If a legal ruling handed down last Tuesday is allowed to stand, prostitutes will gain expanded rights in Ontario, Canada. They'll be able to work in brothels, conduct extended conversations on the street with potential customers, and hire professional associates like accountants and bodyguards.
I spoke with sexual-trafficking expert Lisa Thompson of the Salvation Army about this development:
WISHING: One of the arguments made in this case was that prostitutes would find safety working in controlled brothels with security systems. What are your thoughts on this matter?
THOMPSON: Prostitution is inherently dangerous wherever it's practiced. In countries with regimes of legalized, regulated prostitution, violence is an ever-present concern. Mr. Andre van Dorst, a sex-shop owner who also rented rooms to prostituting women in Amsterdam, lamented to The New York Times about the government's requirement of a pillow in rooms where sex is sold, saying, "You don't want a pillow in your room. It's a murder weapon."
In Antwerp, Belgium, a Mr. De Coninck has reportedly installed biometric scanners in his state-of-the-art 51-room brothel; the scanners ensure that only legally registered prostituting women use the rooms. Each room is also equipped with a panic button next to the bed, which when pushed calls police and sets off a red flashing light in the brothel's control room. This ironically brought comfort to one prostituting woman who said, "In the old days I worked in a place where you were lucky if the electricity worked and I feared for my life. If something should happen to me and I turn up dead tomorrow-the technology here means that police will know exactly who I am."
LW: If this law is allowed to stand, what will it mean for human trafficking, people sold into sexual slavery?
LT: Clearly prostitution is not an "option" that appeals to most women, so many of those in the sex trade are there either out of desperation, lack of viable choices, or because they were trafficked into it. A case in point: In 2002, more than half of Italy's estimated 70,000 prostituting persons were "migrants"-60 percent of which were from Nigeria and 25 percent from Albania. Anti-trafficking experts agree that Nigeria and Albania are major source countries for sexually trafficked women. It requires a ludicrous stretch of the imagination to suppose that 75 percent of the women in prostitution in Italy decided to "migrate" there because the sex trade there was so appealing to them.
LW: Ontario is a skip and a jump from Buffalo, N.Y. Do you think this ruling will increase sex tourism?
LT: Absolutely. The primary effect of legalization is the codification of a male right to purchase sex, and ergo a massive expansion of the commercial sex industry. When a jurisdiction legalizes prostitution they might as well put up a help wanted sign for pimps and traffickers, and start an ad campaign for sex tourists.
LW: What should the church be doing about prostitution?
LT: The church needs to recognize that God didn't create any human being for the purpose of them being a prostitute, stripper, or pornography performer. We should always love the prostituting person, but relentlessly and systematically work to deconstruct the sex industry. This means lovingly helping people exit the sex trade, combined with efforts such as strongly supporting enforcement of obscenity laws and opposing efforts to legalize prostitution. This also means that the church must get serious about confronting pornography use by men and boys of the church. Pornography is the training manual by which men/boys are trained to objectify women. Males who use pornography or participate in other aspects of the sex industry are the other slaves of the sex trade.