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mardi 12 décembre 2006

A Report Trivialising Prostitution

par Richard Poulin, Department of Sociology, University of Ottawa

Écrits d'Élaine Audet

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What About the Women Who Want to Get Out of the Sex Trade ?
For the Industry of Prostitution : A Victory Disguised as a Defeat
Federal Report on Prostitution : The Missing Link
The majority report of the Justice Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws : a direct assault on women’s rights and a gift for organized crime
Prostitution is a Form of Violence, not Commerce
The Subcommittee’s majority report is moving towards normalizing the buying and selling of women
A contradictory, inconsistent and dangerous report
Protect victims and criminalize profiteers

Members from the Liberal, New Democratic, and Bloc Québécois Parties are of the view that sexual activities between consenting adults that do not harm others, whether or not payment is involved, should not be prohibited by the state. (p. 92)

The report of the Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws was tabled in the House of Commons. It points to the absence of consensus on the subject of prostitution in Canada, underlining the existence of profound disagreements "as to the nature, causes and effects of prostitution, but also as to the solutions." (p. 5). It also points to the absence of knowledge as to the size of that industry in Canada, to such a degree that two of its seven recommendations deal with that issue.

The report is far from unanimous. The representatives of the Conservative Party have important disagreements with the other three parties. Some positions have the support of the Liberals and New-democrats ; others are backed by the Blockistes.

In short, in spite of the existence of profound differences, the report accepts, not to say justifies, sex as a business, under various excuses : security of the people involved, public health, apparent consent, etc. It reduces to a simple matter of individual choice a question which relates to a huge global and national system organised to the profit of pimps and traffickers as well that of prostituting clients. It also treats equally all sexual relations, “whether or not payment is involved". In such a context, to state that the report trivialises prostitution is an understatement.

The report maintains that the prostitution of minors is unacceptable and that the existing laws must be applied rigorously. As for the adult prostitution, the tone is quite different. One must, says the report, determine 1. whether or not there is exploitation and 2. whether or not there is consent. The two aspects are related since, says the report, there can be no exploitation if there is consent. The representatives of the Opposition parties have even succeeded in interpreting the International Conventions in that way, which is an evident (not to say deliberate) mistake.

For example, article 6 of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, ratified by Canada in 1982, requires that States Parties “shall take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women”. Now, that text repeats the very expression of the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, which aims at the activity of procuring, notably in those legal systems which have legitimised this activity (as is the case to-day in Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Greece, Hungary, Australia and New-Zealand).

The Subcommittee claims that the true object of those conventions is to “condemn the exploitation of women for the purposes of prostitution and not prostitution as such” and that it prohibits “violence linked to prostitution” (p. 53). Consequently, procuring is no longer condemned for what it is. Because it insists on opposing only “forced” prostitution, the Subcommittee eventually only “forces” its misinterpretations.

The Subcommittee defines procuring in such a narrow sense - as “- the coercive relationship - rather than the broader scope of activities encompassed within the Criminal Code definition of procurement.” (p. 23) - that, in fact, a great number of pimps end up converted into “employers”. And this miraculous transformation would bring an increased safety to prostituted persons ! In fact, one could fear the opposite, since legitimising prostitution would only give more power to the procurer than before. Be that as it may, it would be no longer be the fact of living on the avails of prostitution (and thus exploiting that prostitution) that would pose problem to the representatives of the Opposition parties, but the use of coercion (the proof of which is always on the shoulders of the prostituted person, who rarely complains, for obvious reasons).

The Subcommittee has heard conflicting testimonies from expert witnesses. Some experts tragically played down the role of organised crime in prostitution. Their position is in direct contradiction with the facts recently brought forth on street gangs and highlighted by the recent revelation on the extent of the huge international system of trafficking in human beings, 90% of which for the purposes of prostitution. A recent anecdote shows convincingly the futility of such a denial : in the Saguenay, the Quebec Provincial Police recently put on line a false website publicising an escort agency. A week later, it received a threatening phone call proposing “protection” in exchange of a part of the revenues.

It is those experts who were given credit and who are abundantly quoted, with the approval of the majority of the Subcommittee. It is not our intention here to extensively analyse and contest their studies, methodogically as well as in theory or practice. Suffice it to say that all these studies adopt a “liberal” stance, in the sense of “philosophical liberalism”, which preaches that all is permitted which is consented to or does no harm to others. Yet, for evident ethical reasons, our State condemns the trade of human organs, whether or not there is consent. But these “liberals” see no problem in the sale and purchase of the bodies and of the sexual organs of human beings, mostly those of young women !

The Subcommittee agrees that its findings and the analysis of the Subcommittee are incomplete : it says so itself. More importantly, its findings are ideologically founded not only on individual choices between consenting adults, as the Subcommittee agrees, but also on the acceptance, if not the actual promotion, of inequality between women and men, under the guise of individual choices. This goes against not only the International Conventions ratified by Canada but also against the Canadian and Quebec Charters of Human Rights. Individual choices are only an excuse for the justification of prostitution, which affects mostly women, on the national as well as the international levels. The Subcommittee says it opposes the trade of human beings, yet it refuses to combat the most important cause of the trade of human beings : prostitution.

There is a large consensus in Canada for the decriminalisation of prostituted persons. But the majority of the Subcommittee goes much further : it trivialises procuring and the access to bodies and sexual organs (mostly women’s), while ensuring the prostituting clients (mostly men) total impunity.

Professor of Sociology (Ottawa University), author of Abolir la prostitution - Toward the Abolition of Prostitution - (Sisyphe, Montreal, 2006), of La mondialisation des industries du sexe - The Globalisation of the Sex Industries - (L’Interligne, Ottawa, 2004 -Imago, Paris, 2005) and Prostituzione, globalizzazione incarnate (Jaca Books, Milano, 2006).

On Sisyphe, December 14. 2006.

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Richard Poulin, Department of Sociology, University of Ottawa

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