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Tail chasing 

Editorial by Bruce Wark

In societies based on Judeo-Christian values, sex is a dark demon that keeps rearing its ugly head. Money is filthy lucre. Mate money with sex and you come up with the world’s oldest profession. “For by means of a harlot, a man is reduced to a crust of bread,” the Good Book warns. “A 54-year-old New Brunswick man is charged with being the Keeper of a Common Bawdy House, Exercising Control over a Prostitute, and Living off the Avails of Prostitution,” says a solemn missive from Halifax police. “A 37-year-old Truro woman and a 28-year-old Dartmouth woman are charged with being Inmates of a Common Bawdy House,” the news release adds. “Two men who are American citizens are charged with being found in a Common Bawdy House.” The cops laid all those charges after the first of three recent raids on the Gentlemen’s Massage Club in Dartmouth. Later they seized the electric “open” sign that beckoned horny customers from the rub club’s window. It was the latest attempt to squelch Metro’s flourishing skin trade. Three years ago, female cops posing as street prostitutes lured 33 men into the law’s tender embrace during “Operation Spring Clean.” That followed “Operation Squeeze,” which had netted the police 48 would-be clients a few months earlier.

The periodic police crackdowns follow a pattern. Police respond after residents complain about prostitutes in their neighbourhoods. The raids on the Gentlemen’s Massage Club came during the uproar over the opening of the new Sensations strip club a few blocks away. But the cops usually target street soliciting because it’s more visible. Sometimes politicians get into the act. In 1983, for example, the federal government appointed seven experts to study prostitution. After holding public hearings in 22 Canadian centres, the Fraser Committee recommended making it easier for ladies and gents of the night to work indoors by permitting two adult prostitutes to operate from a private residence. It also called for the licensing of small prostitution establishments in non-residential areas. Predictably, Mulroney’s Tories ignored the recommendations and, instead, brought in tougher laws to discourage soliciting. Fifteen years later, Hamm’s Tories launched a moral crusade of their own. They introduced a “john’s bill” that would have allowed municipalities to pass bylaws giving police the power to seize the cars of people seeking paid sex. In June 2000, the Hammsters quietly withdrew their bill after the opposition pointed out it would have violated a suspect’s right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

On and on the merry game goes. Pols and police can crack down all they want. Yet sex with a naked stranger will still be as near as the ads in the newspaper classifieds or the phone book’s yellow pages. Overstressed business execs will still seek solace in the embraces of comely travelling companions. Hotel bedsprings will still creak and groan as harried guests fumble for ecstasy in the arms of paid bedmates. And if what I’ve heard is true, it will still be possible for discriminating diners in the odd swanky restaurant to leave $300 tips so that after closing time, an attractive attendant will serve them second helpings in a more intimate setting.

So what can be done about prostitution? The best idea I’ve heard is from Frances Shaver, a sociology prof at Concordia who has spent years studying prostitution. Shaver says we should recognize adult prostitution as a legitimate occupation. She points out that criminal laws have not protected prostitutes or the communities where they work. Shaver advocates allowing small groups of adult prostitutes to work without regulation. Larger commercial establishments would be governed by the same zoning bylaws and workplace health and safety standards that govern other businesses. Existing nuisance laws could be used to protect neighbourhoods. And prostitutes themselves could be protected through the enforcement of laws governing assault, sexual assault and criminal harassment. Shaver’s recommendations for decriminalizing prostitution make sense. Surely cops have better things to do than chasing a phantom demon.

Are we too soft on prostitution? Too hard? Email: bwark@thecoast.ca

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Vol 25, No 52
May 24, 2018

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