Prostitution is one of the worst and most alarming social issues that countries globally are facing nowadays. Known generally as the world’s oldest trade or profession, prostitution is widely considered as one of the dark sides of a society. However, with the modern twists and turns in every society, the negative image of prostitution has been starting to become favorable in many countries worldwide. And this emergence of prostitution as a favorable or a tolerated industry is best manifested by the increasing number of countries that become in favor of its legalization—one of such is Canada. Studying the prevalence of prostitution in Canada, what are the laws that support sex trade in that country?
The status of the prostitution laws in Canada is often misunderstood, attributable to the fact that the government actually fails to define prostitution—its take on it, and the limits and coverage of the laws its officials have legislated pertaining to it. Prostitution in Canada is generally supposed as legal as there are actually no laws that prohibit its occurrence or availability (Morton, Klein, and Gorzalka, 2012). However, there are still laws pertaining to sex trade that do not directly prohibit it but narrow the conditions under which it can occur (Morton et al., 2012). Such laws include Criminal Code section 210 and section 211 or the bawdy-house laws which state that it is illegal to either “keep or be found within a common bawdy-house” (Morton et al., 2012, p. 230). Another law that impedes the availability and occurrence of prostitution in Canada is the Criminal Code section 213 or the “communication law” which prohibits any form of communication done in the name of sex trade or sexual exploitation (Morton et al., 2012). The Criminal Code section 212, the law that deems it illegal for someone to live “on the avails of prostitution as well as procuring individuals into prostitution” (Morton et al., 2012, p. 230), which also prohibits participation in any sex trade that involves minors below the age of 18 (Morton et al., 2012), are just some of the laws implemented in Canada that obstruct the availability and prevalence of prostitution. However, these laws, despite being effective in intervening with the sex trade that happens in the country, do not directly prevent or prohibit the very act of prostitution. Consequently, prostitution in Canada is relatively more prevalent compared to countries that criminalize the very act of prostitution. But just recently, the state of the abovementioned prostitution laws in Canada has suffered another blow after an Ontario Superior Court judge declared their removal upon deciding that they are unconstitutional (Morton et al., 2012). As a response, both Ontario and the federal government of Canada appealed the decision, making the future of the three laws uncertain (Morton et al., 2012). Furthermore, the removal of the prostitution laws described in brief above is followed by the possible legalization of prostitution in Canada as the only fundamental laws that somehow control its prevalence are now gone.
The viewpoint that the legalization of prostitution in Canada would bring a safer and better working environment for the sex workers with the idea that authorities will have power to secure, and therefore look after the prostitutes within, brothels is false. Legalization of prostitution would just increase incidences of violence and would even promote various forms of it in exploited individuals. As stated by Post (2011) prostitution is a serious human rights issue and is in itself a form of human trafficking. Ranking as the “second most important arena of international crime” (Post, 2011, p.65), prostitution as a form of human trafficking trails behind the trade of illegal drugs and alongside illegal arms sale (Post, 2011). Furthermore, prostitution considered as the modern form of slavery, 600,000 to 800,000 are people are estimated to be trafficked across international borders each with 80% of them identified as women and girls, while approximately 50% are considered minors (Post, 2011). Also, acknowledging the occurrence of prostitution as a form of trade directly increases the number of people that patronize the industry, consequently leading to an increase in the number of sex workers in order for the demand to be met (Post, 2011). As Post accurately stated, “[l]egalization [of prostitution] gives approval to that violence, that control, that evaluation, and that colonization” (Post, 2011, p. 66), as she pertains to the negative aspects that are inevitably associated with sex trade and the promotion of such human rights violation through the legalization of prostitution (Post, 2011). The belief that the legalization of prostitution will also give government better control over the industry is false. In fact, legalizing prostitution is an act that will inevitably take away the power of any authorities as any laws that they may enforce to protect the prostituted from any forms of violence related to prostitution would be taken away in the event of legalization (Post, 2011). Legalization of sex trade also attracts more violence as perpetrators would have the tendency to believe that it is okay to hurt a sex worker because the government does not do anything to keep them from the business (Post, 2011).
Furthermore, the overall health statuses of the individuals who engage in prostitution are highly at risk. Prostituted women are highly likely to suffer from depression, mania, suicidal thoughts, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, dissociative disorders and chemical dependence—all of these alongside the fact that most of the people affected by sexually transmitted diseases are prostituted (Post, 2011). The feelings of betrayal, stigmatization, and powerlessness that are inevitably felt by sex workers are seen as the major causative factors that bring about their psychological distress (Finkelhor & Brown, 1985 as cited in Surratt, Kurtz, Chen, and Mooss, 2012). Such factors stated above are further expounded to have been directly linked with the violence that sex workers are exposed to (Surratt et al., 2012), which supports the earlier statements that present the violence on prostitution, all the more with its legalization. The effects that sex trade has on prostitutes can affect more individuals with the legalization of prostitution because this act would (1) call for a greater demand for sex workers which will consequently prompt more individuals to be involved with sex trade, (2) take the removal of laws that protect the prostituted from violence, and (3) promote unprotected sex which is unavoidably associated with sex trade—an aspect over which the government would have no control if it will legalize prostitution.
Aside from the violence and health risks imposed by prostitution, violation of human rights is just another of its tremendous vile aspects. An outstanding example is the case with the prostituted women of The Netherlands who chose not to register under the prostitution laws of their country in an effort to avoid being labeled as “prostitutes” all their lives (Post, 2011). Not just the legalization of prostitution expose women to great health and violence risk, but it also serves as a derogation of their identity. Legalization of prostitution also violates the right to equality that women innately have (Post, 2011). With the beginning of protest against prostitution originating from feminist groups in 1960s who believe that sex trade involving female sex workers is a violence of women’s equality rights, the issue on prostitution became a multi-faceted social problem (Wahab and Panichelli, 2013; Post 2011). The idea that women who work for the purposes of prostitution, submitting themselves to men who treat them as objects rather than as women in exchange of money and other favors, has become the cornerstone image of prostitution as a violation of women’s equality rights (Post, 2011). And with the legalization of prostitution in countries or the removal of primary laws that protect women from being the victims of sexual exploitation, such as in the case of Canada, such concerns regarding ethical and human rights of women being violated will undoubtedly increase. But not just the legalization of prostitution should be avoided when considering the ethical viewpoint of the prostitutes. The laws legislated in different countries worldwide that arrest, harass, and even embarrass women who work as prostitutes should also be taken into great consideration (Deering, Amin, Shoveller, Nesbitt, Garcia-Moreno, Duff, Argento, and Shannon, 2014; Wahab and Panichelli, 2013). It is the very prostitution that should be controlled and alleviated, not the workers who are most likely aggravated on basis of race, gender orientation, and nature of association with prostitution (Wahab and Panichelli, 2013). As stated in the study of Wahab and Panichelli (2013), the movements of authorities in a certain country that also cause violence against sex workers but guised as something done for their own safety are other aspects of prostitution that urgently need to be addressed. Furthermore, prostitution diversion programs implemented in some countries as an alternative destination, apart from jail, for prostitutes captured by the authorities need to strike down some of its criteria in order to serve more prostituted individuals who are actually trying to find a way through which they can change the path of their lives (Wahab and Panachelli, 2013). Also, prostitutes should be able to choose whether or not they would enroll in prostitution diversion programs after their arrest—a privilege that is part of their rights as free individual (Wahab and Panachelli, 2013). The violation of ethical rights of sex workers due to the stigma caused by prostitution in a society is another reason for sex trade not to be legalized.
In concession, the fact that prostitution would still exist despite efforts to extinguish it through its criminalization should be realized and applied. The debate between the supporters of legalization and its non-followers reflects the diverse views on the matter. While it is true that sex workers’ choice to obtain a living from sex trade must be respected, the government should still be capable to distinguish the line between human trafficking and sex workers’ willful association in sex trade. Laws should still be implemented to protect individuals from being exploited while avoiding to harass or violate other people’s willful choices of profession.
Deering, K.N., Amin, A., Shoveller, J., Nesbitt, A., Garcia-Moreno, C., Duff, P., Argento, E., and Shannon, K. (2014, May). A Systematic Review of the Correlates of Violence Against Sex Workers. American Journal of Public Health, 104(5), 42-54. DOI:10.2105/AJPH.2014.301909
Morton, H., Klein, C., and Gorzalka, B.B. (2012, April). Attitudes, Beliefs, and Knowledge of Prostitution and the Law in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology & Criminal Justice, 229-244. DOI:10.3138/cjccj.2010.E.46
Post, D. (2011). Legalization of Prostitution is a Violation of Human Rights. National Lawyers Guild Review, 68(2), 65-108. Retrieved from http://www.nlg.org/sites/default/files/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/NLGRev-68-2-Final.pdf
Surratt, H.L., Kurtz, S.P., Chen, M., and Mooss, A. (2012, May). HIV risk among female sex workers in Miami: The impact of violent victimization and untreated mental illness. AIDS Care, 24(5), 553-561. DOI:10.1080/09540121.2011.630342.
Wahab, S., and Panichelli, M. (2013). Ethical and Human Rights Issues in Coercive Interventions with Sex Workers. Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 28(4), 334-349. DOI: 10.1177/0886109913505043