By Raymond Viger
The debate over whether to legalize prostitution is a false one. In fact, there are many forms of prostitution.
Someone who prostitutes themselves for $4,000 a weekend and who sleeps with politicians or big international jet-set stars doesn’t live in the same world as someone who gives a blow job for $20, who is an addict, who has mouth fungus and HIV.
Some people take a position in favor of legalizing prostitution under the pretext of wanting to help street prostitutes, to assure their safety… But what will happen to these people when we legalize all forms of prostitution?
In authorizing the opening of a brothel, the new entrepreneurs of the sex industry, to use their language, will want to hire on “fresh meat” to satisfy their clients. By “fresh meat” we’re thinking of people between the ages of 18 and 23 in good health. Most people who prostitute themselves in the street won’t be allowed to ply their trade in these brothels. They’ll have to continue working the street. In fact, the average age of someone getting into prostitution is 14!
Worse, after a certain number of years, when the first people hired on have aged a bit, the entrepreneurs will want to please their clients by replacing their aging prostitutes with younger ones. That will mean more people plying their trade out on the street. That’s been the experience of countries where prostitution has been legalized for over 10 years – they’ve found themselves with 3 to 10 times more prostitutes than before legalization (Australia, the Netherlands, Germany…).
But if a client can legally go into a brothel to hire a young, attractive person, why would they pay for someone on the street? Because they’re violent and have been expelled from brothels? Because they want services the brothel won’t provide, like relations without a condom? Or because they want to pay less? For all these reasons, and for many others, people working in prostitution will be in deeper trouble after legalization occurs. The number of bad clients on the street will be even greater, which poses risks to prostitutes.
Prostitution, Citizens and Merchants
And what about our honorable citizens? Once prostitution is legalized they’ll be even more intolerant of street prostitutes. “Because it’s legal and it exists in brothels, I don’t want to see you in my neighborhood or in front of my store window.” How will these good people react when they see that legalization has increased the number of street prostitutes threefold! Intolerance will only increase.
Brothels in the Regions
In legalizing prostitution, will the federal government wash their hands of the whole thing and say it’s up to the municipalities to regulate it?
Why is organized crime so strong in the countryside? It’s because tiny municipalities with only one police officer don’t have the means to control these powerful organizations. Everyone knows the village officer, where they live, their family and what time their little daughter leaves school in the afternoon; do you think that officer will be crazy enough to go up against a criminal gang? The officer does their best, but they aren’t suicidal. The nations that have already legalized prostitution admit they’ve lost control over the industry, that they can’t handle this new infatuation for the sport of legal sex.
All levels of government should involve themselves. This requires a multidisciplinary approach. There should be no question of letting municipalities handle a great big industry with lots of money on their own.
Prostitution and Tourism
A great example of what I’ve personally experienced: The state of Nevada allows its municipalities to decide whether or not to legalize. Las Vegas, despite its grandiose casinos, has said no. The city next door has legalized. That’s why you see, on some Las Vegas street corners, dozens of Mexicans holding up signs advertising the sale of sexual services in the next city over. The city of Las Vegas has gone to court to try to stop these Mexicans from soliciting on their streets. But because of free enterprise and freedom of speech, Las Vegas has lost their court battle.
Those trying to attract clients in this way are mostly young boys. But what breaks my heart is to see a 12-year-old girl advertise for clients. Is she doing it for her mother or her sister? When will she go into the business?
What happens in Vegas may not stay in Vegas – it may come to pass in Montreal, which with its big festivals and its Formula 1 race won’t want to see prostitution in the city. Sex trade entrepreneurs will establish their brothels in Terrebonne or Bois-des-Filions. That will be good for the taxi industry. Prostitution isn’t good for tourism. It’s not good for the image of a great urban centre. When we see new social housing burn down because of arson in the south-west of Montreal; when people exert pressure to prevent community organizations like Cactus from relocating to downtown Montreal; the principle of “not in my back yard” will continue to rule the day.
A Lack of Prostitutes
Brothels will spring up like mushrooms in the regions, and new entrepreneurs will make a mint – to the point that it won’t be surprising when there’s a labor shortage. A little like when we legalized $10 dances. We lacked women to work in the booths. Are we going to bring back our program allowing foreign exotic dancers to come and work in Canada? Will we have to broaden this program to encompass prostitutes? Didn’t this program, as bureaucrats and intervenors admitted, end up profiting organized crime? Many of these dancers disappeared. In 2003, the U.S. government declared that Canada is a hub for the trafficking of women and children.
If we’re serious in our will to legalize prostitution, there are some basic conditions to fulfil. Prostitution concerns people who have to be considered in their totality. That requires a multidisciplinary approach.
We have to work on prevention when it comes to young people on the street and those in the youth protection system. They are vulnerable victims. A youth protection reform has to take their vulnerability into account. There also has to be prevention and awareness-raising carried out in the schools at different levels.
To ensure that prostitution is a real choice, and not a lack of choice because of poverty or other difficulties, we have to offer support and supervision for the people concerned. We will also need more support for intervention organizations working with street prostitutes. We can’t consider legalizing the sex trade without providing help and support services to those in need who have been excluded and marginalized. If a municipality wants to open a brothel, these services have to be present before it opens.
We also have to think about control and safety mechanisms. We’ve left this to organized crime for generations. They’ve become the power brokers, well-financed and well-structured. Taking back control will be costly, if not impossible. Prostitution doesn’t limit itself to operating within city limits. It’s part of an international network, requiring the coordination of different police forces that have to learn how to work together efficiently. That will require generous budgets for these police forces.
We’ll have to assure that government has all of this well in hand: security, administration, management, structure, supervision, finance… We can’t risk things getting out of control, which would result in abuses and abuse.
We can’t imagine that tax revenue from prostitution will be enough to set this all up. The countries that have legalized have lost control, and found themselves with more negative effects than problems solved. If we don’t have enough money to adequately get involved, we’ll have even less afterward.