Sex trade advocates argue B.C.’s response to Supreme Court ruling endangers women

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The B.C. attorney general’s office has sent out a press release emphasizing that the province will continue to press charges in some cases of prostitution-related crimes.

“It has been inaccurately reported that the ‘B.C. Attorney General, Suzanne Anton, announced that the province would no longer proceed with prostitution-related charges,’” states a February 17 release.

The clarification issued by the Criminal Justice Branch concerns interpretations of a December 20, 2013, Supreme Court ruling in the case of Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford. In that decision, judges struck down three of the country’s prostitution laws, ruling that they are inconsistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Sections of the Criminal Code in question concern communicating for the purposes of prostitution, living on the avails of prostitution, and keeping or being in a common bawdy-house.

The February 17 message from the Justice Branch states that according to guidelines issued by Crown counsel, charges related to those offences are still found to be in the public’s interest when applied to clients paying for sex.

The document emphasizes that what has been found to be in a “diminished public interest” are those charges when applied against sex trade workers.

“The branch guidelines are to be applied on a case-by-case basis,” the release states.

Jamie Lee Hamilton, one of Vancouver’s lead advocates for sex trade workers, told the Straight that this is not the change in policy that she hoped the Bedford decision would bring.

“It again places sex workers in very vulnerable positions,” she said in a telephone interview. “It places women in dangerous situations where they are going to have to go looking for men in environments that could be quite shady and not affirming to them as human beings. So it will put them in a very vulnerable place.”

Hamilton explained that while the attorney general’s announcement indicates that punishments for prostitution-related activities may shift from sex workers to clients, that’s not going to translate into safer working conditions for women engaged in the sex trade. She maintained that with half of a transaction still open to prosecution, many sex trade workers will continue to conceal their activities in ways detrimental to their safety.

Katrina Pacey is a litigation director for the Vancouver-based Pivot Legal Society who acted as one of several interveners in the case of Canada v. Bedford. She told the Straight that her understanding of Supreme Court's decision is that it pertains to all law enforcement pressures on street-level prostitution.

Pacey argued that regulations enforced against clients have detrimental effects for sex workers the same as if they were still applied against prostitutes directly.

“That does push sex workers into dark, isolated, dangerous corners of our cities where there is nobody available to assist if sex workers are in trouble,” she said. “So we’re very concerned about enforcement and prosecution of that particular offence because irrespective of who is being targeted, the degree of violence and danger in street-based sex work increases.”

Comments (5) Add New Comment
Hazlit
Please remember, whichever side of the prostitution debate you fall on you fall on you are supporting the pro-capitalist option. Legalization advocates support allowing women to be capitalist entrepreurs and sell their bodies. Legalization opponents want to raise the price for this capitalist transaction by limiting the supply of prostitutes.

Actually reducing prostitution would require increasing the supply and/or limiting the price. By lowering the price for prostitution you would convince women that other better options were available.

Raising the minimum wage, supporting unionization, obsessing over income inequality, taxing CEOs to pay ALL workers better--these are the most effective solutions to the prostitution problem.
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Do you want to do it or not?
It seems to me that the women working the back alleys in the dark are not exactly capitalist entrepreneurs, but drug addicted, long-suffering, sexual receptacles doomed to a pattern of selling themselves to whomever wants to infiltrate their bodies. The entrepreneurs are quite a different breed, selling their bodies by choice in the comfort of an apartment or what have you and enjoying doing so. I think it's time we realize these are two completely different vocations, and call them two different things, in the same way that slavery and volunteer work are called by two different names. Apples and oranges.
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Here's a thought...
Why not work toward equal pay, more affordable childcare and true gender equality so that women do not have to be prostitutes and can enter a vocation that actually contributes to society in a meaningful way. Rather it leads men to cheat on their wives like sneaky greaseballs and causes harm and trauma to women having stranger upon stranger fondle them day in and day out. It's all fine and dandy until it's YOUR daughter, YOUR sister... We need to recognize that prostitution is an unsafe activity no matter where or how it happens. Women deserve better than to be bought and sold, or viewed as items available for purchase.
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Hazlit
@ Here's a thought...

No one is selling the women. They are selling themselves. It is their CHOICE. Once you start talking about compulsion you need to acknowledge that a whole bunch of people do degrading and offensive work. Where is your liberation campaign for night watchmen, baristas, and cashiers?

Many (though not all) women in Canada and North America are incredibly well paid for sex work. Rates of $200 to $300 for what turns into essentially 15 minutes of sex is a rate higher than many well paid middle class jobs. [Check CL to confirm if you don't believe me.] This rate is simply too high to have simple substitutes. At that rate it is NOT exploitation but rapacious capitalism.

When you raise the status of women you make them less sexually available, thus increasing the demand for sex. To ban and forbid prostitution does reduce the number of prostitutes but it also raises the price. It reduces prostitution by making it only available to the 1%. This feeds into creating social hierarchies and should be resisted in any egalitarian society.

It would be lovely if prostitution disappeared. Paying for sex is a crying shame. Make it free and universally available instead. More sex makes for a better and happier society.
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Hazlit
You've heard of pimps that drug up and beat the shit out of women to make them work on the street? You've heard that their clients are not George Clooney, right? I tell you what. For one night, you yourself go stand at Cordova and Princess Streets, and sexually service anyone--anyone--who asks in whatever way they want. All night. Then report back to your pimp in the way he wants you to report back to him. Then work a shift as a barista. Then come back here and tell us all what you think.
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