In September, there was a monumental change in Canada’s prostitution laws when Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice struck down three laws in relation to the sex trade. The previous laws forbid living off the avails of prostitution, communicating for the purpose of prostitution and running a common bawdy house. While prostitution was not illegal, anything concerning being a prostitute was. This made for a very confusing legal and criminal approach to the world’s oldest profession. The government now plans to appeal this decision.
Recently, Britain has been, like Canada, struggling in regards to prostitution laws. Currently, the act of prostitution isn’t illegal in the U.K., but brothels and street prostitution are. While Britain hasn’t taken the issue to the courts yet, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has declared that the issue should be brought up for debate.
With the changes in Canadian prostitution law, a victory was won for the workers of the sex trade who have long desired protection from dangerous johns and pimps. This immense triumph has a grassroots beginning as sex trade workers Terri-Jean Bedford, Valerie Scott and Amy Lebovitch took the case to the courts. By striking down the previously confusing restrictions on prostitution, sex trade workers are able to take their work off of the dangerous streets and into safer environments. If they encounter a violent john, they will be able to contact the police to report him.
As Britain begins to partake in this debate over prostitution laws, it is tempting to make this a moral issue, but this must be avoided. The focus on this debate must be on the safety of the women in the sex trade rather than if you believe prostitution is wrong or right.
Prostitution has frequently been referred to as the world’s oldest profession and it seems that it will always exist, illegally or legally. If it is going to exist, we must focus on making it as safe for the workers as possible. The legalization of aspects of prostitution will likely decrease the high percentage of murdered, missing and abused women in the sex trade. The workers will be in more contact with police and it will become a more organized system of reporting danger within their field.
Trafficking is a common fear when faced with the legalization of prostitution. It is a valuable concern that a country with legal prostitution will serve as a hot spot for sex trafficking. When a person is unwillingly forced into the sex trade, this is a violation of their rights and should remain illegal. But these rights that are currently being debated in the U.K. concern adults who have willingly and personally made the decision to partake in this profession, whether you agree with it morally or not.
The argument, that there are underlying economic and discriminatory factors that lead to one’s involvement in the sex trade, do exist, and these factors need to be approached and solved. But in the mean time, we must make prostitution safer for those who are involved.
With a more organized and protected system for the workers, violence and murder can be prevented and dealt with. Rosie Campbell of the UN Network of Sex Work Projects told the BBC that “ . . . people that are there to protect you, can also arrest you so [sex workers] can be reluctant to go [to] the police.” This issue needs to be solved and can begin with Britain changing their laws.
The U.K. must avoid viewing this issue from a standpoint that focuses on the reputation of Britain. There are many who view prostitution as dirtying the image of their city or country and fail to look at the underlying factors that lead women to this trade. Rather than worrying about how your country looks to outsiders by legalizing prostitution, you must worry about the safety and rights of these women who regularly suffer abuse from their lack of protection. Britain must first focus on their vulnerable citizens rather than focus on their own personal beliefs on prostitution or the image of their country.
Rachel Wood hopes Britain will do the right thing and focus on protecting their most vulnerable citizens, rather than protecting their reputation.