Victor Malarek calls sex workers' allies "bozos"
Legalizing or decriminalizing the sex trade is a poor policy response to its underlying social forces. That's according to Toronto-based investigative reporter Victor Malarek, author of the newly published book The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy It (Key Porter, $29.95). According to Malarek, about 90 percent of sex workers worldwide—including those in Canada—did not choose to do it. They were either trafficked, he said, or are tethered to the work by addictions or extreme poverty.
"Rather than deal with the drugs, the mental-health issues, the physical-health issues, what led these women away from their reserves and put them on the streets," he told the Straight, "the only thing these bozos [proponents of legalization] can come up with is to keep them in something they never wanted in their lives in the first place."
Instead of decriminalization, Malarek suggests a multifront battle against "modern-day sexual terrorism": reform the johns; change male attitudes about women; enforce antitrafficking laws; and give vulnerable women the opportunity to get decently paying jobs outside of prostitution.
The federal government controls the legal issues concerning sex work. But in the May 12 provincial election, B.C. will be voting for a set of policies that will make low-income women either more or less pressured to sell their bodies, according to Pivot Legal Society founder John Richardson. Adequate welfare, on-demand treatment for addictions, and access to counsellors, among other supports, he said, are the keys to making sure marginalized women can stay out of the trade.
"These are all the things that have suffered from cuts the Liberals have made," Richardson told the Straight.
In the past, Pivot has supported the decriminalization of sex work. The argument, explained in the 2006 document Beyond Decriminalization: Sex Work, Human Rights, and a New Framework for Law Reform, is that criminalizing sex work creates a barrier for women trying to access health care or housing.
Far more women enter the sex trade by choice than by coercion, according to Natasia Wright, the acting agency coordinator at Vancouver's Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education Society. Though Wright told the Straight she doesn't know how many women are involved in the survival-sex trade in B.C., she believes they represent about 10 to 20 percent of the total.
"We do see sex work as a legitimate business, so long as it's not survival," she said.
According to Malarek, politicians and media have been too quick to digest the message of sex-work proponents and haven't asked enough questions about where legal tolerance has led in other countries.