Dianne Post, in her latest piece, claims that I (and apparently Maggie McNeill) have “deliberately misread” her words. I have misread nothing Post has written. Instead, I criticized her essentialist assumptions about what prostitution “is about” and her use of terribly flawed sources to try to support her grandiose claims about prostitution.
I will not rehearse here the many criticisms I made of her assumptions and opinions in my two previous essays, except to say that her equation of prostitution with slavery is utter nonsense. And it is quite clear that Post has a deeply moral objection to prostitution, no different than people who have a moral antipathy to other consensual activities, like homosexuality and abortion. No amount of social science evidence or testimony from people who engage in sex work will alter Post’s personal opinions. And they are just that: personal opinions grounded in her particular definition of unacceptable behavior.
A few days ago the Supreme Court of Canada struck a blow against such narrow moralizing. It ruled unanimously (9-0) that Canada’s three prostitution laws are unconstitutional. The three laws pertain to “communicating in public” for the purpose of prostitution, owning and operating a “bawdy house” (brothel), and “living on the avails” of someone else’s prostitution (a pimp, partner, manager, boyfriend, etc.). The Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that all three provisions violated the country’s Charter of Rights. The court declared that these laws deprive prostitutes of “security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” Because criminalization forces them to operate in the shadows, “the prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution … by imposing dangerous conditions” on them. The ban on communicating for the purpose of prostitution endangers street prostitutes especially, because they are prevented “from screening potential clients for intoxication and propensity to violence”; the prohibition on brothels prevents prostitutes “from working in safer fixed indoor locations”; and the ban on “living on the avails” is overly broad, failing to “distinguish between those who exploit prostitutes and those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes, for example, legitimate drivers, managers, or bodyguards.”
The ruling is entirely consistent with the harm-reduction paradigm. It implies that antiquated moral attitudes should be irrelevant in prostitution law, and that the law should be grounded instead in a nation’s commitment to defending human rights and extending protections to all citizens.