05 February 2014

Prostitution—keeping the state out of our bedrooms

"There's no place for the state," a prime minister once said, "in the bedrooms of the nation." I hope Justice Minister Peter MacKay and his colleagues keep that sage advice in mind as they draft our new prostitution laws. The state's primary responsibility, indeed one might almost say the purpose of the state, is safeguarding the security of its citizens. However, because prostitution is about sex, governments often find it hard to resist morality-infused legislation to govern it, but resist they should.

If one consenting adult is willing to sell sex, and another consenting adult is willing to buy it, and they aren't bothering anyone else, then it's no one else's business, including the state's. The government should confine its legislation to ensuring that people engaging in this perfectly legal activity can do so safely.

As for moral objections to the trade, logically it is hard to defend the notion that selling sex is a bad thing. Sex in itself is quite a good thing—an essential part of life and one of its more enjoyable gifts. Those who believe selling it is a sin should not buy or sell it, but they should not expect those who do to submit to their moral prescriptions.
Of course it is thoroughly wrong for women to be coerced into the profession by dysfunctional family life, poverty, drugs or white slavery, and these pressures should be dealt with through appropriate legal and social measures. No one should be forced into a business against their will. But it is also quite possible a woman (or man) may simply be making a rational economic choice. If a woman can make twenty dollars an hour as a grocery clerk or two hundred dollars an hour as a call girl, choosing the latter is eminently reasonable.

Critics of the profession attempt to demean it by accusing prostitutes of selling their bodies. In fact, they don't sell their bodies anymore than hockey players sell their bodies. Both exploit their bodies to provide a service, and in both cases they are well-paid for the service.

Workplace safety is a common focus of legislation. The Supreme Court has clearly stated that sex workers deserve safe workplaces no less than other workers, and if the new law can ensure that, it will do its job. The sex trade should then be left to go about its business.

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