I can’t even…

Sometimes you read stuff and you just, you can’t even… So in case you were wondering if end-demand laws, criminalisation of clients of sex workers and other ‘Nordic Model’ stuff is to protect women? Yeah. No.

“We don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes, we want to do away with prostitution.”
Senator Donald Plett at a hearing on whether or not Canada should criminalise clients of sex workers.

“Of course the law has negative consequences for women in prostitution but that’s also some of the effect that we want to achieve with the law.”
– Sweden’s trafficking unit head Ann Martin on their laws criminalising clients of sex workers.

8 thoughts on “I can’t even…

  1. Steersman

    Well, at least they are more or less honest about their obectives. Which is a lot more than you can say for many in the “anti” cohort.

    But since you referenced Canada’s recent efforts to criminalize the purchase but not the sale of sexual services, you might be interested in these related articles which speak to some of the underlying motives, at least here in Canada: Prostitution bill hearings had strong evangelical voice [1], and Is there a moral case against prostitution? [2]. And while I have been a strong defender of the profession and those in it, having been a “john” – off and on – over some 30 years, and having gone so far as to submit a brief to Canada’s Senate in opposition to the proposed law (what was then Bill C36), I also periodically think that there may be some justification for certain elements of that “moral case against prostitution”, at least some aspects or manifestations of it. And while I sincerely doubt that there’s enough of a case to weigh against decriminalization and/or legalization – I recently signed an on-line petition in favour of Amnesty International’s policy on the former – I also think that there’s some merit in actually trying to address some of the underlying “evangelical” and supposedly moral objections to the profession.

    1) “_http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2014/07/15/prostitution_bill_hearings_had_strong_evangelical_voice.html”;
    2) “_http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/is-there-a-moral-case-against-prostitution/article19537551/”;

  2. Marijke Vonk Post author

    What elements of the moral case against prostitution do you feel might be some justification for, or should be addressed?

  3. Steersman


    Good question. And one I’ve probably spent no small amount of money attempting to answer since I’ve spent a fair amount of time discussing the profession with many of the escorts I’ve seen over the years. Reminds me that one of them had suggested that I must have been a prostitute in an earlier life given my apparent sympathy for them – most unlikely but I thought it rather nice of her to have said that. Although I’m still not quite sure of my motivations in general there – maybe a twinge of guilt; must have expressed something along that line to another escort at some point as she said something to the effect that if it would make me feel better she could always charge me extra. Which I, of course, respectfully declined. 🙂

    In any case, it seems there are several aspects or dimensions to the question which might reasonably be partitioned into those that are intrinsic or internal to the profession or transaction, and those which are extrinsic or external to it, although I think the boundaries are rather fuzzy and encompass more of a continuous spectrum. But relative to the first set, I at least find it rather hard if not impossible to argue against the starting position that sex for money is no different from other similar transactions such as food preparation or haircuts for money – along which line, you might interested in or amused by another newspaper article that spoke to Canada’s recent anti-prostitution bill (C36): Don’t piano teachers deserve the same ‘protection’ as prostitutes? [1] However, I don’t think that the nature of the transaction – a service for money – necessarily means that any given case is morally right: hiring a contract killer, for example.

    And I think that it is that inability to categorically bless each and every financial transaction that obliges us to consider whether sex for money – prostitution – is different not just in degree but in kind from all other similar transactions. And it certainly seems that many of the religious, particularly in the US but to a lesser extent elsewhere, are of that view. Consider these statements from one such source [2]:

    Life Ministries: The Bible warns against women engaging in prostitution. Leviticus 19:29 states, “Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute”. Prostitution degrades women. ….

    Such is the vileness of prostitution that the Lord refuses to accept any money associated with it: “You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both” (Deuteronomy 23:18).

    Now I’m certainly not any type of “god botherer”, but, from the view of Sun Tzu’s “know your enemy”, I think there’s some merit in asking where those types of values and perspectives come from – other than Jehovah, of course. And while that is, no doubt, motivated in part by outright bigotry and disgust, I kind of get the impression that a substantial part of it is motivated by the view that procreation is a sort of sacred process – “go forth and multiply” – and that anything that turns sex into a commodity is to be anathematized. And there is maybe some merit in that idea, at least if we wish to pay more than lip service to the concept of progress and the evolution of humanity. And maybe 2,000 or 20,000 years ago when the species was teetering on the edge of oblivion there might have been some justification for that perspective. But now, with the advent of the pill, and when overpopulation seems the greater problem? Doesn’t seem like those concerns should carry quite as much weight as they did then, even if they do still carry a not inconsiderable amount.

    In which case, I think there’s also some merit in considering and emphasizing the countervailing view that prostitution can provide some not insignificant social value to all concerned, not just to the individuals directily involved but to society as well. As I’ve argued at some length in many places, including in the comments on this National Post article, Julia Beazley: Evangelicals are a convenient target in the prostitution debate [3]. And in this exchange of tweets [4] I had with an escort and an agency (of sorts):

    @HothenDotCom @Kristina_Escort 🙂 Thanks. I’ve periodically thought #sexworkers are the unsung heroes & heroines of mental health dept. 🙂

    @SteersMann @Kristina_Escort Ain’t that the truth. Mental health, physical health — and marriage counseling. Escorts do it all.

    Which kind of brings me, in closing, to another issue that is kind of related to the considerable social value that I think prostitution can bring to the table. While I have argued or suggested that prostitution should or could be viewed as a profession – in the same way that doctors, lawyers, and engineers are – I kind of get impression that many if not most sexworkers are very reluctant to consider anything in the way of the same sort of “professional code of ethics” and concomitant laws that those other professionals accept as a matter of course. Which is probably a reflection of the view held by the British politician Stanley Baldwin [1867-1947] that “power without responsibility [has been] the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”.

    You might have noticed that during Canada’s debate on its anti-prostitution Bill (C36) last year, the hashtag “#StigmaKills” was quite popular and was the focus of many objections to that Bill. Although if has, of course, been used in many similar situations. However, while I think initiatives like that of Amnesty International will go some distance in reducing that stigma, I think it is more important and effective for the sexworker community to emphasize the social values it can and does bring to the table. And to accept a greater degree of responsibility for its actions and sometimes negative effects on society.

    1) “_http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/columnists/dont-piano-teachers-deserve-the-same-protection-as-prostitutes/article19043328/”;
    2) “_http://lifeministries.org.au/pamphlets.php?content_id=53”;
    3) “_http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/julia-beazley-evangelicals-are-a-convenient-target-in-the-prostitution-debate#comment-1506199160”;
    4) “_https://twitter.com/SteersMann/status/500759490149773313”;

  4. Marijke Vonk Post author

    Well, maybe I’m reading over it but you don’t seem to actually make a case for any of the elements of the moral case against prostitution? Or name any that have some justification? You’re only arguing for decriminalisation, and preaching to the choir to be honest ;).

  5. Steersman

    Maybe I was overly vague or my points got lost in the verbiage – something I have a tendency to do. 🙂 But I had sort of thought that I had more or less shown that the chief element in a moral case against prostitution was, apparently, that it turned sexual services into a commondity when it should be rightly viewed, primarily as seen through the eyes of the religious, as something that was more or less sacred. And that there was some justification for a secular view that was more or less consistent with it, even if it didn’t depend on specific religious baggage.

    As mentioned, I think that that position is not particularly tenable, even though a rather large percentage of the population tends to view prostitution that way. In which case, if the sexwork community wishes to make any headway against that view then I think it needs to be showing that prostitution can still provide significant social value. While there seems to be a growing realization that that is the case, I think it needs to be emphasized as often as possible.

    And I’m not sure that I was really arguing for decriminalization; more trying to promote the idea of a professional code of ethics, although I really don’t have any idea how that might work or what it would entail, along with a legal framework of sorts – which again I don’t really have any ideas on the specifics. But it seems to me that if we accept laws about who is allowed to drive under what conditions, about the safety of the food on our tables, and about the drugs in our medicine cabinets then it seems we should accept that there might be some justifications for similar laws relating to prostitution. Which many in the industry seem rather averse to. Which I don’t think helps anybody, except maybe the criminal element.

    In any case, here endeth the lesson, the preaching to the choir. 🙂 Although I hope I’ve provided a bit of a different and illuminating perspective.

  6. CK

    I am a politician in my country and strongly in favour of full decriminalization.

    To my forespeaker: Thanks to modern contraception, sex and reproduction can be completely separated and it becomes time people acknowledge this fully, including the understanding, that sex nowadays is nothing with intrinsic special meaning any more. So to hold it as sth sacred, is not up-to-date anymore and we should overcome this.

    But as a strong proponent of sex worker rights and a consumer of the sex industry myself (some hours ago, I was watching BDSM porn), I nevertheless sometimes have some questions in my mind.

    For example: Are sexworkers still able to appreciate private sex? The answers to this one are usually very diverse. And the clients, will they be able to have sex with a girlfriend, when they are used to have sex partners who never complain about their performance ? No sexworker will tell a client, he’s not good enough to give her pleasure, after all her pleasure isn’t the goal at all, but private sexual relationships center about the pleasure for anyone involved. Will regular clients become so selfish they will never be good lovers again? Or will they push the woman too fast to have sex, perhaps even threatening to go to a sexworker instead? Here, the answer is also very different. It depends on the caracter/personality of the individual client, I guess. Some males are bad apples, even without going to sexworkers and some are good despite going to sexworkers. Will sexwork alienate men from women or rather bring them together again, when the knowledge of the sexworkers spreads out through the public? Here, I’d say the second. Sexworkers know often a lot about men, i.e. that men are also very vulnerable, which women need to know to save more couples.

    Questions like this (there may be overs, but those are the first who popped in my mind) are important, but of course whatever the answer is, they don’t legitimate prohibition.

  7. Steersman


    … it becomes time people acknowledge this fully, including the understanding, that sex nowadays is nothing with intrinsic special meaning any more. So to hold it as sth sacred, is not up-to-date anymore and we should overcome this.

    My point was that the evidence seems clear and quite voluminous that a rather large percentage of the population do in fact see it as more or less sacred. Many clearly make that into an untenable absolute, but it should be equally clear that the continued functioning of society depends rather crucially on that process. In which case, it seems that the sexwork community has to deal with that fact, particularly if it wishes to see greater legalization and liberalization, by arguing for its own social value and utility.

    But as a strong proponent of sex worker rights and a consumer of the sex industry myself …, I nevertheless sometimes have some questions in my mind.

    Good questions and some cogent observations. Don’t have any ready answers, at least to all of them, but you might be interested in this Canadian study [1, 2] that interviewed some 1300 “johns” – myself included – that might answer at least some of them.

    1) “_http://www.johnsvoice.ca/docs/JOHNS_VOICE_GENERAL_RESULTS_EXECUTIVE_SUMMARY_FINAL_DIST.pdf”;
    2) “_http://www.johnsvoice.ca/”;

  8. CK

    ” that a rather large percentage of the population do in fact see it as more or less sacred”

    Yeah, they do, mainly because of judeo-christian religion, whose sexual morality is very strong, even in secular parts of the society as you said yourself if I understood you well. (I know that I am pretty radical in dismissing religion completely. I consider myself an atheist liberal with some sympathies for the philosophy of objectivism.)

    I’d give advice to sexworkers like this:

    Talk how good sexwork is for marriages. There would be even more divorces if men couldn’t go to sexworkers.

    Talk about how happily married couple can have threesomes with a sexworker (male or female) without dealing with the jealousy factory like when you’d involve a private third person.

    Talk about how having sex calms the males. If I don’t have sex for a long time, I start to become agressive, only verbally, but in this state, I am nevertheless pretty annoying. And other people may become also physically agressive.


    The trick couldperhaps be to claim, that many sex forms exist and only the one (out of love in a romantic relationship) is the sacred one. The other forms are more profane, but also valid. Perhaps you can bring the people to see, that the sacred lies in the love herself, not in the physical expression of the love.

    Thanks for the study.

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