Canada Decriminalizes Prostitution—Will It Get Sex Workers Off the Streets?
A court in Canada has ruled that prostitution is legal. But will decriminalization get sex workers off the streets or make their profession safer?
Looks like Canada could become the Nevada of the north after a court ruled yesterday that the laws that make running a brothel and living off proceeds of prostitution are unconstitutional. The deciding factor in the court’s decision was that the current laws force women onto the streets, putting them at greater risk of violence.
There is no doubt that working the sex trade on the streets is risky business. In my city of Halifax we have been recently, and painfully, reminded that is true after yet another violent attack on a sex worker. As an economist, though, I wish there were some evidence that decriminalization really will get sex workers off the streets or will make their profession safer. After all, the court also struck down the law prohibiting communication for the purpose of prostitution, so in one fell swoop the court has decriminalized both street and the brothel sector. Time and data will tell what the long run effect of a change in the laws will be (if they, in fact, stick) but for the time being I thought it might be interesting to apply some of the knowledge we have and think about the possibilities.
First, the people who have the most to profit from decriminalization, in an economic sense, are the same people who brought the challenge in the first place; those who hope to profit from brothel ownership. These particular owners are women and former sex workers and that, I am certain, helped them to make their case. I have wondered, though, since this trial began whether or not the case would have been as convincing if it had been brought by pimps instead of madams. There is very little research into how working with a pimp, as opposed to working independently, changes the life of a sex worker. It is possible that sex workers will be safer without the legal restriction that prevented them from working with pimps in the past, a move that will no doubt increase the number of these types of relationships. The bottom line is that for now we just don’t know because the level of stigmatization around pimping has grossly complicated research in this area.
Second, decriminalization will not get child sex workers off the street; the new laws only apply to sex workers over the age of 18. Unless anyone believes the development of new brothel sector will eliminate the demand for these young street workers they will be continue to be exposed and may even be at greater risk from potentially violent clients if, as a result, they constitute a greater percentage sex-workers on the street.
Third, decriminalization will provide no protection for male sex workers. For whatever the reason, male sex workers work independently at much higher rates than female sex workers. They are less likely to move into an organized brothel arrangement and for those workers is it likely to be business as usual. They may experience an increase in demand, if potential clients have been deterred by the fear of arrest, but by the same logic supply will also increase, so greater profits are not inevitable.
Fourth, some men will still want to buy sex on the street. Sex is in the brothel sector will, without a doubt, cost more than it does on the street. Men who can’t afford to pay brothel prices, or don’t want to play by brothel rules (for example using a condom), will provide a steady demand for street sex.
Finally, where there is demand, supply will follow. We will still have sex workers on the streets in Canada. Sex workers with addictions, sex workers with STIs, older sex workers and sex workers with a variety of other characteristics that make it difficult for them to work in a brothel environment will continue to work on the streets. If Canada makes the further move from decriminalization to brothel regulation, insisting on licensing and STI testing for example, the price of sex in a brothel will increase further and the costs to the workers will increase as well. Then we won’t need laws to push sex workers onto the streets. Simple economics will take care of that. For more on this topic you might want to see my previous post Prostitution Paradox: Regulating Brothels Can Spread Disease.
Step inside the unlikely friendship of a former ACLU president and an ultra-conservative Supreme Court Justice.
- Former president of the ACLU Nadine Strossen and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia were unlikely friends. They debated each other at events all over the world, and because of that developed a deep and rewarding friendship – despite their immense differences.
- Scalia, a famous conservative, was invited to circles that were not his "home territory", such as the ACLU, to debate his views. Here, Strossen expresses her gratitude and respect for his commitment to the exchange of ideas.
- "It's really sad that people seem to think that if you disagree with somebody on some issues you can't be mutually respectful, you can't enjoy each other's company, you can't learn from each other and grow in yourself," says Strossen.
- The opinions expressed in this video do not necessarily reflect the views of the Charles Koch Foundation, which encourages the expression of diverse viewpoints within a culture of civil discourse and mutual respect.
Scientists make an important discovery for the future of computing.
- Researchers find a new state of matter called "topological superconductivity".
- The state can lead to important advancements in quantum computing.
- Utilizing special particles that emerge during this state can lead to error-free data storage and blazing calculation speed.
Erik Verlinde has been compared to Einstein for completely rethinking the nature of gravity.
- The Dutch physicist Erik Verlinde's hypothesis describes gravity as an "emergent" force not fundamental.
- The scientist thinks his ideas describe the universe better than existing models, without resorting to "dark matter".
- While some question his previous papers, Verlinde is reworking his ideas as a full-fledged theory.
As tempting as it may be to run away from emotionally-difficult situations, it's important we confront them head-on.
- Impossible-sounding things are possible in hospitals — however, there are times when we hit dead ends. In these moments, it's important to not run away, but to confront what's happening head-on.
- For a lot of us, one of the ways to give meaning to terrible moments is to see what you can learn from them.
- Sometimes certain information can "flood" us in ways that aren't helpful, and it's important to figure out what types of data you are able to take in — process — at certain times.