Vancouver Rape Relief “troubled” by Supreme Court prostitution ruling

Spokesperson Hilla Kerner hopes landmark judgment doesn't lead to legalization of sex work

For Hilla Kerner, it was a relief to hear that the Supreme Court had declared three of Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional.

But Kerner, a spokesperson for Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter, told the Georgia Straight she was “troubled” by the landmark judgment released today (December 20), which struck down laws against keeping a bawdy‑house, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public for the purposes of selling sex. The country’s highest court gave Parliament one year to decide how to regulate prostitution.

“Women should not be punished for being in prostitution,” Kerner said by phone. “But we’re very worried by this ruling, unless there will be a new law—a better law—because it’s obvious that the current laws were not useful and not protective of women and, of course, not being upheld by the criminal justice system. But until then we are worried that men will basically now have permission to buy women’s bodies, to exploit women’s bodies, and to profit from women’s bodies.”

Kerner explained that Rape Relief supports the abolition of prostitution but opposes the criminalization of women in the sex trade. She called on MPs to come up with legislation that would criminalize male buyers of sex while offering “real opportunities” to women so they can exit the sex trade or avoid entering it in the first place. Such solutions include providing a guaranteed livable income and higher welfare rates, according to Kerner.

“Any parliamentarian who cares for women should support a law that on one hand prevents men from buying women and prevents men from pimping women, but on the other hand ensures women’s economic security, so they will not have to resort to prostitution,” Kerner said.

Earlier today, sex worker and advocate Susan Davis told the Straight that she would prefer to see the federal government not make any new laws on prostitution. She also spoke out against the Nordic model, which targets clients by criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and is used in Sweden.

“Kidnapping is illegal,” Davis said by phone from Vancouver. “Extortion is illegal. Unlawful confinement is illegal. Assault, rape, even human trafficking is specifically illegal. Why do we need two sets of laws to protect people?”

However, Kerner asserted that Vancouver’s “harm reduction” approach isn’t working and that Canada should look at models like Sweden’s. Her views are informed by years of working at Canada’s oldest rape crisis centre, which gets hundreds of calls every year from sex workers. She said she’s never met a woman who “willingly chooses” to work in the sex trade.

“I know some women will say it’s their choice,” Kerner said. “But I think that women who have a choice, they have a responsibility to choose something else. For the choice of the few, it will be a terrible mistake to sacrifice the many.”

As for the three prostitution laws that will become invalid in one year, Kerner explained that, on paper, they applied to both women and men. In practice, she noted, the laws were mostly enforced on women in the sex trade, who were harassed, arrested, and charged.

“The laws, to begin with, were problematic, because they did not differentiate between the women in prostitution and the men,” Kerner said. “But the application of the law was completely wrong. That’s how [serial killer Robert] Pickton was able to happen. Women were discouraged from complaining to the police. They were threatened and harassed and ignored. On the other hand, men like Pickton and other johns were allowed to walk free and keep continuing the violence.”

Comments (21) Add New Comment
Former Sex Trade Worker
That woman from the rape clinic is either a bold-faced liar or ridiculously ignorant when she says she's "never" seen a sex trade worker who isn't a victim of coercion into the industry. Either way, she's just proven that the women who are forced to work on the streets and are forced by pimps are more likely to be raped than those who willingly choose to work in the sex trade and in the safety of a secure in-call location!

I was a sex trade worker for 2.5 years. The industry I saw was shady due to the horribly suppressive laws! Still, I met MANY wonderful women who willingly worked as escorts and quite a few who actually said they enjoyed the liberation it gave them to work for themselves (and earn a good wage doing it)!

That some people actually think they're helping every sex-trade worker, by forcing them to work outside (instead of safely indoors) and by making laws that hide certain parts of the industry from sight, just flabbergasts me! Are they kidding?! You don't have the right to bitch about a broken system while refusing to support it being given proper regulation! These delusional nitwits are too busy pretending that prostitution shouldn't even exist that they don't even seem to care that it is the sex workers THEMSELVES asking for the laws to be changed!

You bleeding heart, hyper-moralistic egotists need to get over yourselves! Stop wasting everyone's goddamn time pretending like every prostitute needs you to ride in on your white horse to save them and start focusing your attention on helping the ones who actually do need the saving! And, let me tell you! You sure as Hell aren't "saving" them by making it more frightening for them to come forward and impossible for them to find legally regulated alternatives (where they won't get beaten by a pimp).

Smarten up, Conservatives! The Age of Ignorance is over. You lose simply because you're ignorant about a complex subject that you have the audacity to pretend to know everything about. Hyper-moralistic egotists, indeed...
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Hilla Kerner
To clarify - the relief I feel (the first sentence in the article) is about striking down the laws as they apply to women in prostitution. I am extremely worried about striking down the laws completely without differentiating between the women in prostitution and the jones and the pimps. As intervener, we argued to the Supreme Court that the extraordinary level of danger that women in prostitution face comes from johns, brothel owners, pimps and profiteers who enforce and demand male sexual access to women’s bodies. The decriminalization of these men will not protect prostituted women."
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Rick in Richmond
The writer "Former Sex Trade Worker" begins with euphemism and ends with delusion.

She uses the term 'sex worker' as if it were an occupation like electrical worker, or social worker. This Orwellian language is intended to disguise reality, and to sanitize brutality. Her political Newspeak changes nothing, in fact. She is trying to rationalize prostitution.

For the 99% of prostitutes, especially in the DTES, it is a life of drug addiction, exploitation and violence. Their lives cannot be glamorized. Their suffering cannot be rationalized.

A simple question. How many people like 'Former' would want their daughters to enter their 'profession'? I suspect that the answer is near-zero, and for deeply human reasons. Women like Hilla Kerner and her colleagues take the same view, and for deeply compassionate reasons.

The 1% in prostitution may well choose to fend for themselves, and rationalize their life choices. Public concern is for the 99% who wander the DTES risking disease, desperate to sustain addiction, and wanting more than anything else a way out.

'Formerly' may not care about their suffering. Thank God that the Womens' Shelter and Rape Relief do care. They offer hope and escape. 'Formerly' offers cliché and excuses.
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Erin Graham
"former", there is no need to resort to ad hominem (er, 'ad feminem, in this case) argument here. Hilla is neither lying nor delusional when she says she has never met anyone engaged in prostitution who chose it. The women who work in the shelters, transition houses, drop-in centres and rape crisis centres meet and work with women every day who are engaged in some aspect of the prostitution industry, and not one of them, even those who say there are enjoyable aspects, would have chosen it had other choices been available to them. And even if there are some who do choose it, it's unethical to promote their right to choose this at the expense of the majority who are pushed to it. Anyway, why are you not addressing the men who insist on their "right" to buy sex? It is not the law who harass, insult, threaten, beat, rape and kill women --it is men, and the men who pay for sex often believe they are also paying for their right to further degrade the women giving (sorry. "selling") them blowjobs. C'mon, "formerly", why are you willing to settle for SO LITTLE for yourself and all those wonderful women you speak of? Surely you and they deserve a greater range of options for income from which to chose. Ms. Kerner and the other front-line workers are committed to achieving more -- better welfare rates (at least), adequate, safe housing, educational opportunities, detox and treatment, community bonds, meaningful work -- you know, basics that are currently denied many women (and i dare say, denied most in prostitution). Why are you not stepping beside them? You have nothing to lose, and much to gain. Or, you could get out of the way, that would be fine, too.
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Julie
I have been a sex worker for 13 years. I chose the job from a limited number of options and it improved my situation immensely. I want to keep my job and my clients.

I put my ads out. I solicit clients and I make money from them. I guarantee you that no actual sex worker wants to lose her clients or have them charged, simply for being clients....but the self appointed saviours don't care we want.

I have no problem charging people who are abusive but charging clients for existing because you are a prostitution prohibitionist only serves your ideology at my expense.

Stop interfering in our lives going against everything we want, under the guise of helping us. Your hurting us. Stop it.
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james green
It is a shock that the court and some MPs support the illness of men who buy sex. We need to work to end this form of slavery. Any woman who is a prostitute needs all levels of assistance to get out. Selling or buying a human being's body is sad and shows many men still see woman as sex objects. Slavery and aparthied have been abolished and now we who believe in democracy and freedom must work to end this another form of allowing men to continue their dominance and dehumanization of women. We can ensure the safety of prostitutes by jailing johns, madames and pimps and any men who buy sex. Women will not be free until this practice ends.16 hours ago · Like · 1..
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My 2 cents worth
“I know some women will say it’s their choice,” Kerner said. “But I think that women who have a choice, they have a responsibility to choose something else. For the choice of the few, it will be a terrible mistake to sacrifice the many.”

So she is in favour of removing the "informed consent" choice of women that choose to work in the sex trade instead of being exploited in any of the multitude other industries that exploit their workers?

That says all that needs to be said about how much I value her further input.


I also agree with Ms Davis, who stated that most of the things that are wrong about how prostitution is mostly carried out are already covered by other laws; let's just enforce those.

If the cons do make a new law, I do hope it covers nothing more than "3rd parties living off the avails of prostitution" as that ought to allow women maximum choice while criminalizing pimps.

How that affects "madams", well - let them take on customers too, then they'd be exempt.




PS Why is there no "Preview" button GS? Come on.
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Norma Jean Almodovar
Perhaps these nice ladies who think sex workers are victims of evil pimps and johns think it is better for us to be raped and extorted by law enforcement agents who use the laws which prohibit our work to rape us? In all the thousands of years that moral busybodies have tried to exterminate us, and in many cases HAVE murdered us, prostitution has never been 'abolished' and never will be, and if these ladies and gentlemen negatively commenting here on us and our work would take their heads out of their arses and join us in the real world where the rest of us live, they would know that.

Thousands of years of attempting to cure homosexuality, subjecting those who would not be cured to the most cruel and inhumane treatment, did not 'abolish' it. That anyone could be so foolish as to believe that prostitution would ever be abolished regardless of what threats and punishment you and your delusional abolitionists decide to inflict on us, shows that you do not care one bit about OUR well being. This is a crusade born not of concern for anyone other than you folks with a savior complex, demanding that other women either do as you tell us to do or suffer the consequences.

You talk about johns and pimps 'controlling' us, but it is you who wish to control our bodies, to silence us, to keep us in our place. We see through your lies and we do not accept what you do to us. You want to help women? Go out and help the millions of women who are victims of domestic violence, whose husbands use them as whipping posts and rape them in the sanctity of their home and within a 'good' Christian marriage, with your blessing and approval. Do you think that your daughters grow up wanting to be beaten and abused by the man who is supposed to love them and is the father of their children? James, you speak of slavery, but what of those wives who are kept locked up, forced to cook and clean and have sex with a man who comes home from work drunk, mean and angry? Shall we abolish marriage to rescue those poor wives? How dare you claim we are slaves and take away our right to speak for ourselves? Slavery has not been decriminalized and if a victim of slavery does ask for help, that's when you help them. Stop treating us as if we were children, and we will stop thinking of you as the posterior portholes that you are.

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Former Sex Trade Worker
@ Rick

Yes. Sex trade work is a normal occupation. It's also one of the oldest. It's just a shame that people like you would prefer to make the profession increasingly dangerous for the women who are in the industry just to prove a point that it shouldn't exist. Frankly, you're downright delusional yourself for even suggesting that abolishing prostitution is humanly possible!

Tell me, Rick, after all that hot air you spouted, did you ever stop to image a Canada where brothels are licensed, regulated, and frequently health inspected? Did you ever stop to think about how many women would be grateful to have a safer and more dignifying alternative to pimps?

I care about the women on the DTES, Rick. I happen to be friends with quite a few of them and I also know that you're incredibly misinformed in your statistics. 99% of sex trade workers are NOT drug addicts or exploited, and the only reason why a sex trade worker (especially on the DTES) would be subjected to violence is because ignorant people like you want to make their job more dangerous by forcing them out of the light into the dark streets at night.

The way you talk about sex trade workers in a condescending manner already shows me that you do not respect them, so why am I (or anyone) to believe that you have their best interests in mind? You clearly don't even respect us enough to talk about us as if we were intelligent human beings! What do you think sex workers are? Dolls? That we're dumb, broken, helpless creatures who are devoid of dignity or having any rational ideas about what should happen to an industry that concerns us?

Your heart may be in the right place, but that's just about all that is. So far, 3 sex trade workers have commented on here and all three of us disagree with your argument. Why is that, Rick? I'll tell you. It's because you're WRONG and those of us who have actually been IN the sex trade industry have a far more realistic perspective on how things go than you do.

Please get a clue...
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Former Sex Trade Worker
Also, I wanted to add that I was attacked once while working as an escort, because I chose to take a session in a guys car instead of the safety of my home or a work place. When I phoned the Surrey police, do you know what the woman on the other line did? She asked her supervisor what they should do and then came back with the answer of, "we can't help you...I guess that's just part of the job".

THESE are the people you schmucks think will help sex trade workers when they need it? And still you have the audacity to think the laws work. Some of the people commenting here need a serious reality check.
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Rick in Richmond
'Norma Jean Almodovar' offers a bizarre and disingenuous argument.

She compares homosexuality to prostitution. Quite wrong, Norma Jean. The best evidence is that homosexuality is not a choice. It is a complex of needs and desires and attractions, hormonally and bio-chemically determined. Prostitution is, according to you, a choice. Your comparison is false and meaningless.

She appears to believe that "johns and pimps" do not control prostitutes. This may be the case for her. Regrettably, it is not the case for thousands of others.

Look at the DTES, where hundreds of aboriginal prostitutes are controlled by drug addiction, drug dealers, and the johns who pay for them. These women are victims of the system Norma Jean enables and facilitates. They have no agency. They have little power. That system is heavily racialized. They are enslaved by drugs, and those who provide them. They are frequent victims of violence. Willie Pickton knew exactly where to find them.

They are not helped by the likes of Norma Jean.

She takes a self-centred attitude, coldly indifferent to the women of the DTES. "I'm all right, Jack," she proclaims, and demands we overlook the victims of prostitution every where around us.

Norma Jean wants us to believe she leads a happy, productive and well-ordered life as a prostitute. She appears oblivious to the brief and brutal lives endured by prostitutes -- everywhere -- less gifted than herself.

She has chosen a pen name representing a film star, and a film maker -- fantasy, first to last. Unfortunately for hundreds of women in the DTES, the fantasy she advocates is a nightmare for them. Most people grasp that it's a nightmare for her, too. She simply wants us to believe otherwise.

How many prostitutes want their own daughters to become the same? Near-zero.

We all understand why.


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Steller's Jay
@Former: I wouldn't be surprised if Kerner never has met a woman who's TOLD her that the woman willingly works in the sex trade. She's in a position of power over the women who come to her, so they're going to tell her what she wants to hear, and I bet it takes them about 10 seconds to figure out that she's not going to approve if they say that they're in the sex trade by choice. I'm sure she's also really good at not hearing things she doesn't want to hear, too. Most of us are.

The "Nordic model" (which is just a euphemism for old-fashioned prohibition) would be a disaster in Vancouver. The most vulnerable prostitutes here are the ones who are doing it to fund their drug habits or to supplement their welfare money. Even if they weren't at risk of being arrested for the prostitution, they'd still be at risk of being arrested for the drugs or having their welfare money taken away. So the "Nordic model" wouldn't make a difference to them: they'd still want to hide from the police. If you make the customers want to hide from the police, too, well, then, the prostitution will be hidden, and you can feel smug because you can't see it, but it'll still be there. And "hidden" is exactly what men like Pickton want. He couldn't have killed his victims and hidden the evidence if he'd had to do it in a safe house, but if the "Nordic model" had been in force when he was at large, it would have handed his victims to him on a platter, exactly as actually happened. And all the time he was murdering women the model's advocates would have been claiming it was a complete success, because there'd have been no evidence of the dead women and observed prostitution rates would have been down. And observed prostitution rates are what really matters, aren't they?
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winston1952
Why is prostitution against the law? Where is the crime when two adults agree to have sex in exchange for money? This isn’t trafficking, which isn’t a sex crime but is a human rights abuse. Those forced into sex work should not be charged with prostitution but should be rescued from the traffickers. These laws allow too many dehumanize sex workers. If they aren't looked on as having the same rights as the rest of society then those who prey on women find easy targets in sex workers. This attitude needs to change we need to see sex workers as people with the same wants and needs and rights as the rest of society.
There is a more important consideration than legalization. Today sex workers and their customers are marginalized and viewed through a distorted lense. They are dehumanized and as a consequence it is too easy to take advantage of or abuse them. We need to recognize they are members of our society with the same wants and needs as everyone. Many if not most add to society in a positive manner, paying taxes, raising families adding to the economy etc.
Prostitution has been around forever and will be with us forever as well. We need to change our approach. Many escorts are in the business voluntarily and are contributing members of society. They pay taxes raise children and contribute to the economy. Yet they are forced to live outside of society. They live at risk of robbery assault rape (yes rape) and murder without recourse to protection under the law. This needs to change.

Legalizing will allow escorts the opportunity to contact police when they need to. Right now they can't because no matter why they call they are subject to arrest. Believe me escorts who are in the business for themselves are as against trafficking as you are. Legalization will allow escorts to be removed from the criminal element. Just like gambling, and alcohol and other so called vices, when legalized prostitution will be no longer a vehicle of the mob or pimps or gangs.

To learn more about escorts watch the documentary "American Courtesans" This is a movie where sex workers, their families and even customers have a chance at speaking unscripted about their lives. It has been shown in film festivals all over the world and won awards.
It is available on VOD from cable systems the US & Canada, through Amazon & iTunes or at the website www.americancourtesans.com.
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Rick in Richmond
Those who advocate for the continued prostitution of drug addicted aboriginal women in the DTES help no one escape that life.

Rather, they make it easier and "safer" for them to remain as they are. They offer frost-bitten comfort at most.

They want the civil right of free trade for prostitution to trump the human right of escape from it. While busy protecting their 'free trade', they contribute nothing whatever to those women who had no choice but to enter it.

These advocates are the one-percent trying to keep the ninety-nine percent as they are, regardless of consequence.

Because it's a hard sell, they must resort to euphemism. They are 'professionals' without training, education, certification, standards, or peer review. Some 'profession'. In fact, 13-year olds can enter it -- and frequently do.

They are 'escorts', because the traditionally applicable names are too difficult for them. But like 'Rwandan relocation specialists', the real meaning survives. So do the real consequences.

The present laws remain in force for one year. Mr Harper will rally his forces and pass new laws. They will be much more difficult than the current laws, but they will be crafted to meet the tests of our Supreme Court. Then what have the free trade prostitutes achieved?

Like the Mormons spending millions of dollars in support of Prop 8, this too will backfire. They won the battle. They lost the war. Today, gay marriage is legal in Utah (!). That was the final kickback against their over reach.

When the 1% devotes attention to helping the 99% escape drug addiction, mental illness and prostitution, they might earn the right to have the rest of us look the other way when they earn their fortune in legal brothels.

Until then, we see the real victims of the prostitution mentality stumbling the streets of the DTES every night. Nothing has changed for them. They didn't want to be there in the first place.

And the still-unanswered question: How many prostitutes want their own daughters to become the same? Near-zero.

We all understand why.
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An Anonymous Commenter
The ex and current escorts are investing a tremendous amount of their self-worth and their mental energy into pushing the idea that prostitution, carefully managed and performed by a consenting adult of sound mind, is neither criminal nor immoral. Who can blame them? If at any point they accept that this might not be entirely true, they would have to re-evaluate their lives to a great degree, and that's frightening. In speaking to the sex-pos crowd, I have found I can see the passion and desperation with which they plead their case is coming from deep within. I'm on their side, not Kerner's, but it's discouraging when you can't discuss something with someone without getting the sense that they feel they are defending themselves, and not their ideas. "Tell me it was okay! Tell me it was okay!"
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hyacinth
Any actions of harassment to the women will always consider as being disrespectful. Women also must be responsible of they act or what they ware so that they will not experience this kind of thing that will feel them like being disrespected by men or even other people around them. Keep safe and protected let us bring protection with us specially to our kids give them the safety all they need where ever they are we don't know what will happen next let us be responsible all the time check this out at http://safekidzone.com/#!/page....
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Alan Layton
As long as a sex worker can make a minimum of $100/hr then no amount of welfare increase is going to make much of a difference. This is especially true if the sex worker has a drug addiction because they can have the money for their fix in 10 minutes, if they're lucky. From what I've seen of women on the 'low track', nobody is going to hire them for a real job, ever. For addicts the best solution would be to just provide them with the drug for free and hopefully get them in to rehab program.

But regardless of the laws, there are many men who are equally addicted to prostitutes (female and male) and as long as they have the money, they will find what they are looking for, and the further under ground they have to go to get it, the more likely that the prostitute will be a sex slave.

If, as some women/men claim, they are happy to be a sex worker, then they should be allowed to ply their trade and do so in a very safe and regulated environment.
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former sexually exploited woman
No, I am not happy with the ruling, and will never accept that men can purchase women's bodies as I would a package of ground beef. Criminalize the buyers and "managers, facilitators" and provide exit services to the women, real job opportunities in the trades especially and education initiatives. I call upon our education system and unions to step up, do whatever they have to do to bring these women into their fold, to get these women working in self-affirming vocations and professions that feed and house them and their families, and give them opportunity to be self-sustaining.

We want more for women!

Until we win sisters! Until we win!
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an ally to Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry
from their statement on SCC decision:
We are in a pivotal moment. We have the ability - and the responsibility - to change the course of history. We urge all those who seek justice, freedom, and equality to look beyond the decision rendered by the supreme court and to listen to the voices, experiences, and wisdom of Indigenous women and girls. Prostitution was not and is not a traditional practice among Indigenous peoples. We ask all those who seek justice, freedom, and equality to view prostitution as a colonial system and as a form of violence against women and girls that must be abolished.

We see an opportunity for all of us to work toward a better future – a future in which our daughters are not handed over to pimps and johns to be violated, abused, and thrown away. We see hope in the supreme court’s decision to decriminalize prostituted women and girls. The next step is to stand up for the rights of Indigenous women and girls by criminalizing the source of the harm in prostitution - the pimps and the johns. This would be a truly progressive act in the interest of women’s equality.

In addition to laws that criminalize the pimps and the johns, we also demand funding for social policies and programs that prevent women and girls from entering prostitution in the first place, and that help us as we exit and heal. This includes, but is not limited to, safe and affordable housing, guaranteed livable income, counseling, job training, and women-only detox and recovery services. We also demand the government educate itself and the public about prostitution as a form of colonial male sexual violence against women and girls.

We ask the public and policy makers to stand in solidarity with us and to adopt the Nordic Model of prostitution policy. Do not be “tricked” into supporting the decriminalization of pimps and johns as progressive legal and social policy. We are Indigenous women and girls who have survived hundreds of years of colonialism, male violence, and capitalism, and we are not going away. We are proud to be part of a global feminist abolitionist movement, and we ask you to join us in our fight for freedom.
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Elf
According to Stephen Hui, Hilla Kerner "said she's never met a woman who 'willingly chooses' to work in the sex trade." Erin Graham adds that Hilla is "neither lying nor delusional".

This reflects an important fissure in the prostitution & sex work debates. We all know Hilla has met many women who profess to "willingly choose" sex work. Surely almost every abolitionist has met many opponents who have chosen sex work.

Is Hilla being disingenuous? Meh, I think she's spinning the issue by framing it differently, and she might be implying that willing choosers are lying to themselves, but I believe she's doing so authentically. Hilla has a genuinely different take on the matter. She will call this an analysis, and her opponents will call it something else. Regardless, the issue here is that for most abolitionists, their analysis of structural inequality constrains and mitigates the value of "willing choice" – for abolitionists, if I'm hearing them correctly, the argument is that for women, the willing choice is never freely chosen, because the choices are structured unfairly.

I agree that the political economy of freedom to choose is obscenely inequitable, and the way that inequity inflects sex work of all kinds is significant. Where I disagree with abolitionists is about the way we respond to that. We have enough evidence to indicate that in terms of both social justice and social science, harm reduction is more compassionate, more cost-effective, and more successful than criminalization in ameliorating the risks surrounding sex work. And let's be clear, the Nordic model IS a form of partial, or asymmetrical criminalization.

On the other hand, we could just approach the issue at its root, and eschew criminalization in favor of INVESTING IN WOMEN. Criminalization COSTS a lot, both economically and socially. We should invest our resources in economic and social programs designed to prevent anyone from having to survive by work they find abhorrent.

If the problem is that the inequitable structure of our world leads to systemically inequitable choices, THAT is the problem to be solved. Go to the root, right? Don't treat the symptom, treat the cause. Don't invest in punishment, invest in the value of women and invest in the structures that support every woman's right to choose to be whoever she wants to be, and to do for a living whatever she chooses to do.
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