To an outsider, the Manitoba New Democratic Party would appear a strange beast. Unlike their federal counterparts, Manitoba’s NDP has actually governed for a large amount of time. The federal party has never held power.
So it comes as no surprise that the provincial party has a more pragmatic approach to governing, and leans more centrist than its federal cousin. This could really be seen during the years of Premier Gary Doer who often made decisions that appeared to be more in tune with federal Liberals or even Conservatives than the NDP. The Selinger government has moved back closer to the left, but some things still perplex me.
A case in point is the Manitoba NDP approach to crime. It is understandable to a point for when they came into power, Winnipeg had some crime problems that had to be looked after. Car theft and murder capital are not good titles to hold.
This brings us to last week. The Winnipeg Free Press reported that Andrew Swan, Manitoba Justice Minister, had urged the federal government to use the Nordic Model when it comes to the sex trade in Canada. It seems that the Manitoba party of the left is going down the road in lockstep with the federal party of the right.
So now the provincial NDP are weighing in and it seems that they also fail to see what the Supreme Court was trying to say. The short version of the Court’s decision was that you could regulate but not outright ban the practice of sex work in Canada. To me at least, it appeared that they said that any outright ban on prostitution would fail when challenged in the Court.
“It should make any purchase of sex illegal, period. But we should decriminalize the victims of sexual exploitation, ” Swan was quoted as saying in the Free Press.
Now I do understand how this fits in with the NDP’s outlook that everyone should be allowed a certain amount of dignity in their life regardless of their economic abilities and that the poor and disadvantaged among us must not be allowed to be mistreated or victimized by others in our society. I share this outlook on life, and I do believe that people should be afforded dignity by their fellow citizens and by their government.
This is where the argument breaks down. How can you claim to be honouring a person’s dignity and then tell them that their personal decision to do what they choose with their body is not acceptable? You cannot give someone the right to determine their own future and then take choices away. Consenting adults have the right to make choices for and about themselves. As per Swan’s comment, yes we should decriminalize the victims of sexual exploitation, no one would think that’s a bad idea. His comment is actually meant to infer that all sex workers are victims of sexual exploitation. While many sex workers are victims, some are not, and lumping everyone together is disingenuous.
Again, from the Free Press article:
Swan said crafting a fair prostitution law is complex, but targeting demand will decrease the number of sex-trade workers who are murdered or go missing. And it will reduce the levels of coercion many young women face from pimps and sex traffickers.
This is where the proponents of the “Nordic Model” lose me. To recap, the Nordic idea is to target the customers, the johns, of the sex trade and make it illegal to pay for sexual services, but not to receive payment. This decriminalizes the sex worker but keeps the customer criminalized. The idea behind it is to reduce prostitution by drying up the demand. This does not make sense. It is already illegal to pay for sex and people still do it. The customer is already taking that risk today, decriminalizing the sex worker will not change demand.
I also do not understand why targeting demand will necessarily reduce the number of sex workers who are murdered or go missing. I do not believe that everyone who wants to pay for sex is a murderer. My feeling is that to lessen the number of prostitutes that go missing or get murdered is to have a place for them to work that would be safer. A legal brothel in my mind would be a much safer environment than the back alleys and cars that the illegal johns would still be hiding in. If parts of the industry remain illegal, then pimps and sex traffickers retain their power of coercion over their victims.
The only safer environment is a regulated legal environment.
I understand what is going on here. The NDP has traditionally been the party that most defends the rights of minorities, women, and the poor. Therefore, on the surface this seems to be the right position. Sex workers, mostly women, are often victims of sexual abuse, coercion, and outright violence up to and including rape and murder. I don’t pretend for a minute that this doesn’t happen.
Where I start to think differently is what the reasons are for the problems that women, and some men, in the sex trade face. To me a huge part of the problem is that society as a whole has a real problem with talking about and acknowledging sex. Slut shaming is almost like a national sport in much of our society. Who one has sex with, in or out of marriage, seems to be the concern of a lot of people who really shouldn’t be concerned about it at all. People assume that their attitude and feelings on the subject should be shared by everyone. There is a big ick factor when it comes to the sexual practices of others.
This is where things become illogical.
I consider myself a feminist. I believe in the equality of women, and that is how I lead my life and my personal relationships. I abhor anyone, male or female, who would put women in a secondary class or role to that of men. I don’t stand for it.
So it confuses me when people, many who claim to be staunch feminists, discount the choices of their fellow citizens who choose to do sex work. If an adult woman chooses to have sex with someone for money, without threats of violence or coercion, I find it completely disrespectful to tell her that she cannot do that to which she chooses. It is her body, her choice.
Our job as a society is to make it so that it is not her only choice. Someone can only make a choice freely when they see that it is not the only option. To do otherwise would mean that you were a victim of coercion. That is what is not acceptable, to not allow other choices. As a society we need to stop furthering policies that drive citizens into making desperate choices in the first place. All of that being said, if someone makes the choice to work in the sex industry, it is their choice and theirs alone. I am not going to pretend that I have the moral authority to tell them otherwise.
The other thing we need to do as a society is stop marginalizing those that would participate in a legal sex work system. That is really the crux of this. When it comes down to it, this is our society’s ever present practice of slut shaming. Large parts of our society see sex workers, present and past, as somehow broken people. Perhaps many are, but I’m not the judge of that. It is not my place to pass judgement on other consenting adults doing what they decide to do.
My feeling is that sex work is more dangerous because society would rather not accept that sex workers are people too. If we could accept that they are people who need protections from traffickers and murderers, then we would go after traffickers and murderers instead of pushing the industry to the fringes of our society.
But targeting traffickers and murderers directly would actually make sense.
As an aside, the Federal Government did actually start a Public Consultation on this issue from February 17 to March 17 on the Justice Department website.