women". It clearly illustrates their narrow-minded, simplistic view that it is impossible for anyone to choose or consent to prostitution and that we are all victims. It implies that prostitution is an act of violence done *to* women (Of course, this completely fails to acknowledge that men are also prostitutes but they don't concern themselves with such details.)

      This claim is offensive on so many levels but trying to explain why it is offensive because we are not victims is pointless because that too is dismissed. We are brainwashed, suffer from false consciousness or some other absurd explanation that entitles them to know what's best for us better than we know ourselves. Of course they are then justified to treat us as children who cannot make their own choices and need to be protected.

      Also, by the way – Justice Himel did not think much of the "data" you cite from Mr. Poulin. I'm inclined to trust her judgement.

  8. Jeff Lewis says:

    Sex Trafficking/Slavery is used by many groups as a attempt to outlaw all prostitution around the world by saying that all women are victims even if they do it willing. This hurts any real victims because it labels all sex workers as victims.

    This is done by the media, aid groups, NGO’s, feminists, politicians, and religious organizations that receive funds from the government. There are very strong groups who promote that all adult women who have sex are victims even if they are willing, enjoy it and go out of there way to get it. These groups try to get the public to believe that no adult women in their right mind would ever go into the sex business unless she was forced to do so, weather she knew it or not. They say that 100% of all sex workers are trafficking victims.

    They do this in order to label all men as sex offenders and wipe out all consensual prostitution. Which is what their real goal is. There is almost no one who challenges or questions them about their false beliefs. Therefore, the only voices you hear are of these extreme groups. These groups want to label all men as terrible sex offenders for seeing a willing adult woman. No one stands up to say this is foolish, the passive public says nothing.

    These groups even say that all men who marry foreign women are terrible sex predators who take advantage of these “helpless foreign women wives”.

    These groups believe that two adults having consensual sex in private should be outlawed. Since they believe that it is impossible for a man to have sex with a woman without abusing the woman in the process.

    A key point is that on the sidelines the prostitutes themselves are not being listened to. They oppose laws against prostitution. But no one wants to listen to the prostitutes themselves. Only to the self appointed experts that make up numbers and stories many of which have never met a real forced sex slave or if they did it was only a few. The media and government never ask the prostitutes themselves what would help them in terms of laws.

    Many women in the sex business are independent workers. They don’t have a pimp.
    They work for themselves, advertise themselves, and keep all the money for themselves. No one forces them, because there isn’t anyone to force them. They go out and find their own customers, set their own prices, and arrange everything by themselves. Sometimes they may employ others to help them, but these are not pimps. If for example, she hires an internet web design company to make a website for her, does that make the web design company a pimp? If she pays a phone company for a phone to do business, does this make the phone company a pimp? If she puts an ad in the paper, does this make the editor a pimp? If she puts the money she makes into a bank account does this make the bank a pimp?

    A lot of anti prostitution groups would say yes. Everyone and everybody is a pimp.
    These groups make up lies, and false statistics that no one bothers to check. A big reason they do this is because it provides high paying jobs for them. They get big donations, and grants from the government, charity, churches, etc. to have these groups, and pay these high salaries of the anti prostitution workers.

    Sex trafficking is illegal and the pentities are very severe. It is very difficult to force someone to be a sex slave, they would have to have 24 hour guards posted and be watched 365 days a year, 24 hours per day. Have the threat of violence if they refused, and have no one notice and complain to the authorities or police. They would need to hide from the general public yet still manage to see customers from the general public and not have the customers turn the traffickers in to the police. They would need to provide them with medical care, food, shelter, and have all their basic needs met. They would need to have the sex slaves put on a fake front that they enjoyed what they were doing, act flirtatious and do their job well.

    They would have to deal with the authorities looking for the missing women, and hide any money they may make, since it comes from illegal activity. They must do all of this while constantly trying to prevent the sex slaves from escaping and reporting them to the police. They would need to prevent the general public from reporting them into the police. This is extremely difficult to do, which makes this activity rare. These criminals would be breaking dozens of major laws not just one. Kidnapping itself is a serious crime. There are many laws against sex trafficking, sex slavery, kidnapping, sex abuse, rape, sexual harassment etc. If someone is behind it, they will be breaking many serious laws, be in big trouble, and will go to jail for many long years. And do you actually think that there is a long line of people who want to have a career as a sex slave kidnapping pimp?

    Here are some good websites about sex trafficking:

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