The world’s oldest profession just might be in for some new legal wrangling.
We need look no further than to our northern neighbor, Canada, for a case that could turn all the arguments both for and against prostitution sideways.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down three federal anti-prostitution laws.
The lawsuit, which was brought by three prostitutes, challenged a statute outlawing brothels, another prohibiting people from living on the profits of prostitution, and a third law against communicating for purposes of prostitution.
In a 9-0 ruling, the high court found that these bans make vulnerable women even more vulnerable by forcing them into back alleys and other areas where they have no ability to screen out johns who would do them harm.
Mind you, prostitution itself is legal in Canada. These statutes are designed to discourage ladies of the evening from plying their trade without actually banning it outright.
And that is what has the hookers enraged. They point to the hypocrisy of allowing a citizen to supply a service while deliberately making it difficult for that business and its practitioners to survive.
They have a point. But, if you want to talk about vulnerable women, there are no more vulnerable women than the victims of sex trafficking.
Sex trafficking isn’t just about streetwalkers. It’s about poor women, little girls and even men who are imported into a country under the pretext of becoming domestic workers.
When they get to their country of origin, their passports and other credentials are taken from them and they are told they have to perform sex acts in order to pay back the costs of transportation. Frequently, they are beaten unmercifully.
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, most of the victims brought into the United States for forced employment in the sex business come from East Asia, Mexico and Central America.
The Polaris Project, a nonprofit service dedicated to increasing awareness of human trafficking, received reports of more than 9,200 unique cases of sex trafficking in the United States from 2007 until 2012.
In addition to the degradation and marginalization these people feel, there are the additional social ills of sexually transmitted disease and drug abuse associated with the practice.
So, what’s a society to do?
Instead of pious posturing about the fraying moral fiber of the human race, some Canadian politicians are considering what is called the “Nordic” approach.
Norway, Sweden and Iceland are some of the countries that have focused law enforcement efforts on pimps and johns instead of on the hookers.
Under this punishment model, the purchaser of sexual services is the criminal, not the provider.
If capitalist economics is all about supply and demand, say advocates of the “Nordic” model, why not make the demanders suffer more of the legal risks?
The Canadian conundrum is worth watching for signs of progress. As members of Parliament debate the best way to deal with the issue, it will be interesting to see whether a male-dominated political class will have the cojones to target some of their own contemporaries rather than a permanent underclass of women.