January 20, 2014
Parliament should put a top priority on replacing the anti-prostitution laws that the Supreme Court last month ruled violate the Charter of Rights. The court ruled that current laws barring communication for the purpose of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution and keeping a common bawdy house represent, in various ways, threats to the safety of prostitutes.
In short, the court decided that today's laws are too broad and may, in some instances, outlaw activities that help protect prostitutes from the violence which all too often accompanies their activities alone on the street. The ruling assumed, not unreasonably, that prostitutes are typically the victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual exploitation.
Parliament now faces the choice between, on the one hand, legalizing and regulating all activities surrounding prostitution or, on the other hand, striving to eradicate, or at least minimize, the level of prostitution.
Elected officials ought to take the latter route, finding prudent ways to protect the social goods violated by the selling of sex. First, the law must protect the lives and personal safety of the girls and women involved in this trade. Second, it must help prostitutes find ways out of the inherently degrading act of selling their bodies for sex.
Third, it ought to be recognized that prostitution involves moral harm to all people in the "industry" – from johns to prostitutes to those living on the avails to uninvolved bystanders.
Given the current climate of sexual morality in society, Parliament is not likely to enter into serious discussion of this third aspect. Yet, it ought to be recognized that sexual exploitation is a very broad class of actions in which the human body is treated as an object to be used for pleasure rather than as sacred flesh which ought to be accorded great dignity.
Prostitution flourishes when the dignity of the body has been obscured. The failure to recognize that dignity shows itself in phenomena ranging from pornography to the scattering of the ashes of the dead.
On the narrower issue of prostitution, many are championing the so-called Nordic solution in which johns and pimps would be liable to prosecution while funding would be made available for programs that help prostitutes escape life on the street.
This would be a step in the right direction. It is unlikely, however, that this alone would come close to eliminating the physical dangers facing prostitutes. Also, while it would be a deterrent to johns and pimps, it would not challenge the underlying moral climate that makes prostitution a lucrative business.
Prostitution may be the oldest profession. However, it is a profession that would not flourish to as great an extent if society gave greater respect to the dignity of women and the human body.
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