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Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Johns are victims, too

I chose the above-title not because it relates to any reality... yet. But it seems to me that that Canadian society will have to go that far--cast the customers of prostitutes as victims--in order to legalize prostitution, as a new study out of Quebec suggests. This would logically follow the trend in our culture of reclassifying perpetrators of crimes as victims of something or other.

Actually, the authors of the report do not want to "legalize" prostitution; they want to "decriminalize" it, a refined distinction we in Western society like to make to reflect our contemporary emotional moral ambivalence to things formerly considered harmful to individuals and society, as if we are not quite sure what we are "thinking" of doing is right, but we "feel" we must do something.

In this country prostitution is not illegal, but solicitation is, the "it-takes-two-to-tango" idea. It's not the selling of sex which is illegal, but making the deal is and therefore both the prostitute and the john are equally guilty.

After a brief gust of prostitute empowerment in the '70s--see The Happy Hooker, 1971, and the prostitute rights organization COYOTE, founded in 1973 (which still exists)--that turned prostitutes into self-determining "sex trade workers," the feminist movement quickly recast them as victims, of sex abuse, drug abuse, physical abuse, etc.

It seems to me that the only way Canadian society will actually legalize the world's oldest profession is to somehow recast the johns as victims, too. That way nobody is guilty of anything. What mental and moral steps we will go through to accomplish this, I'm not exactly sure. My guess is we will blame increased sexuality in movies, on television, and the "consumer culture." Just a guess based on my observation that liberal commentators like Harper's Lewis Lapham demonstrated a great capacity in the '90s to blame just about everything on "mass media" and "consumerism" (TV and shopping).

Actually, the split personality of prostitution over the last generation--sex trade workers/victims--accurately reflected a bifurcation of the oldest profession in Canada. Some time in the late '70s/early '80s, the good-looking hookers disappeared from the streets and went indoors to massage parlors and escort services, leaving the ugly ones, the drug addicts, on the street. Municipal governments seemed to approve of the change since they now could tax prostitution as a business and it had an out-of-sight-out-of-mind effect on the voters.

That still left the much smaller rough trade on the street, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood as various parts of various cities gentrified and citizens' groups drove hookers from the bosom of one area into the ungrateful arms of another. Police first answered with sting operations. A taxi driver once told me that he (who considered himself somewhat expert in this area) could spot an undercover police officer posing as a prostitute with one glance; "No bruises," he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

Then came "Shame the Johns" campaigns where either police or citizens would take down the license numbers of cars cruising known prostitution areas and with that information sent letters to the homes of the vehicle owners, letting them know they had been spotted. These ran parallel to "John Schools" where convicted customers would be educated perils and personal and social repercussions of their actions. I remember covering some of these when I worked as a staff writer for the Alberta Report and recall one police spokesman who, every time I would interview him on the subject (several times) would always repeat with the same stressed-out angst,” We’re nailing a lot of guys with child safety seats in the back! Can you believe it? Dads with a wife and kids at home! Disgusting..." Finally, after I heard enough of this, I asked him if he knew where the old term "ragtime" came from. Aside, I think the stress of the job finally got to this guy as I read sometime later in a newspaper he had decided to become a trucker driver. The story implied he was attracted by something of the "romance of the road." I wonder what he thought about the hookers at his first truck stop.

The Quebec report recommends decriminalization of street prostitution in order to:

"...help lift the social stigma of the trade and encourage prostitutes to work with municipalities, citizen groups, police and community organizations to eliminate many of the irritants associated with the sex trade, especially unwanted solicitation near residential areas."

I'm not sure decriminalization would actually accomplish this. I'm more apt to think that it will instead give street hookers a greater sense of power and they will simply turn around on the corner to face upset home owners, give them the finger, and scream "&$^% off! I've got rights!"

Anyway, I have no answer to problem. The solutions proposed in the Quebec report do appear to be somewhat naive in that they grade towards the "hooker with the heart of gold" school of thought.

On the same topic, I recommend Reflections on the oldest profession by Theodore Dalrymple, the prison doctor turned author, in The New Criterion. A couple of excerpts:

"I learned from this experience not to jump too hastily to conclusions, even about inveterate wrongdoers. But I also learned what my subsequent experience, which includes an acquaintance with several hundred burglars at least, has confirmed, namely not to place too great a reliance on a haphazard knowledge of imaginative literature for an accurate picture of the world..."

"Since then, I have treated a lot of prostitutes as patients. One claimed to be a world-class dominatrix, who jetted round the world to whip the prominent men of many countries on several continents, but for the most part, they have been creatures who look as if they have emerged from the canvases of Otto Dix, razzled by drugs and disease, with crumbling bones and wrinkled skin, beaten into submission by pimps festooned with gold chains and mouths full of redundant golden dentistry. A few have been of middle-class origin, attracted to the gutter by its antinomian glamour, but they have ended up in no better state than the rest."

Posted by Kevin Steel on April 27, 2004 | Permalink


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Technically prostitution is legal in Canada.

You are allowed to hire a prostitute to come and visit you at your home or hotel room as long as you don't communicate in public for that purpose.

You can also visit a massage parlour and if you get a "happy ending" without negotiating for it before hand that is legal.

Also once you are inside the private massage room anything you want to talk about is legal since it isn't considered a public place.

If the foyer or main area of the massage spa is used for that purpose however that is illegal (common bawdy house).

Canadian laws are put in place to prevent street walking - something that has had limited success.

I knew a woman who lived in a red light area of Toronto. The neigborhood organized nightly "walks" to gently force the transvestite hookers to move on.

It worked.

Now why do I feel like a cigarette?

Posted by: The Meatriarchy | 2004-04-27 7:45:49 PM

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