Our laws don't actually prohibit prostitution per se. They just ban any
mechanism of engaging in it -- from soliciting for the purposes of prostitution
to operating a common bawdy house.
Those bringing the challenge argue that the laws do more harm than good. They
argue that our criminal laws expose sex workers to significant harm: Physical
and sexual violence, lack of access to police protection, social stigma,
inequality, exploitation and murder.
Their solution? Strike down the laws and institute a regulatory scheme to help
make being a prostitute safer.
There is something fundamentally wrong with this vision.
Prostitution laws don't expose sex workers to an increased risk of physical and
sexual violence, psychological injury, kidnapping and death. Prostitution does
Should drug dealers challenge laws banning the selling of drugs because those
laws force them to sell drugs in alleys and deal with shady individuals in
No. They should stop selling drugs. Society doesn't want there to be dangerous
drugs, so it bans their sale. If prostitutes want to avoid the dangers that are
inherent in the trade, they need to stop being prostitutes. However, some have
little or no choice in the matter because of the abject conditions in which
they live. For those women, it is poverty, not laws against prostitution that
has put them in such grave danger.
For the past 100 years women have tried to gain acceptance as equal members of
society. To legalize prostitution would be directly contrary to this program of
attitudinal reform. It would give the government an economic stake in the sale
of women for sex and normalize the offensive belief that men should have sexual
services available to them whenever they need them -- at market prices. In
fact, the government could go so far as to recommend to impoverished women that
they seek work in the sex industry. It's happened. At employment centres in the
Netherlands, "brothel worker" is suggested as an appropriate professional
Even if you don't accept the argument that prostitution is exploitive, violent
and a type of social ill that our criminal law is supposed to protect us from,
accept that legalizing it doesn't make it any safer and certainly doesn't
eradicate any of the dangers inherent in street prostitution.
Australia saw its illegal sex industry burgeon with legalization. The number of
illegal and unlicensed brothels in Sydney tripled in the four years after
decriminalization. In the Netherlands, trafficking of women from East and
Central Europe has flourished under a system of legalized prostitution. Recent
estimates put the percentage of Dutch prostitutes who are foreigners at 80 per
The greatest myth of all, however, is that legalization will reduce the rate of
sexually transmitted diseases among prostitutes. Legalized prostitution
protects the clients, not the prostitutes. Only the women are inspected for
infection and disease while simply given the right by their brothel to visually
inspect their clients.
Studies from jurisdictions in Australia, where brothels are included under
Occupational Health and Safety Codes, paint a frightening picture of
vulnerability to disease, infection and physical abuse.
Sweden seems to have figured things out. After a brief flirtation with
legalization, Sweden enacted a law prohibiting and penalizing the purchase of
sexual services. The law criminalizes the buyers based on a policy that
prostitution is socially undesirable and an obstacle to equality between the
Since the law was passed, the number of prostituted women has decreased by 50
per cent and non-governmental organizations report an increased instance of
women seeking the aid of law enforcement and programs designed to help them
It's time we stopped blaming the law for the horrors of prostitution and
started blaming the institution. Prostitution is itself a violation of the
right to life, liberty and security of the person, not the laws that seek to
Prostitution isn't work. It's a violent abuse of a women's body and a gross
perversion of the concept of consent.
That is a crime. And it should stay a crime.
Laura Hodgins is pursuing her law degree at the University of British