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After Ontario Courts rule on Bedford : a rant

29 mars 2012

par Lee Lakeman

I think a lot of women both in and out of the sex industry are in for a shock now that the Bedford court decisions are starting to pile up. Many good hearted and sensible people have been tricked by the widespread propaganda mounted in support of this court case. The case brought by Allan Young hopes to strike down all laws that attempt to limit or oppose those men buying sex or those managing women so that other men could profit and sexploitively indulge themselves with impunity.

Many were tricked by the often repeated references to the Pickton case as though somehow this law addressed the horror of Pickton’s murderous behavior. Pickton regularly solicited women for prostitution on the street corner outside his regular bar/hotel hangout. He was a regular john there. He also hired underlings to go to the harm reduction hang outs to fetch/pimp other drug addicted women with promises of cash and drugs. He could have been arrested under the solicitation law but never was. He was not even shooed away by either police or social workers. He and his brother offered prostitution at least at Piggy’s Palace, that is they ran a brothel. His impunity emboldened him. The propaganda of this case says that Pickton would go to a brothel and be screened as an undesirable customer. Well in terms of brothels, he was the owner ; in terms of street prostitution he was an unmolested regular. This case would not change a thing for him.

Some even still believe that the role of Allan Young was an effort to protect these most vulnerable street women, many of whom are Aboriginal, from indignity danger and violence but in fact his tactic argues for abandoning women both on the street and in the bawdy houses or brothels to the mercies of owners, organized crime, street gangs, traffickers and the individual johns who feel entitled to have any sexual fantasy fulfilled by women too desperate to refuse. He simply argues for the state to withdraw. Not supply or redistribute nor improve or intensify or aid or help but just withdraw as though this exchange between one john and one woman has nothing to do with the rest of us. As though we can afford to think the state cannot play a positive role. As though rights and obligations hard won by generations before us need be dropped. As though women’s liberty is made up of only absence of state.

And do not imagine for a moment that Young or his kind proposes a more community based intervention. Only abolitionist feminists have done that seriously. It is us who argue for men changing, for the left to stand up to this exploitation, for public education to speed that process, for quick and humane penalties, for community supports for all including those caught up in the sex trade.

I too am appalled by the statement issued by the university institute named for Beauvoir. This is not the version of freedom promoted by Simone de Beauvoir and I believe it does not do honour to her struggle (or that of many others including mine), to understand women’s oppression and the way forward to a better world. She asserted and we have confirmed since her day that most women and girls are trapped in prostitution. She allowed as some few others are seduced or tricked into accepting a tawdry celebrity style imitation of freedom, one based in personal license to fend for one’s self with the illusion that if we indulge in self promotion, accept and “do what it takes” to any level of self mutilation/invention/performance (cosmetic surgery, body modification, make-up and fashion) we can make our way to power. This has become the neo-liberal mantra : we are all on our own and must fend for ourselves accepting any kind of degradation so long as it pays and so long as it falsely promises hopes of making a fortune. Not only does that not work out so well for most, but Beauvoir and feminism argues a contrary notion that the (women’s) freedom worth fighting for is one that enriches the dignified freedom of others. That freedom she asserts rejects the callous trade of others for self advance, rejects the continued enslavement of the most oppressed and rejects the squalid invitation to men to continue to oppress others in trade for our personal so called “liberty”.

This Bedford case is not a promise of more safety. In spite of the inadequacy of law enforcement, most feminists still claim that Law and the state have a job to do in protecting women from male violence. Each woman need not be on her own against every and all men. The illegal informal trade in sex will mushroom. It already has in this current environment of wink wink nod nod understanding in which police never arrest johns. They pretend that sex traffickers, pimps and johns cannot be stopped just as they for years claimed that abusing husbands and incestuous fathers could not be caught in law because the women would not cooperate with law. Letting the authorities off the obligation is not the answer. We also need a lot more than criminal law and fair enforcement. Women need a guaranteed income above the old welfare levels to be able to leave an abusive boss, husband or pimp, we need childcare and healthcare for all, among other social programs. We need fair immigration and labour policies so women can migrate without the danger of trafficking. Pity the women hoping beyond hope that the health inspectors, the labour standards officers, the immigration man are gonna come and set things right, protect them. Heard of the water scandals, the food contamination, the ecological messes. We don’t hire inspectors anymore and when they do come look for side deals and dismissals that will precede them.

The silliness of the call for safe brothels is beyond naive. Since when do bosses call on the law to protect workers from violence on the job when profits are at stake ? It is one thing to push for limits on bosses that already exist and another to create a whole new market and set of legitimized bosses in the name of safety. How are these security guards receptionists and clean bright places to be paid for ? How do coops work if one member insists that the target profits have to be made regardless of danger ? Are we to have government financing of these brothels ? Try getting government funding for a bread making coop. This government will tell you to leave it to the market and that will be the same old players : multinationals, gangsters, organized crime, street gangs and predatory thugs. Ask Holland Ask Sweden who have had to reverse the legalized brothels. Or on the scaled down plan where two women share space or work from home, where are their families, their children ? Ask India. Try Calcutta. Some option. We need criminal law on violence against women including this violence against these women.

This Bedford case is one of a libertarian trying to exploit a conservative court in a neoliberal age. Allan Young openly says he never thought this case would do a thing for street women but he carefully never contradicted the opportunistic media work that claimed this was decriminalization not legalization and he never corrected the helpful message that this case would save the vulnerable trapped women on the street from deadly violence. And for those who hired him to profess their attachment to street prostitutes at this point is to reveal either cynicism opportunism or willful blindness.

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Version française : "Après les jugements ontariens dans l’affaire Bedford sur la prostitution, j’ai envie de me vider le cœur" 

On Sisyphe, March 29, 2012

Lee Lakeman

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