Debunking the Myths About Canada’s Proposed Prostitution Law

_DSC4179 - Version 2The Harper government’s new prostitution Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, has polarized stakeholders as evidenced in the ongoing hearings before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, with no consensus among social service agencies who provide support to prostitutes, among prostitutes themselves, or among legal analysts and lawyers who study the issues.

Those who condemn Bill C-36 and favour full legalization of prostitution in Canada focus their remarks on the following arguments:

1. Prostitutes choose to work in the sex industry and like it.

Because some women have the emotional maturity to choose this work, it does not mean that one should ignore the vast library of research that shows that in the main, prostitution is a survival strategy, a last option, and the very edifice of prostitution is built on the lie that women like it.

A United Nations International Labour Organization report in 1998 found that prostitution was one of the most alienated forms of labour.

2. Bill C-36 will push prostitution further underground.

The empirical evidence from Sweden is that street prostitution was cut in half by the Nordic model as working girls were free to sell their services unimpeded by the law in safer, indoor locations. (See “The Ban Against Purchase of Sexual Services: An Evaluation 1999-2008″ Swedish Government report 2010).

With Bill C-36’s decriminalization of common bawdy houses, women will be free to set up their own indoor situations or go online and advertise their services.

3. Bill C-36 will make prostitutes less safe.

It can’t be sugar-coated. Prostitution is a dangerous way to make a living and making it legal for women to sell sex will not change this. However, research shows that safety issues are present  whether prostitution is legalized or criminalized. If one works as a prostitute, no matter the legal structure, there are very high odds of physical and sexual violence as well as long-lasting trauma.(See `Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”,Dr. Farley et al)

4. Bill C-36 is a conservative moral crusade

Governments throughout Europe are adopting laws that embrace the Nordic Model, including socialist (Sweden and France) and progressive governments (Iceland, where the sex industry has virtually been shut down, on account of a large number of women in elected office). The twelve-year legalization experiment in Holland and Australia has been a debacle. Prostitution has increased, trafficking of foreign  sex workers has increased, and pimps are now cast as legitimate businessmen. Women and girls work underground rather than registering and paying tax.(See “Legalizing Prostitution is Not the Answer”, Drs. Mary Sullivan ad Sheila Jeffreys 2001

If one considers equality for women a moral issue, then yes, it is a moral issue.

5. Bill C-36 will be struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The proposed law is a radical departure from its predecessor. Under the Criminal Code, prostitution was legal. Under Bill C-36 it is illegal for men to purchase sex. The law is no longer directed at activities that surround prostitution, such as soliciting  sex on a street corner or operating a common bawdy house. The new law calls a spade a spade. Prostitution hurts and exploits women and children.

Bill C-36 treats women as the victims they are, they will not face criminal  sanctions unless they ply their trade in the immediate vicinity of school grounds, playgrounds, or daycare centres. All easily avoidable.

The current legislation was struck down because the connection between the effect of the law and the object of the law i.e. public nuisance, was illusory. It was taking a legal sledge hammer to maintain public order arising from a legal activity. It was grossly disproportionate. Bill C-36 clearly sets out its goal: the illegality of the purchase of sex and the abolition of prostitution.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang


11 thoughts on “Debunking the Myths About Canada’s Proposed Prostitution Law

  1. Sam sez: Well researched and articulated Lawdiva! This age-old industry plainly caters to the male gender. It is about time Canada’s politicians sought to balance the playing field with progressive legislation.

  2. There are some issues I feel this analysis fails to address, and I would genuinely like to see the rebuttal from the pro-C-36 camp on these points:

    First, though bawdy houses would be decriminalised, “johns” are criminalised. As law enforcement would seek to curtail criminal activity, it would be logical for them to stake out known bawdy houses to catch these criminals. Either the criminalisation of johns would not be enforced or the johns would avoid pursuing services where they know they’d basically be entrapped. So, bawdy houses, though legal, would be avoided. In order to retain their clientelle, would have to go deeper underground.

    Prostitutes indeed risk violence in the current scheme of things, but rather than stating that as an immutable fact, we should ask why that is? Consider this parallel: the legalisation of marijuana has been bandied about as a way of taking the violent criminal element of gangs out of the equation. Studies suggest the drug itself is less harmful biologically and socially than alcohol. Conversely, the criminalisation of alcohol in prohibition era led to the creation of organised crime regimes and increased the danger to even casual participants. The criminalisation is what MAKES it dangerous. Abolition did not “solve” alcohol; there is increased public doubt in its ability to “solve” marijuana and drug dependencies; why would the government ignore history and brazenly triple-down by thinking abolition would “solve” prostitution?

    We all want to see people in less danger. We don’t want to see sex trafficking, abuse, exploitation, … But by throwing an overbroad net over the industry, law enforcement cannot focus its limited resources on those that perpetrate harm. Instead, quotas would be fulfilled by cracking down on the low-hanging fruit of easy busts of non-violent johns attending known establishments, leaving those deeper, with more devious handlers exactly where they are.

    Taken separately, sex is legal and not generally dangerous. Conducting a business out of your home is legal and not generally dangerous. What makes it dangerous is the risks they endure due to anonymity of their clients and the lack of a safe place to practice their trade in the open.

    If, instead, participation in and solicitation of prostitution were BOTH legal — if, say, it were regulated as an analogy to some sort of therapeutic service — we could use licensing processes to interview and validate the providers, their healthy and safe, and also weed out and redirect the portion who participate in survival prostitution (or worse, are in it as a result of coercion). Subject to assurances of privacy except when subpoenaed in the case of criminal investigation, rules could also be established requiring “johns” to provide identification (or even health records) before partaking. This would take away the anonymity which benefited only the violent customers.

    The point is this: If the concern is truly the DANGER to these women, tailor the law so that it filters out the dangerous element. Poisoning the waters, so to speak, is not serving the equality of women, and certainly not assuring their freedom and safety to pursue an allegedly-legal trade.

    As it is C-36 will most definitely NOT reduce the johns’ desire for anonymity, and so it guarantees that the providers in the industry will be at as much or more a disadvantage when screening clients as ever. C-36 simply maintains the danger for these women in a more subversive way. It’s disingenuous at best.

  3. The most dangerous and concerning aspects of prostitution are those around human trafficking. The largest problems with the new law is that the criminalization of the purchasers role encourages the sale to be underground. When the transaction is underground there are more opportunities for human trafficking, the benefits from trafficking will become more lucrative, and the best avenues for conviction (the Johns) disappears.
    The pressure from law enforcement on the sellers will also increase and have an additional pressure to drive sex workers underground into more unsafe locations.

  4. It seems that if we wish to debunk the myths of sex work (and sex workers) it might be best to start with an actual study about sex work and sex workers (and those who work with and for them). Not studies about women, not studies about homeless and runaway teenagers, not studies about support for women who have experience violence regardless of what they do for a living.

    So, start here, and remember, not all clients are men, and not all sex workers are women. C36 is not legislation that acknowledges the facts of sex work and sex workers.

    1. All of the studies quoted in this article are from leading prostitution researchers, none of the studies focus on women generally or homeless or runaway teenagers. Suggest you google the articles quoted. Thanks for reading the article!

      1. You claim that “All of the studies quoted in this article are from leading prostitution researchers”, yet you cite Farley. Farley’s studies have so many things wrong and are not methodologically sound. Many of the subjects in her “studies” are from shelters and exit programmes. If you are working with people who are already damaged, of course your results will be skewed. Furthermore, the claims she made in relation to decriminalisation in New Zealand were incorrect and deliberately out of context.

        She is hardly a “leading Prostitution researcher”.

        There are a number of other errors in the article where it appears that any evidence indicating a fact opposite to the beliefs of the author are ignored. Sex workers, female, male, and transgender, usually do choose their work. There are some who may have little choice, but on the whole, they do choose sex work, many, including former teachers, former university lecturers, etc., finding it less stressful than dealing with students.

        There are many other occupations that a number of people feel trapped in, do not want to follow, feel they were forced into, etc., yet these people are never seen as “victims”. There are no shelters or exit programmes for them.

      2. You seem to have relied only on information and reports by organizations and individuals who identify as radical feminists and openly advocate for the ‘abolition’ of prostitution (abolitionists). Is there a particular reason why you chose to ignore everything else? Farley was a witness when the question was heard in court (in Ontario), as was Dr Raymond, who sits on the board of another of your sources – CATW.

        Justice Himel’s report:

        “Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (“CATW”), a non-governmental organization that seeks to abolish prostitution and advocates against decriminalization of prostitution.”

        “Dr. Melissa Farley — As outlined earlier, Dr. Farley has conducted social science research on the harms associated with prostitution and human trafficking. In 1995, she founded Prostitution Research and Education (“PRE”), a non- profit organization that seeks to abolish prostitution, and is the organization’s executive director.”

        This is how Farley and Raymond from CATW were described:

        ” [182] In reviewing the extensive record presented, I was struck by the fact that many of those proffered as experts to provide international evidence to this court had entered the realm of advocacy and had given evidence in a manner that was designed to persuade rather than assist the court. For example, some experts made bold assertions without properly outlined bases for their claims and were unwilling to qualify their opinions in the face of new facts provided. While it is natural for persons immersed in a field of study to [page380] begin to take positions as a result of their research over time, where these witnesses act primarily as advocates, their opinions are of lesser value to the court.

        [183] The evidence from some of these witnesses tended to focus upon issues that are, in my view, incidental to the case at bar, including human trafficking, sex tourism and child prostitution. While important, none of these issues are directly relevant to assessing potential violations of the Charter rights of the applicants.”


        ” [353] I found the evidence of Dr. Melissa Farley to be problematic. Although Dr. Farley has conducted a great deal of research on prostitution, her advocacy appears to have permeated her opinions. For example, Dr. Farley’s unqualified assertion in her affidavit that prostitution is inherently violent appears to contradict her own findings that prostitutes who work from indoor locations generally experience less violence. Furthermore, in her affidavit, she failed to qualify her opinion regarding the causal relationship between post- traumatic stress disorder and prostitution, namely, that it could be caused by events unrelated to prostitution.

        [354] Dr. Farley’s choice of language is at times inflammatory and detracts from her conclusions. For example, comments such as “prostitution is to the community what incest is to the family” and “just as pedophiles justify sexual assault of children . . . . men who use prostitutes develop elaborate cognitive schemes to justify purchase and use of women” make her opinions less persuasive.

        [355] Dr. Farley stated during cross-examination that some of her opinions on prostitution were formed prior to her research, including “that prostitution is a terrible harm to women, that prostitution is abusive in its very nature, and that prostitution amounts to men paying a woman for the right to rape her”.

        [356] Accordingly, for these reasons, I assign less weight to Dr. Farley’s evidence.

        [357] Similarly, I find that Drs. Raymond and Poulin were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court. At times, they made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research. For example, some of Dr. Raymond’s statements on prostitutes were based on her research on trafficked women.”

      3. Thanks for taking the time to comment. The benefit of having your own blog is that you can write what you like, as I did in this piece. I am well aware of the criticism of social scientists like Dr. Farley. While she presented her evidence before the court with the passion of an advocate, the stringent standards of evidence in a court of law have no application to my blog.

        Now that the Canadian government has legislated a Nordic model, the prostitution model espoused by Melissa Farley, the next several years will be very telling as to its efficacy in meeting the government’s goal to eradicate prostitution and human trafficking.

      4. Also, from Farley’s own wikipedia page:

        “Her prostitution studies have been criticized by sociologist Ronald Weitzer, for alleged problems with their methodology. In particular, Weitzer was critical of what he viewed as the lack of transparency in how the interviews were conducted and how the responses were translated into statistical data, as well as the sampling bias toward highly marginalized groups of sex workers (such as street workers) and for the way the findings of Farley’s studies have been more generally applied to demonstrate the harm of sex work of all kinds. A 2002 study by Chudakov, et al. used Farley’s PTSD instrument to measure the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder among sex workers in Israel. Of the fifty five consenting women interviewed, 17% met the criteria for PTSD, compared to Farley’s 68% figure. Farley’s critics also claim that her findings are heavily influenced by her radical feminist ideology.

        Farley has also been criticized for accepting significant funding from anti-prostitution organizations”

        “In response to the Scottish [Farley] study, a paper authored by some 15 academics and sexual health experts was submitted to the Scottish Parliament, strongly rebuking the methods and conclusions of the study. Amongst other things, the report states – “This research violates fundamental principles of human research ethics in that there is no evidence of any benefit to the population studied. Rather the purpose of the research appears to have been to vilify the population of men who were chosen to be interviewed. ” In addition they criticize the work as biased, ill informed and unhelpful.”

        “Farley favours the abolition of prostitution…She advocates the “Swedish model” of prostitution laws”

        “She is largely opposed to sex workers’ rights activists and groups, such as COYOTE, which advocate legalizing or decriminalizing both prostitution and the purchase of sexual services.[27][28] Many of these activists hold that Farley’s research discredits and misrepresents women working in the sex industry and lacks accountability toward them.[28][29]

        Farley is also an anti-pornography activist….is opposed to sadomasochism more generally, and in her essay “Ten Lies about Sadomasochism”, outlines her opposition to BDSM practices, arguing that such practices are abusive, harmful, and anti-feminist.”

        Examples of criticism:

        You’ve not presented much of a balanced view, you’ve merely rehashed ‘abolitionist’ claims. Pretty disappointing and not very honest. I would suggest looking for diverse sources.

        Everything is here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s