Sex on the West Side

There isn’t a photo in today’s post. It’s all text. Sorry.

I was part of a long conversation on the weekend past, dealing with the potential ramifications of the recent Court decision regarding prostitution. Recall that prostitution per se is legal; however, communicating for those purposes is not.

If the laws are struck down, if new ones are required, what should we do? Note that these opinions below come from a reaction to changing circumstances and are not that I am advocating for change.

Prostitution is complex, I favour controlling/regulating it to avoid nuisance to others.

While these points are not strictly parallels to prostitution, they have some related elements:

  • that which is outlawed but very difficult to enforce occurs anyway, and breeds disrespect for the law. How many laws prohibiting anal sex are on the books, and how are they enforced? Ditto prudie laws about nudity, etc. Better to have a textile optional beach and thus regulate the issue by permitting different populations to hang out with others of similar values.
  • unregulated, the situation deteriorates until we all get the worst possible situation. Picture two areas, one “wet”, one “dry”. The dry residents head over the wet area to get … wet. A bar will logically appear close to the border between the two zones. It will almost inevitably become a dive, which reinforces the opinions of those favoring the dry rules.
  • excessive regulation is worse than outlawing the practice
  • if only some places “liberalize” their regulations, then tourism results. Think of the problems in Amsterdam and Holland, where liberal drug and prostitution laws result in an influx of sex and drug tourists, a number of whom are disruptive hooligans. Or Thailand which has managed to become a magnet for child sex tourism. Or Ontario, which when it permitted gay marriage, became a destination for tourists seeking to get married when that was still forbidden in their home states. Las Vegas, same issue, when divorce was difficult elsewhere. Or abortion “tourism”. We cannot ignore the “whack a mole” consequences of repression/legalization.
  • the last time I went to Quebec carnival (back in the 80’s) I was repulsed by the drunken yahoos all over the streets. The party atmosphere and relaxed standards for one event attracted those whose objective was to abuse the situation. Shortly thereafter I read in the paper that Quebec City was going to crack down on street drinking as it was chasing away the other tourists. Maybe a better solution was to liberalize drinking laws year round, so carnival wasn’t such a special time…

If we in Ottawa are to deal with legalized prostitution, I would set up the following:

  • prostitution would be permissible as a home occupation, just like piano teaching or watch repair or consulting practices. I don’t see much neighborhood difference between a shoulder massage and other forms of muscle stimulation. No employees. Worker must be the occupant of the dwelling. I suspect there are dozens, if not hundreds, of such businesses already flourishing in the city.
  • brothels are personal services businesses and should be permitted in any commercial area, along mainstreets, in mac’s milk plazas, etc. the same way as XXX shops, head shops, denturists, and other services are. Some sort of sign regulation would be appropriate. West Wellie doesn’t fall apart because there is a “bathhouse” on the street any more than Somerset does because someone runs a spanking service next door to the bank. Too many bars, too many restaurants, too many of anything in a commercial zone can be regulated.
  • brothels should not be permitted in industrial areas, because they tend to be isolated areas, lacking oversight and supervision and thus somewhat free of social norms of behaviour. If you don’t want racing cars, loud rude crowds, intimidation of legitimate businesses, then the anonymity of the commercial strip is much better than the isolation of an industrial zone.
  • a regulation of distance between similar establishments is useful to prevent a neighborhood from being characterized unfairly. We do that for half way houses now, a sort of spread the joy (or pain) logic. Same logic applies to shelters.

I read in the MSM that a number of legal authorities are cracking down on Craig’s List or Kijiji advertisments for sexual services. This strikes me as totally dumb and unproductive. No one going to kijiji to find a kid’s playpen accidentally comes across ads for light punishment services or role playing activities, the ads have to be sought out. That’s fine with me. Better someone knows where he or she is going and getting than standing on the streetcorner and hoping that the next john is a kind senator, misunderstood  surgeon, or VIP,  and not Mr Pickton. Ditto for those servicing jennies, hoping for Ms Frustrated Housewife  or a professional single, and not Mrs.Pervert or Mrs Bobbit.

I don’t know if the “heart of gold” madam or prostitute really exists, or if there are college students doing tricks for cash, or if they are mostly drug-addled victims of family abuse they traded in for pimp abuse … but it is surely hard to reach out to this category of people when they are repressed. Legalization and regulation should open up the profession to examination, to study, to medical and social intervention, that has to be a happier situation than the one today.

As for nostalgia … well, remember when we banned bars? banned lottery tickets? banned gambling? banned betting on sports games? banned shopping for groceries on Sundays? banned stores from opening on Wednesday evenings? banned marijuana? banned more than X unrelated people from living in a house? banned gay sex? banned selling cars on Sunday? banned Playboy? bootlegging? home delivery of booze? using your visa card to buy groceries? Banned long hair (on boys) in high  school? All those rules had a reason. They were for someone’s good.

Regulating morality is difficult. Regulating to prevent harm is better. Regulate, provide social services, prevent harm to participants and to by-standers and neighbors. 

As a society, we have scarce resources, I’d rather see them spent on helping people than jailing them. And I’d rather see more nasty people in jail for longer times and fewer low level drug dealers/pushers in the revolving door at the courthouse. Preventing prostitution in private premises is not worth our resources.

5 thoughts on “Sex on the West Side

  1. Brother:
    One thing you did not mention was the link between prostitution and drugs. Our Neighbourhood Watch coordinator is always going on about the tie between these two. And when the druggies come, then petty crime comes along as well.

    I do agree the far better strategy is to address the root causes rather than trying to regulate or legislate through (unenforceable) laws.

  2. Good post.

    I have friends who are sex workers, and they are mostly young women who are not much different than I am: educated, independent, 25 – 35, and enjoying their jobs, for the most part. The most common complaint I heard was about the safety issue before decriminalization – they had no (legal) way of protecting themselves from bad clients, and no real support system to report abuse.

    They now work out of their homes.

    I think it’s great.

  3. I just noticed this article in the Capital Xtra today, which leads me to think that if you perceive a link between prostitution and drugs, it’s because the only prostitutes who are charged with crimes are those who are also doing criminal offences. You only notice the prostitutes who are out on the streets, and these are th eones who are also into drugs–but that doesn’t mean they’re the only kind.

    As it stands, prostitution is illegal, and if you’re going to do one crime (prostitution), you’d might as well get into others (drugs) as well. By legalizing prostitution, you add a barrier between prostitutes who obey the law (i.e. who don’t do drugs or other criminal activity), and those who are involved in criminal activity.

  4. To clarify prostitution is not illegal. Communicating in public for the purposes of prostitution is illegal as well as running a bawdy house or living of the avails of a prostitute (ie pimp). Providing sex for money is not illegal in Canada.

    Ads in the Sun, or on Craigslist are not illegal as the communication between the client and prostitute is a private conversation via the phone, email etc etc.

    I agree with Eric, regulate the location of such services, test the prostitutes regularly for disease, license and tax them.

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