The polarization of the debate surrounding the current court case challenging Canada’s prostitution laws raises difficult questions about the role morality should play in lawmaking.
Toronto dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and prostitutes Valerie Scott, 51, and Amy Lebovitch, 30, are asking Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to decriminalize prostitution, saying current laws make it dangerous for women working in the sex trade.
Opponents claim decriminalization of prostitution condones the selling of sex and that is wrong.
But is it really up to the law to decide whether the selling of sex is right or wrong?
Originally outlawed under Victorian social-hygiene-policy-based “vagrancy laws” – which also applied to jugglers, loafers and other general undesirables – this was considered discriminatory when Canada’s first criminal code was passed in 1892. So to satisfy moral objection to prostitution, the buying and selling of sex was made legal, but “soliciting” was not. Which is sort of like trying to be a door-to-door salesman who isn’t allowed to go door-to-door.
Also, pretty much every activity surrounding prostitution – communicating, bawdy houses, and pimping, to name a few – is illegal. But, despite all this, the sex trade continues to flourish. In other words, outlawing prostitution doesn’t make it go away.
Besides, if you think prostitution should be outlawed because you have a moral objection to the commercialization of sex, well, in today’s society, there isn’t much that isn’t turned into a commodity. Why is sex so sacred it can’t be bought or sold?
It’s anyone’s moral right to frown on prostitution, but morality doesn’t justify putting women in danger. The law is intended to protect the vulnerable in our society.
According to Statistics Canada, prostitution is in the top three most risky professions along with cops and cab drivers. Given that, I’d say these (mostly) women fit the description.
Still, prostitution laws achieve the opposite. Because “communicating” is illegal, street workers have to jump in cars with strangers to negotiate their terms. The streets aren’t safe, but because bawdy houses are illegal, they can’t go indoors. And one need only look at the Picton Pig Farm case for more proof of this job’s hazards.
There should be legal limits on sex, but they should be there to protect vulnerable people, not to reflect or dictate our sexual morality. To look to the law to tell us what is healthy when it comes to sexuality is just wrong.