Thursday, September 30, 2010

One step forward for Canadian sex workers, two steps back for their US peers

Two important legal transitions have occurred lately in the realm of sex worker rights in the US and Canada. In Ontario this week, a judge issued a ruling that essentially decriminalized the acts that made prostitution illegal. This same month, court battles in the United States over Craigslist's Erotic Services internet site lead the site provider to remove the controversial sex worker utilized section and replace it with the word "censored". While Canada seemed to move forward in line with other progressing Western attitudes regarding the attitudes towards criminalizing sex work, it appears the United States digresses to again attempting to control individual's rights of the use of their bodies.

The issue of sex work is a deeply moral issue. Sex is complicated and eternally wrapped up in morality and personal value systems. The power of sex has translated into intense morality debates around the profession of sex work. The judge in Canada clearly began to distinguish morality from legal responsibility while considering this case, as she was quoted in the
National Post as saying,

It is important to state at the outset what this case
is not about: The court has not been called upon to decide whether or not there
is a constitutional right to sell sex or to decide which policy model regarding
prostitution is better,” Judge Himel said. “Rather, it is the court’s task to
decide the merits of this particular legal challenge, which is whether certain
provisions of the Criminal Code are in violation of the Charter.

She did find that the Charter violated rights of citizen sex workers, specifically the section of the Criminal Code that she found
force[d] prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to
security of the person
Judge Himel considered other nation's laws regarding the criminalization of sex work, and in line with the trend of legal progression in industrialized nations like the Netherlands and New Zealand, chose to force the hand of change for sex work politics in Canada.
Sex workers in the United States were not so lucky as to experience the validation of social progress this month. In the midst of a continuing legal battle over a section of adult ads on Craigslist, the internet site provider pulled the section off the web. This section of ads was frequented by adult service providers, many of whom now must find new and possibly riskier ways of advertising their services.
Losing access to the private and generally safe(for the sex work profession) venue of Craigslist is a strong blow to the dignity and safety of sex professionals. Melissa Petro, who briefly used Craigslist for sexual business transactions, wrote about her experience in the Huffington Post and offers that the closing of this site harms sex workers more than it protects them.
The simple fact is that people do have sex for money--many different kinds of people for many different reasons, people as varied as those looking to buy concert tickets, sell a collectible or adopt a pet--and these people will continue to. Whether the choice to do so is being dignified and protected with its own forum..
remains up to Craigslist to decide amidst deep legal and moral controversy.
In general, most countries that have decriminalized the sex trade have seen an increase in safety in the profession despite certain morality argument of the contrary that decriminalized prostitution will lead to rampant disease and moral disintegration. I hope Craigslist has the strength to be the new standard setter in the United States. If Craigslist will uncensor the adult ad section, it will be taking a progressive step in legal evolution mirroring other growing and legally improving ideologies. Maybe the court system in the United States won't turn out to be ready for such change and growth as the Canadian court system was but Craigslist certainly is in a position to encourage the leap of change.

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