by Tasha Kheiriddin.  June 13, 2013.

“Hello graduating class, and welcome to Careers Day, 2014. It’s time now to hear from our distinguished alumni. We’re pleased to have with us a lawyer, a dental hygienist, a pipefitter, a chef and a prostitute. Each of them will be talking about their profession, and why it could be right for you.”

Far-fetched? Not if dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford and friends get their way at the Supreme Court. Bedford claims Canada’s prostitution laws are unconstitutional because they violate her right to security of the person under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The lower courts have already agreed in whole or in part with her contention that the laws in question — ‘living on the avails of prostitution’, ‘communicating in public for the purposes of prostitution’ and ‘operating a brothel or any other type of prostitution house’ — are illegal because they prevent prostitutes from operating in “safe” environments.

A victory for Bedford wouldn’t just be a nightmare for guidance counsellors, but for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Never mind fending off attempts to discuss abortion — imagine having to craft new laws around the world’s oldest profession. Be too permissive and you’ll be accused of going soft on crime; be too harsh and you’re discriminating against women. The Senate scandal would seem downright tame by comparison.

More importantly, however, legalizing brothels would prove a nightmare for the very group it is supposed to help: vulnerable young people, mostly women and girls, trapped in the sex trade by pimps and organized crime. Moving their “work” indoors might shield it from public view, but will not shield them from abuse. According to Lisa Steacy of Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, “striking down the laws won’t make women safer … Women are not any safer behind closed doors than in public.”
Instead of protecting vulnerable women, legalizing brothels would simply expand the sex industry and entrench two classes of workers, the ‘legitimate’ ones in brothels and the lesser ones on the streets.

In fact, groups like Sextrade101 argue that it’s actually easier to victimize prostitutes in private than in public. Founder Natasha Falle, a former prostitute, tells a harrowing tale of abuse — all of which occured while she worked indoors in a common bawdy house. “I made a lot of money. I bought my pimp a Mercedes. I had a Mustang, we lived in a penthouse, but I was still subjected to all of the violence … He broke my arms, my ribs. My nose has been broken three times.”

As for women already on the street, it is unlikely they would benefit from the so-called “safe” environments Bedford proposes. Many of these women, sad to say, wouldn’t “qualify” to work in a regulated brothel. They may have STDs, including AIDS. They may be drug-addicted, they may be mentally ill. Instead of protecting vulnerable women, legalizing brothels would simply expand the sex industry and entrench two classes of workers, the “legitimate” ones in brothels and the lesser ones on the streets.

It would also create demand — and when that demand isn’t met by the local supply of prostitutes, human trafficking would fill the gap. Case studies of Sweden, Denmark and Germany show that “on average, countries with legalized prostitution experience a larger degree of reported human trafficking inflows.” Australia also experienced an increase in trafficking after legalizing prostitution twenty years ago. In Victoria today, there are 100 legal brothels — but also 400 illegal ones, populated mainly by women trafficked from Asian countries who work for lower wages and have none of the protections domestic prostitutes demand. Meanwhile, street workers continue to ply their trade, and are no safer than they were before the profession was legalized.

As for women and girls in general, a victory for Bedford would send an alarming message: that prostitution is perfectly OK. According to Falle, “prostitution will become a licensed business, pimps will be legitimate businesspeople, billboards advertising brothels could start appearing on roadsides” and “a brothel could open up in the apartment next to yours or in the house next to yours.”

Prostitution is not always a compact between consenting adults. While there are women who, like Bedford, are wholly comfortable with their choice of work and lifestyle, child prostitutes, abused women and trafficked sex slaves are hardly in the same category.

Striking down Canada’s prostitution laws would only increase the ability of gangs and pimps to victimize them. If the Supreme Court goes that route, it would not protect their Charter right to security, but expose them to greater harm.

Source: 2013 iPolitics Inc.