Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Our squeamishness means more women die

VICTORIA - Up in Prince George, the city has just lost a legal fight to deny a business licence to a woman running an escort agency.
Down in Vancouver, the courtroom is being readied for the trial of Robert Pickton, charged with murdering 26 women, prostitutes working the city's dangerous streets.
Can you spot the connection?
The sex trade makes most of us deeply uncomfortable. We don't like the idea that men and women will perform sex acts with strangers for money. We don't like to think too much about the thousands of customers who keep the trade alive.
Our squeamishness is understandable. But it's also fatal.
Prostitution is legal in Canada. In part, that's in recognition that people have the right to decide what to do with their bodies. And in part we have acknowledged that the trade has flourished for more than 2,000 years and we're not likely to change that now.
But we don't like it. And our response is to push the sex trade into the shadows and out of sight.
So municipalities make life difficult for escort agencies and massage parlours - as Prince George did in illegally denying a licence renewal to the Black Orchid escort agency. (There are, as always, lots of points to argue about the case; the bottom line is that the B.C. Supreme Court found the city had no legal basis for its actions.)
Police, usually responding to public pressure, push the local stroll into the darkest, least-populated corners of the city or town.
Here in Victoria, it's an older industrial district on the far reaches of the downtown, deserted at night. No neighbours to be bothered by cruising cars and sex-trade workers on corners. But also no witnesses when things go wrong, few people to call for help. The 80 to 100 people working the streets are alone.
It is a gift to predators.
Sometimes the authorities go farther. Last month Lower Mainland police pooled their resources and dozens of officers swooped down on 18 massage parlours in one night.
The goal, police said, was to protect the women working in them and fight the risk of human trafficking.
But the 78 women police "helped" were led away in handcuffs. Police found all were at least 21 and in the country legally. While their workplaces were shutdown and they were cuffed, not one was charged.
In fact the while exercise did not result in one charge. Most of the businesses have re-opened.
It's not even any sort of accomplishment if a few have closed. Those women might well now be working the streets, in much greater danger than before the police launched their pointless raids. (At least pointless in terms of any actual measurable outcome.)
That's not to criticize police, or Prince George's city staff, for that matter. They are simply responding to our discomfort by attempting to push prostitution somewhere out of sight.
Police generally acknowledge that reality. When Prince George RCMP launched a program aimed at arresting johns in 2004, they were clear about the reason for trying to reduce the number of clients.
"If there is no longer persons buying the sex trade services then those sex trade workers may feel the need to move away from this community and to pursue their activities elsewhere," the police said.
The women wouldn't stop working. They would just go somewhere - anywhere - else.
Usually, somewhere more dangerous.
The message to sex-trade workers is also clear: We don't want to see you, hear from you or deal with your problems.
And that too makes them easier prey. Former Prince George provincial court judge David Ramsey attacked young girls, most working as prostitutes, over nine years before he was arrested.
Our determination to push them into the shadows helped make that happen.
Most of us don't like the idea of prostitution.
But it is here. Our unwillingness to accept reality and help people find safer ways to work doesn't change that.
It just means that more women will die.
Footnote: Most out-of-touch quote on the topic goes to Solicitor General John Les who described the Lower Mainland raids as "a huge shot across the bow" for anyone considering going into the sex trade. How? No one was charged; most were back at work within days. The effect of the raids was, more or less, nothing.

1 comment:

Steve said...

Legalizing drugs might help fix the problem for some prostitutes, maybe, by making drugs cheaper.

So far, no prostitute admits to being nuts and on antidepressants.

Yet the dishonesty inherent in the dating game might drive some men to buy prostitutes rather than put up with the sometime expensive art of dating.

Though men with "not-my-type" disease will be sorely tempted.