By Eric Glatz
With the exception of a rural area of Nevada, prostitution remains
illegal in every state of the US. In Canada it is illegal in all
provinces and municipalities to my knowledge. Illegal or not, it
exists as an informal institution in every metropolitan area. The
selling of sexual services represents a viable market in Canadian
and US societies regardless of the criminal stigma attatched to
it and the consequences of engaging in it. Any analysis of prostitution
requires the consideration of historical, economic and social factors
which all contribute to our view of prostitution.
Our sexual mores, social attitudes, laws and our economic systems
work on several levels; often behaviour that is not tolerated in
public, is accepted, even encouraged, in the private areas of our
lives. For us to look at prostitution it is necessary to consider
the delicate balance between the public and private areas of our
lives. We should also remember that when an issue as volatile as
prostitution is a focal point, it tends to ellicit gut-level reactions.
Even from a highly rational investigator.
Woman as a commodity in a market controlled by males is a feminist
issue. This arrangement is often identified as being sexually exploitive
and potentially harmful to the woman. Prostitutes have been viewed
as oppressed by economic hardship, thus causing them to sell their
bodies to men, by laws which punish them and not their customers,
and by the violence of pimps who take a large cut of the money prostitutes
earn. Prostitutes have also been glorified by male society as being
"the only honest women." Prostitution then, as a feminist
issue is subject to stereotypes, as it is as a kind of "scholarly
subject" or as a moral issue.
Kate Millet in the "Prostitution Papers" stated, "Prostitution
provokes gut-level feelings in women precisely because it reveals
so starkly fundamental and tacit assumptions about women's relations
in a patriarchal society. It reminds us that we are defined by our
sexuality: i.e. wife, spinster, lesbian, whore; and it reminds us
that most women are dependent on men for social survival and that
most of us in one way or another secure our survival in exchange
for the commodity that men want most from us. Feminists see this
sexual objectification as dehumanizing and degrading with
the ultimate degradation experienced by women who sell their bodies
to earn a living..." Prostitution becomes an uncomfortable
issue not only for MP's, clergy, citizens, police, the political
left etc., but for feminists as well. Many feminists feel that if
historical and current sex roles are seen as oppressive, prostitution
is the most oppressive sex role of all. However, the problem with
this question is that, to a certain extent, it arrises out of a
femrinist ideal rather than present reality. In initially thinking
about prostitution, the earnest feminist envisions the best of all
possible worlds. One where there is no sexual exploitation or no
power hierarchy based on our sex roles. But this thought process
does not provide any real answers to the fact that currently prostitutes
are arrested and jailed. The current prostitution laws in Canada
or the US favour the customers who in most cases are not even charged.
The police agencies use dubious and illegal entrapments to arrest
prostitutes, wholly ignoring the right to privacy.
The element of choice becomes obscured, not only by adherence to
social ideals, utopic views and neglected realities but because
very little research has been done on prostitution by women and
without patriarchal bias. Available information tends to reflect
the mores of the researchers. What must be done is that feminists
and the left have to acknowledge that women do make choices to survive
and that whether a woman chooses prostitution at one dollar a minute
or that of clerk-typist at three dollars an hour our response must
be consistent. With the best of intentions we can postulate on how
we believe a woman's situation is discriminatory. We can work to
gain legislation which will open up better options for women . This
would make a woman's current role more bearable. And we should fight
long and hard to make these changes. But when a woman decides we
must not annul her choice. To do so is reverting to a paternalistic
attitude and would in reality be an anti-feminist position. The
issue of choice in prostitution is an understandably difficult yet
important concept to accept. To view prostitution with "pity"
is to negate prostitutes' individual self sufficiency and potential
for power and change. This has been made clear in recent forums
where prostitutes and feminists have spoken and worked together.
Prostitution asks that we consider prostitution beyond the boundaries
of stereotypes. That realistic and comprehensive information be
studied. That the issue not be reduced simply to avoid conflict.
ARGUMENTS OF THE PROSTITUTION RIGHTS MOVEMENT
The American Prostitutes' Rights Movement was begin by Margo St.
James and others in California to protest the hypocrisy of laws
that control female sexuality, particularly prostitution. COYOTE
(Call off Your old Tired Ethics ) started as WHO (Whores, Housewives
and Others) to develop a union of women both prostitutes
and feminists to fight for legal changes. The short term goals of
COYOTE are decriminalizing prostitution, with the long term goals
being to free women in their sexual roles. Margo St. James insists
that COYOTE is not just an organization "it's a political
There are constitutional proportions to this Prostitutes' Rights
Movement. These would be equal protection under the law, the right
to individual privacy, free speech, the right to due process, freedom
from cruel punishment, and the right to due process.
Current prostitution laws are under attack because they discriminate
against women, especially poor women who tend to be the targets
of all law enforcement activity. Also, poor and black women tend
to be denied access to hotels, bars or apartment that cater to prostitution
and are forced to work the streets where arrest rates are high.
Poor women must then end up dealing with many of the street and
criminal risks involved in prostitution, especially the prejudices
of the police. Where there are no solicitation laws, police will
arrest women on vagrancy or loitering laws.
Some courts consider prostitution to be a victimless crime, as
is the case in Detroit where a traffic court judge has been letting
prostitutes go free. Still, this means that the governmental bodies
are regulating the behaviours of consenting adults behaviours
which are really private agreements. This control of private acts
violates our right to privacy, as well as a human being's right
to control his/her own body.
Because prostitution is a victimless crime, police have used entrapment
to fulfill the law. Prostitution rights lawyers argue that court
decisions regarding "a constitutionally protected zone of privacy
surrounding areas of the body" (US Supreme Court) are precedent
for removing prostitution's criminal stigma.
Equal protection under the law is raised because in many areas
only the woman is identified as the law breaker. Thus, the Adam
and Eve story is repeated in laws and their enforcement. Furthermore,
this unequal enforcement has a lot to do with the fact that Canadian
Parliament and US Congress are dominated by males.
Arguments against decriminalizing prostitution usually claim that
"the moral climate of the community will be affected."
Or, that "Prostitution will lead to other crimes and help proliferate
them." However, research shows no clear-cut connection between
prostitution and criminal behavior. The issue of change in community
standards due to repeal of prostitution laws fails to take into
consideration that sexual behaviour for money already exists in
most communities and the customers taking part in this enterprise
are in many cases the same individuals that run the communities.
Specifically, what is meant by prostitution decriminalization?
Decriminalization takes prostitution from the jurisdiction of the
criminal code. It means private sexual acts between consenting adults
are placed outside the realm of criminal laws. It would essentially
bring the informal practice of tolerance of sexual behaviour out
in the open, without spending millions of dollars, endless energy
prosecuting and incarcerating prostitutes.
Legalization, predominantly not favoured by prostitutes' rights
advocates, is the governmental regulation of prostitution. The argument
against this is that under legalization the state replaces the pimp
and would collect a great deal of revenue from "the industry
of sexual work." Legalization should be viewed as taking away
the self control from prostitutes.
Decriminalization is the least restrictive alternative.
Published in The
Red Menace Number 5, Summer 1980.
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