Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Underbelly of Vancouver
Downtown Eastside


I have been asked to write a brief article on whether prostitution is exploitive. I will endeavor to present as fairly as possible the realities and ramifications of sex work and let readers decide whether having a job in the sex industry is any more exploitive then working any other type of job.

Prostitution in its purest form is the exchange of sexual or erotic services for money. Many current and former sex trade workers have articulated that they entered prostitution due to economic factors. This seems natural since this is the reason why most people choose to get a job.

Its fair to say that many individuals in society believe that prostitutes haven't enjoyed the same opportunities as other members in society and this is why they have entered prostitution. For certain, sex trade workers largely have been disadvantaged in certain aspects of life, however most sex workers will say that they willingly chose prostitution in order to meet their economic needs.

Prostitution is a profession which is legal, yet routinely police have criminalized sex trade workers for communicating their services. In plain language, its illegal to talk about what's legal to do. This leaves open the question of why is this and how this can be allowed.

The simple answer is that politicians have dove for cover whenever they have been pressed to rectify this injustice. I guess the reason legislators, are apprehensive around prostitution law reform, is that they are concerned about how their actions may be viewed by the public.

Also, political leaders have been lobbied by those who wish to eradicate prostitution from society. Many efforts, by abolitionists over the centuries to accomplish this goal, has been attempted, without result. This is why one assumes, the Sex trade is often referred to as the world's oldest profession.

In recent times, those who champion abolition of prostitution claim that the sex trade is exploitive of women. Sadly these individuals, who push this agenda and which the majority are non-prostitutes, mistakenly believe they are helping women to escape prostitution.

What these moralists do to validate their agenda, is distort facts around prostitution. One glaring example is that abolitionists refer to prostitution as a women's issue, yet experts in the sex industry confirm that males comprise 40 percent of sex trade workers. Moreover, those desiring prostitution eradication articulate that prostitution is different for those who are female sex workers compared to those male.

If you ask those involved in the selling of sex business, if they always feel good about their job, they will say No. But usually they clarify by stating its the conditions around their work environment which makes the work at times difficult. These conditions include inhumane workplace situations ie: performing sexual acts in a locked car, having to work in dark deserted areas, lack of a warm supportive workplace, and being treated disrespectful by drive-by thrill seekers and police enforcement officers.

Sex trade workers, most often do not claim exploitation as a primary concern for them. In fact in a recent study conducted by Pivot, one hundred working women all articulated their desire to carry out their services in a safe place. And in the recent federal election campaign of 2004, Ms Shirley Chan who was campaigning in the Van-East riding, chatted with 30 sex workers in one night, They all articulated to Ms Chan, the pressing need for affordable housing and a safe place to do their business. None of the sex workers cited exploitation as a concern.

There are some leading American abolitionist feminists such as Janice Raymond who equate prostitution to slavery. Many followers of Raymond including the local organization Rape Relief, waywardly claim that if there isn't poverty there wouldn't be prostitution. It seems though that these types of claims are not scientifically sound. They also mistakenly claim all prostitution to be exploitive.

While any job could be considered exploitive, for example a worker who works for an employer could claim, they are being exploited. Being used to make profit for someone other than yourself could also be considered an exploitive relationship, however it seems individuals in society are comfortable working for someone else. As long as there isn't ruthless inhumane treatment of the employee, most workers, employers and progressive thinking Canadians would agree that these workers are not being exploited.

Since most sex trade workers on the street are independent workers and since there isn't for most street prostitutes, an employer and employee relationship, its difficult to understand how the selling of sex could be considered exploitive. It seems though that the unsafe conditions surrounding this work need to be fixed.

Its way past time that the horrific workplace conditions that sex trade workers endure must be addressed. For starters, changing the criminal code must be made a priority because the need to prostitute for economic reasons is not a crime. Sex trade workers are not criminals. And the majority of men who purchase sexual services are not exploiting those providing the sexual service.

In society, there are usually two givens in economics, free will of supply and demand. And prostitution in a progressive tolerant society sholdn't be viewed any different.

Jamie Lee Hamilton
(604) 781-3361