6 March 2012

The decriminalization of prostitution: two women talking

Susan Davis, a Vancouver, BC, activist working for the rights of prostitutes, and me, Sue McPherson, from London, Ontario, not so keen on having prostitution activities decriminalized, had a discussion recently on the pages of rabble.ca (see excerpt below), in response to the March 2 article by Joyce Arthur (see link to article and comments in list of references).

Sue McPherson on March 2, 2012 - 4:38pm.
What is a 'prostitution abolitionist' and who describes themselves thus?
Prostitution is not going to end. The selling of sex is never going to stop. But let's not equate working as a cashier with selling time to men during which they insert their penis into women's bodies. Let's not ever make the laws such that some women who cannot get other kinds of work will be encouraged, legally, or perseuaded, or forced into prostitution.
This topic - and the efforts of women to decriminalize it, cannot be rationalized. The world is a not a rational place but is filled with contradictions, especially where sex is concerned. Unfortunately, or should that be fortunately, prostitution has to stay exactly where it is. If anyone wants to introduce more health benefits, fine. But don't make this act of male penetration (and whatever else) into what might be an unwilling participant, legal.


Sue McPherson on March 2, 2012 - 5:01pm.
Do you know that anyone who contributes towards easier access of sex for men will problaby do better in this world?
You say, "the abolitionist myth that 'prostituted women' are all passive victims of violent predators and pimps leads to an almost-hilarious contradiction when it confronts the realities of sex workers' lives.
I don't know what that is either - "abolitionist myth." I do know that women who have little or nothing are more likely to be the ones who get men coming on to them as though it is their right, as though all women have to contribute something "worthwhile" to the world, and as they see it, sex is it if they have no other means of support, or no one in their lives. Know why women seek out the best possible marriage partner they can - it's because all women must have a man in their lives, if not one, then share many with other women. What a choice! Circumstances play a great part in how one's life will turn out. But sex is always part of it. So, "almost hilarious contractions" is it? Not for everyone.


susan davis on March 2, 2012 - 9:27pm.
thankyou joyce for continuing to fight the mis information campaigns of the abolitionists. the complete disgregard abolitionists have for the facts is the biggest contributing factor to the on going degradation of the safety of sex workers in canada.
people listen, people believe them, policy is written based on these mis representations...
we have to move forward based on the facts and reality of working in the sex industry. i for one need no rescue and have not experienced any violence in years. yes it happens, no one is saying it doesn't. but how is criminalizing people in the sex industry going to help that? it's not. only with sound planning and implementation of industry wide standards will we see improvement in the working conditions of sex workers.


Sue McPherson on March 2, 2012 - 9:57pm.
I doubt very much that policy is written based solely on what you call "misrepresentations," Susan. Unless we know your circumstances, how can we come to understand why you haven't experienced violence while on the job. If you have women siding with you, as protection, perhaps that's what it takes. You're asking the wrong Q when you say, "how is criminalizing people in the sex industry going to help that?" There really isn't an alternative solution to this problem, without putting all female children potentially at risk. I'm sure most people don't want to see prostitutes arrested, but there just isn't another way for police to keep the peace. Prostitution simply cannot be legitimized in the way that you want, without it leading to all sorts of problems within society for other women, especially women who live in poverty.
The problem is, you are only thinking of yourselves, not other women and young girl children learning about the world.


susan davis on March 3, 2012 - 11:10am.
perhaps if you read the reports we wrote on the experiences of 100's of sex workers and didn't subscribe to the idea that sex workers are either victims or greedy gold diggers you could see past your morality based arguements.
i live in total poverty, why is it that it's always the assumption that we are making boat loads of money and that we're so self centered that we are blind to the fate of our sisters in the sex industry?
i have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to the fight for equality, equal access to support services and police protection and improved safety and stability for sex working people in this country.
i have worked for 25 years in an industry with no labour standards or even protection of law. i have been in prison, worked on the street, survived 4 overdoses and numerous assaults and attempts on my life.
who are you? you clearly have not bothered to tkae the time to listen to sex workers from all over canada and to hear that we DO have altneratives, there is a better way to protect us. give us our equality and decriminalize us now.
the only path is to implement occupational health and safety programs and to work towards unweaving the tangled web of mainstream systems biases, not one of which does not affect our lives, and to give sex working people the same rights as every other canadian citizen enjoy.
i am not some lone profiteering exploitative self centered prostitute with only an eye for cash and other people's husbands. i resent the implcation as well. you don't know me.
www.wccsip.ca
www.bccec.wordpress.com
www.tradesecretsguide.blogspot.com read this occupational health and safety training and tell me if you think it will encourage people to enter the sex industry? information about abusive pimps and what happens when you are the victim of an assault and the way the police may treat you is hardly normalizing or encouraging anyone. or how about the extensive lists of health risks? sounds glamourous.


Sue McPherson on March 3, 2012 - 2:33pm.
Is it a question of morality when a person says they would rather their daughter did not become a prostitute? I consider myself fairly open-minded but I still wouldn't want that occupation for my daughter. But if she went into it, it wouldn't make any difference to our relationship, I'm sure. People have different beliefs and ways of perceiving the world and of acting in it, and it can become a problem when different interests collide, as they do over the decriminalization of prostitution. People might like to say "live and let live" as their way of dealing with difference, which is fine unless someone's toes get stepped on. You can do what you like, as long as it doesn't affect me or mine, or society (just because I am interested in how society goes). But what you are asking for - decriminalization, and the right to negoitate legally, does affect me, or could. and it would affect society, as I mentioned in one of my other posts.
You can't talk about sex work as though it is the same as being a cashier, or a firefighter, or a gardener. It - sex - is an act of intimacy, or at least is often considered to be by many people. If not an act of emotional intimacy, then at least it is an act of physical intimacy. Where does one person's individual personal sense of privacy start? Some people don't like to be touched on the arm. But I think there's more who would object to having to let a stranger engage in sexual intercourse with them. I don't see it as being about morality when a person wants the right not to have to argue that they don't want their privacy interfered with on this level. It's bad enough when landlord or maintenance man decides to enter your home without asking first. But one can let that slide. So if prostitution loses its 'criminal" edge, I should think it would make many men more willing to see how far they can take it - and not with the rich and powerful or women with husbands. It will be with the most vulnerable in society. Just because it's your choice doesn't mean that all women want to subjected to the behaviours that will crop up if it is decriminalized.
This is my blog: /http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com . I have written quite a bit about sexual politics and other forms of social inequality, not so much on prostitution per se.


susan davis on March 4, 2012 - 12:57pm.
sue, your privelged upbringing and higher education, your international migrations and lack of experience with poverty, being racialized or marginalized doesn't allow you to understnad the choices made by people who do face those experiences.
it is easy to say sex work is bad, abolish prostitution for the betterment of society because you will not be affected. you comment that you would not want your daughter or grand daughter to engage in sex work. the point is that you will not be there when your child makes a decision about sex work...would you not rather they could make that decision in safety? or would you be willing to see your child go missing? go to prison?be found murdered?fed to the pigs? be cast out of society because of your ideals?
how would that help them? it wouldn't. my parents and the other parents of sex workers feel the same way you do. no one imagines their child becoming a sex worker or dumpster diver or drug dealer, toiletter scrubber, or grave digger...
but it happens, its a fact. continuing to complicate the situation by basing policy on biased and discriminatory ideals rather than fact will cost people, women their lives. are you prepared to own your ideals even if it means the murder of women, and children ...or their incarcaration and humiliation?
there are laws to protect people from assault, slavery, abuse, extortion, debt servitude and labour laws to guarantee safe working conditions. there is the international charter of human rights guarnteeing us equal access to justice and safety.
or is it your belief that only those deemed "good" or "moral" are human and deserving of rights? sex workers were only classifed as human beings in vancouver in 1973. is this the approach you prefer?
we need rights and decriminalization in order to take control of our collective destinies and safety and what we don't need is people trying to impose their tired old ethics at the expense of our lives and safety.it's been 100 years of prohibition, it's over. the social experiment failed miserably, people are dead.
can we please move on and try something new?


Sue McPherson on March 4, 2012 - 2:25pm.
I'm not so secure financially that I don't have to worry about things like that in my own life. I'm living on the edge, so to speak, not from month to month, but wondering how long I can last. All my resources went towards my education (at midlife), leaving me with nothing when there was no career to follow. I hadn't realized that the right relationships, with men and/or women, and conforming (not writing about what I do), were all essential to being accepted and rewarded for all my hard work. Susan, it seems you haven't read anything of mine or you might have realized that. Here's my life story, for additional info: http://samcpherson.homestead.com/StoryofMyLife.html  .
So, yes, I do understand the experience of being marginalized and in poverty. And one thing I noticed, in case I didn't make that clear, was the first thing that happens is that men start to close in, figuring it's only a matter of time until you submit sexually, in order to survive.
That's an odd remark about motherhood that you make. Perhaps becoming a prostitute was a one-time decision for you, but I spent much of my time when married making sure my children had every opportunity available, to pursue their interests and learn new ones. It worked for my daughter, who followed our family's interest in swimming to her life's work. My ideals helped that happen. I know life isn't always that straightforward, but my ideals certainly didn't do her harm. As far as my views about sex are concerned, that's up to her what she does.
It's you , Susan, who is putting on this subject the condemnation of religion and saying that is my moral compass too, which it isn't. There can be a kind of 'morality,' if you insist on using that term, that doesn't include the notions of sin or God. I've already said to you that our world is not as rational a place as you would like to think it is. this isn't only about you having your rights. It's also about the rights of others to live in peace, without having to put up with men who start to think even more strongly about their apparent right to have sex with any woman they like. And there are men like that.
If you can address some of these concerns it might do your cause more good than simply demanding the decriminalization of prostitution and the right to negotiate freely with your customers. I don't want to be subjected to men who think that, because the law has changed, that they have the right to offer money to any woman who is vulnerable and isolated, for sex. You have to say how you are going to control men who take this as a new freedom in their lives. I don't want to see young women sent to the local brothel by the job agency because there is no other work avaiable for her.
I haven't actually noticed that laws protect me from illegal and harmful behaviours I have been subjected to. But I have seen women siding with men who do them, and men not wanting to cause offence towards the source of their joy. This is as much about sex as it is about prostitution, the work. I know feminists are fond of saying men and women are equal or should be, and some will work with you towards getting what you want, but their lives aren't going to be affected. Furthermore, when it comes to sexual desires and physical needs, they're not the same at all. I would want to know that world won't be a worse place for the vulnerable if decriminalization were to take place.


susan davis on March 4, 2012 - 2:40pm.
have you read anything we've written ...or the sex worker rights forum here? we have written plenty and people are listening. you seem to be a bit behind the times if you think sex workers aren't speking out.
about your daughter you say "it is up to her what she does" but what if that included sex work? no one is saying people should be forced to do sex work as an alternative to social assistance or that the government should force women into sex work. that is not decriminalization.
as it stands no one can be "forced to work" at any profession, even by the government. why would sex work be any different? why would the government force people into sex work when it does not force people into any other profession? your fears there are unfounded.
however, beauty bias does come into play when now for people trying to access finacial support and are told to become escorts or exotic dancers because they are pretty. some people are denied finacial support because they are a sex worker, whether they want to exit or not.
so how does continuing to criminalize us help with that? it doesn't. it means that anything people do to us is accepteable, we are criminals and get what we deserve.
decriminalization has NOT produced the effect you are describing in any of the countries where it has taken place. in fact the opposite. you are basing your position on moral panic, mis information and a lack of knowledge of the facts. the "vulnerable" are the ones criminalized. the workers on the street bare the brunt of police enforcement actions and as brothels and show lounges are closed due to criminalization, more and more workers are forced onto the street. more and more workers die also. we can see that in the mortality rate of vancouver sex workers escalating over a number decades as a result of uniformed actions taken against our industry. please read the history of sex work thread in the sex worker rights forum.
take a little time to educate yourself on the facts, your position has no backbone in reality. do you care about sex worker safety or not?


Sue McPherson on March 4, 2012 - 4:48pm.
Hey, lady, we all do sex work (or have done). It's what women were born to do! Didn't you know that? Some people are just more open about what they get in return - money, careers, a home with hubby! Most women wouldn't say that about themselves, as it is a norm in society. We are simply raised to be that way. Some are quite knowing and use their feminine wiles in practical ways to get what they want.
It's not the govt who does the persuading, when it comes to what kind of work a person will do. The clerks at the job centre, or the personnel office at the place of work gets to choose who will get accepted and who will not. So anything done to poor people is acceptable - as you seem to already know - unless they are actually doing sex work, then they have worth.
No, I have not seen any facts on how decrimilaization has affected other countries. I don't know how easy it would be to get hold of. I just know what men are like now, and it doesn't take too much effort to see how decriminalizing the negotiation of sex will lead to all sorts of social 'misunderstandings'. Having already been a victim of similar kinds of misunderstandings, where intentions or behaviour were misunderstood, and in situations where such behaviour was regulated against, I can only surmise that it will get worse, if there is no fear of reprisal among men for their bad behaviour.
I have always heard about prostitutes struggles for healthcare, etc, but that also is something many other women and men are not getting in this society. Yes, I'm sure your work is dangerous to your safety. Men can be like that. You may experience more of that, because of your job, but many women have also experienced violence, at the hands of stronger men or men who control them.
I don't see that the ones doing work that is criminalized are the more vulnerable. It's because it is sex work, and men who find themselves in need of sex, or wanting to punish someone for what some other woman has done to them will seek out the most vulnerable - the one isolated, or lacking money, homeless, or without a man in her life.


susan davis on March 4, 2012 - 7:24pm.
the men who purchase sex are not "bad men" nor are all men prone to violence....this seems like you are unwilling to step outside of your comfort zone and actually look up the facts.
why can't men be vulnerable? why do we as a society assume all men are only out for themselves and self gratification? a man whose penis has been amputated to prevent the spread of cancer is vulnerable and in need of care. he is not a "bad" person nor is his lonliess "bad behaviour". he is suffering. why does he not deserve to be comforted and if a sex worker chooses to do so, why should she not comfort him? how is this "bad"?
can you imagine if suddenly being a nurse was illegal? how easy would it be for nurses to work if they were deemed criminals? or how about milk? what if milk was sudeenly illegal and milk producers had to operate in dark isolated areas risking their lives to sell their wares?
i mean criminalizing alcohol didn't "harm" anyone did it? or criminalizing drugs? or abortion? how can you be so blind to the impacts of being deemed criminal and the impact of being the victim of police violence during raids?
you have created a seperate set of rules for sex workers. that is discrimination and is illegal under the international charter of human rights.
please at least have the respect enough if not for us but yourself to actually read up on this a bit and discover perhaps where you may have yourself discriminated against sex workers and ways in which you could better embrace government of canada policies governing research and understand which "facts ' you are being mislead with.
those rules are in place for a reason... to inform canadians about the ethics and reliability of the research findings they are considering. try to understnad from our perspective, being a criminal is a huge barrier as is a criminal record. how is arresting women helping them?
these laws are completely ineffective, its time to protect people not punish them and to try something new.


Sue McPherson on March 4, 2012 - 9:56pm.
But we were talking about the men who made your life less secure - the ones who commit acts of violence? I know from doing research on sexual harassment that not all men who do this are nasty men either - many are husbands and fathers and otherwise good, hardworking, intelligent men.
Oh right - nurses. This entire issue has nothing to sex, is that what you're saying. However, speaking of nurses, read Dutch man sees it his right to have nurses serve his sexual needs: http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/2010/03/dutch-man-sees-it-his-right-to-have.html  ... . I hope you see my point of view.
I do realize that prostitutes are hard done by. So are people in the lower classes picked on more than they deserve. After all, it isn't ALL sex workers who get arrested, is it. eg Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the prostitutes he was involved with. He was so important he didn't even have to admit they were. But sex work is still not the same as being a cashier, much as you would like the Human Rights Commission to say it is. It's pointless for me to simply repeat what I've already said, but that's about it - selling sexual intercourse is not the same as any other job.
No discrimination doesn't apply in the case of prostitution because it's about sex. It's a sensitive topic and we simply cannot have an act of sex for money made legal because of the implications this would have for society. Don't worry about the criminal record. Everyone knows it's unfair and if it's used against you it's because they don't like the colour of your hair or your views on football. Perhaps some lawkeepers want to punish you - just as some of your clients do. But working within the law, if it were changed, won't keep you much safer. The men who would have abused you will have to find other ways of dealing with their frustrations; instead, going after other vulnerable and isolated women. Decriminalizing prostitution isn't going to make the abusive men go away completely. It might make you into an ordinary citizen, just like everyone else, but that won't keep you safe.
Susan, what I can do, with your permission, is publish this discussion we've had on my blog, including a link to the original article on rabble.ca by Joyce Arthur. It's another outlet for people to read your views, and mine.


susan davis on March 5, 2012 - 10:26am.
won't make it "much safer"....based on what research or other countries expeireinces? it will make it safer and the sex workers used by dominque strauss-kahn are not immune. in the US, i watched on "sex slaves in detriot" last night, they arrest women to "rescue" girls. i also commincate with US workers through the social justice work i do...they arrested 100 women in 1 episode, showed their faced, filmed them naked, broadcast it on television....total humiliation, in my opinion it's violence when police to these kinds of degrading things. they were all indoor workers in highend hotels. the sting was police in the hotel baiting the workers. in the end the had "leads" on 3 pimps and 5 "girls" no arrests in that area but had comprimised the safety, confidentiality and dignity of over 100 women.... arresting them all in the name of "rescue".
just becuase you don't hear about sex workers being charged doesn't mean it doesn't happen. thst show was on back to back to back last night....how many women were comprimised throughout the 3 episodes...?
and sure, if you would like to repost this to your blog, i am good with that.

(continued at http://rabble.ca/columnists/2012/03/how-prostitution-abolitionists-substitute-ideologies-facts  )


Any changes to prostitution laws not coming soon
By Sam Pazzano
Toronto Sun
June 19, 2011
Ottawa Sun
http://www.ottawasun.com/2011/06/19/any-changes-to-prostitution-lawsnot-coming-soon

How prostitution abolitionists substitute ideologies for facts
By Joyce Arthur
rabble.ca
March 2, 2012
http://rabble.ca/columnists/2012/03/how-prostitution-abolitionists-substitute-ideologies-facts

The mistaken logic of 'asymmetrical criminalization' -- aka the Nordic model of prostitution
By Joyce Arthur
rabble.ca
February 3, 2012
http://rabble.ca/columnists/2012/02/crazy-logic-asymmetrical-criminalization-aka-nordic-model-prostitution

Ontario Appeal Court decriminalizes brothels (article added Sept 2012)
CTVNews.ca Staff
Mar 26, 2012
http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20120326/appeal-court-decision-canada-sex-trade-laws-120326/

Prostitution ‘not a constitutionally-protected right,’ Crown argues in landmark case
By Kirk Makin
Globe and Mail
June 13, 2011
http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/prostitution-not-a-constitutionally-protected-right-crown-argues-in-landmark-case/article2058348/

Who does decriminalization leave out?
By Meghan Murphy
The F Word, and Feminist Current
Jan 30, 2012
http://www.feminisms.org/4346/who-does-decriminalization-leave-out/
http://feministcurrent.com/4346/who-does-decriminalization-leave-out/

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