It isn’t the world’s oldest profession. The world’s oldest profession is apathy.
Those who, when confronted with wrongdoing or injustice or abuse – and prostitution can be any one of those things, or all of them – just, you know, shrug. “It’s been around for a long time,” they say. “There’s got to be a good reason for that.” And then they go back to sleep.
That recent Supreme Court of Canada decision is just that: apathetic (and pathetic). It’s dressed up in all sorts of legal finery, and high-sounding words, to be sure. But, when distilled down to its base elements, it just sort of gives up. Young girls being coerced into trafficking their bodies? Women being traded like commodities, and beaten and battered and worse? Innocence being lost to dirty old men, who care nothing for anything, except their own grimy desires?
The highest court in the land doesn’t certainly doesn’t seem to care. If you pore through their 132-page collective shrug, their reasoning effectively comes down to this: prostitution has been around a long time, so deal with it. In the very first sentence on the very first page, no less than the Chief Justice intones: “It is not a crime to sell sex for money.”
And it goes on from there. But, as in a lot of legal reasoning, the problem lies with definitions. Is what is being sold really, truly “sex”?
Not according to a lot of people who would know. The U.S. National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children – who do, dare I say it, God’s work – think that what is being bought and sold isn’t actually “sex.” It’s something else. Says the Centre’s experts: “Prostitution creates a setting whereby crimes against women and children becomes a commercial enterprise.”
When a pimp, or circumstances, compels a girl to sell her body, that isn’t sex, says the Centre. When forced to submit “to sexual demands as a condition of employment, it is exploitation, sexual harassment, or rape – acts that are based on the prostitute’s compliance rather than her consent.” Noticeably absent from the Centre’s assessment: that it is, in the benign language of the high court, “sex for money.” It’s a lot, lot less than that.
Unconvinced? Melissa Farley is a Ph.D, and the founding direction of Prostitution Research and Education. She doesn’t really define it as “sex,” either. Nor is she as indifferent to prostitution as Canada’s highest court seems to be. “Prostitution is extremely dangerous for women,” she says. “Homicide is a frequent cause of death.”
Farley goes on: “It is a cruel lie to suggest that decriminalization or legalization will protect anyone in prostitution. It is not possible to protect someone whose source of income exposes them to the likelihood of being raped on average once a week.”
Finally, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women – because, really, that is what we are talking about, trafficking in human beings – doesn’t define this age-old commercial enterprise as “sex” either. They are much more blunt, and therefore (to me) closer to the truth.
“Prostitution cannot eliminate rape when it is itself bought rape. The connection between rape and prostitution is that women are turned into objects for men’s sexual use; they can be either bought or stolen. A culture in which women can be bought for use is one in which rape flourishes.”
So say the experts – so say former prostitutes themselves. It isn’t “sex.” It is a business. It is coerced submission. It is bought rape.
There are many, many people who – when confronted with a problem that has been around for a long time – say that it cannot be solved. Drug addiction, or prostitution, or myriad other social problems have been around for centuries, they say. So, ipso facto, they can’t be eliminated.
That may be. And it may be that those like me – a left-leaning type, who aspires to a better and more equal world for his daughter – will ultimately lose this debate.
But don’t you think it is better to try and make things better, than to be apathetic, and to simply shrug?