Sex clubs are now legal, so why can't prostitutes
work in the safety of their own abodes?
By ALAN YOUNG
This past year ended with a big bang: the Supreme Court of
Canada gave its seal of approval to sex clubs and orgies.
It's exciting to see the law slowly opening up to allow people
to act on their sexual fantasies without state officials running
in to tell everyone to cover up.
And it's about time the Supreme Court recognized that we don't
need judges and politicians to set standards of sexual propriety.
Of course, some commentators have moaned about the court giving
licence to Sodom and Gomorrah, but I suspect the criticism
comes from people who can't get a kick-start even with Viagra.
Basically, the court ruled that the state must now prove that
certain activities are harmful before the activity will be
deemed indecent and illegal.
The key to the Montreal orgy case was the fact that entry
to the club was restricted to members who had been warned
about the activities inside. But is there truly a difference
between paying for club membership with the expectation of
getting your rocks off and paying directly for this pleasure?
If privacy is the key to avoiding legal intrusion, then shouldn't
the same consideration apply to prostitutes, whose security
and safety is compromised because the current law does not
allow licensed bawdy houses?
Robert Pickton, the BC pig farmer who allegedly murdered dozens
of prostitutes, will come to trial later this year, and as
that trial unfolds, Project KARE, an RCMP task force, will
continue to work feverishly on solving the disappearance or
death of more than 70 women in the Prairies who were involved
in what police have called "high-risk lifestyles."
While the recent Supreme Court decision may have ended the
year with a wet dream, the Pickton case will be a rude awakening,
shifting the debate to a more sinister and troubling aspect
of the sex trade: those who die plying it.
No one will ever really know how many prostitutes are killed
every year, because they often just go missing and no one
cares enough to look for them. Official statistics show that
between 1991 and 2001, 73 prostitutes were murdered while
working the streets, 70 of those victims women.
Only a handful were murdered by pimps; they prefer to terrorize
the living. The vast majority were killed by clients. Sex
trade workers have had an enormous fall from grace from the
sacred temple harlots of ancient times to the marginalized
outcasts exposed to all manner of violence, abuse and ridicule
In October 2003, a House of Commons subcommittee was established
to review prostitution laws and recommend changes that would
"reduce the exploitation of and violence against sex-trade
The subcommittee will report this year, and I hope it has
the courage to admit that we will continue to dig up dead
bodies of prostitutes on pig farms and in secluded urban alleys
if we maintain imbecilic criminal prohibitions on commercial
It is perfectly legal to work as a prostitute, but a wide
array of over-broad and outdated laws make it impossible for
prostitutes to work in a safe and secure environment. Bawdy-house
laws force them onto the streets, and laws relating to procuring
and living off the avails prevent them from having managers,
bodyguards or union representatives.
If we remove the blunt instrument of criminal law, a proper
regulatory approach can be undertaken so that hookers can
oust their pimps in exchange for a safe working environment.
The pimp of today may become the union steward of tomorrow.
It remains unclear what it is we hope to accomplish with our
current prohibitions on commercial sex. I can understand the
concerns of property owners and members of the community who
don't want their street corners turned into drive-through
I would not want people copulating in my back yard (depending
upon who they are), but this is a matter of proper regulation
and the construction of red-light districts.
Prostitution may be offensive to some, just as orgies aren't
everyone's cup of tea, but we have to recognize the reality
of diverse sexual ethics.
You don't have to read Freud to know that our species is always
on the lookout for sexual outlets, and when these don't present
themselves, some will go to the marketplace to buy a fleeting
moment of pleasure. There is nothing the state can do about
this. We call prostitution the world's oldest profession for
Every time a prostitute is arrested, two more take her place.
There's a bottomless market for their services. I'm sure some
cops, lawyers and judges sometimes enter this market, but
they can never admit it because it would undercut their authority
to arrest, prosecute and punish those who gave them release
the day before.
Whether one pays to participate in an orgy or to hire the
services of a prostitute, I see no reason to bring in the
heavy guns of the criminal law. When it comes to sex, I see
only one legal rule of any real importance: for sex to be
lawful there only needs to be consent, and it should not matter
whether consent is secured by direct payment or weeks of expensive
courtship with fine dining and false promises.
The criminal law has never stopped anyone from paying for
fellatio, but it has made the modern prostitute easy prey
for a wide array of predatory criminals. the end
Alan Young is a law professor at Osgoode Hall. His column
appears every other week.
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