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Federal Report on Prostitution : The Missing Link

2 janvier 2007

par Jacques Brodeur, James Douglas, Nicolas Doyon, Martin Dufresne, Philippe Robert de Massy, Jacques Saintonge

There is something we find surprising and shocking in the divided report on prostitution published a few weeks ago by a House of Commons sub-committee : its quasi-total silence about the men involved.

The authors of the majority report focus the whole issue of prostitution on “persons selling sexual services”, but say almost nothing about the buyers and procurers in this trade. They deserve to be commended for depicting and deploring the constrained conditions of what is usually “survival sex” but they spirit away those mainly responsible.

Yet, if people are being prostituted, there are necessarily “prostitutors”- 99% of them men - who buy or market these people being treated as consumer goods. Prostitution is defined by male privilege, by the tastes and choices of a sexist culture. Whether individual men choose to exert this privilege or not, prostitution would not exist without them, their money, and their power.

By “disappearing” the role of men, the federal report obscures this relationship of dominance and adds to the stigmatization of prostituted people by holding only them to scrutiny. The sub-committee MPs can thus reject from the onset the notion of sexual exploitation and limit that of pimping to procurers who use physical coercion. They even co-opt the tragedy of women assassinated in this context by attributing their deaths not to the misogyny of male buyers but to the laws designed to hold them in check. By keeping out of focus the male “demand” for prostituted bodies, the report implicitly makes it into a standard that society should accommodate. Will we eventually hear of a “right to fellatio” just as some invent a “right to a steak” at any hour of the night to constrain the schedules of food store workers ?

An insult to all men

As men opposed to the machismo of prostitutors, we are concerned by this silence and wonder just whom it is protecting. Solid international research demonstrates how efficient it can be to identify buyers of “sexual services” and to intervene against them. Many male buyers delude themselves about the nature of these “relationships.” Statistics show they respond well to education campaigns and dissuasive action. We also know that buyers are not driven by biology. Male use of prostituted women varies widely (11%-70%) from one country and one legislative regime to another (recidivism is less than 20% among arrested johns). So buying reflects opportunity, not hormones. And we feel that the committee is insulting men by treating the commercial sexual exploitation of women as some unavoidable masculine trait, a kind of biological imperative to be legitimated and coddled, preferably out of sight.

The authors’ silence about male buyers of women and their support network (pimps, owners, and some politicians) explains another major bias in their report : its claim to not understand how sexual exploiters escape the laws designed to hold them in check. No need to search very far for an answer : eleven months before the report’s publication, a Calgary-based pimp was acquitted because he operated his “escorts” agency with a duly approved municipal permit whereby civil servants even informed his employees of what would be expected of them !

Is the State becoming a procurer ?

In Montréal as elsewhere in Canada, such accredited pimps explicitly advertise their business, openly flouting the Criminal Code. The system runs like clockwork... men can have a woman delivered faster than a pizza, in their choice of ethnicity and measurements. Police officers are given no mandate to intervene. Yet, the federal report’s authors claim to be puzzled by this state of affairs. This allows them to justify, in carefully guarded terms, the abolition of laws construed as “ineffective” when in fact, they are simply not applied. An Osgoode Hall law professor already has his students working on yet another brief to have the law against pimping struck down by the Supreme Court as an “unjustified violation” of the freedom to “hire a manager.”

We reject any proposal to make it even more legitimate for men to sexually dominate the most impoverished of women, those most racialized as “exotic” goods by pimps. We reject the trendy neo-liberal fundamentalism that would reduce the common good to the sole interests of prostitutors. In solidarity with feminists who are fighting sexual exploitation, we want a world where sex isn’t reduced to some “industry” and where women and men are not conditioned by early sexualization, racist trafficking and an institutionalization of male privileges.

The right to equality is fundamental

The majority report authors dismiss such analysis as “moralistic.” It is no such thing. Our action is driven by equality rights, the very touchstone of the international human rights framework. This equality is under attack : the current government has just culled it from the mandate of Status of Women Canada, closing many of its regional offices. And now, Opposition parties are proposing that sexual exploitation be legitimized !

Our stand against prostitution is in phase with the struggles against poverty, violence and the social program cuts that make so many women and youths into a vulnerable sub-class for prostitutors, exposing them to violence and to a police and court harassment not meted out to their exploiters. We vigorously protest this penalization of prostituted people.

We sincerely hope that federal MPs and candidates will demonstrate the same concern if they hope to convince us of their respect for women and for the essential human rights to which Canada has so often committed in the international arena.

 Report 6 - The Challenge of Change : A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws (Adopted by the Committee on December 12, 2006 ; Presented to the House on December 13, 2006) ou en ligne.

On Sisyphe, January 12, 2007

Jacques Brodeur, James Douglas, Nicolas Doyon, Martin Dufresne, Philippe Robert de Massy, Jacques Saintonge

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