Prostitution expert doesn’t like what she sees in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside

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From the Downtown Eastside to the Whalley strip to various “backpage� websites, women continue to sell sex. Whether they should be selling sex has been a long-standing debate that continues to rage today.

Organizations like the Pivot Legal Society argue this is a job like any other, and that the women deserve laws that make their work safer.

Advocacy groups like Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter argue the industry abuses human rights and should be stopped. The country’s current prostitution laws are tricky to understand, and don’t make either side happy. In 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada stuck down the country’s prostitution laws, in a case lead by former dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford, a ruling that was celebrated by groups like Pivot.

In response, in 2014 the then-Conservative government enacted a new law that criminalizes buyers of prostitution, but it failed to fully decriminalize prostitutes. Many argued that Bill C-36  failed to fully protect these women from danger. When the Liberals formed government in 2015, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau criticized the Conservative’s legislation, but has not yet acted to change it. So, the debate continues.

British author and journalist Julie Bindel is in Vancouver this week to speak about her new book, The Pimping of Prostitution. After interviewing 250 sex workers, pimps and others in the industry in multiple countries, Bindel argues the abolition of prostitution is the only answer. Our talk with Bindel has been edited for length.

Q: Why do you support abolishing the sex industry?

A: What they (pro-decriminalization groups) are arguing is that the safety of the woman depends on her pimp and sex buyers being de-criminalized, and I’ve never heard such a ridiculous Orwellian argument in my life. The safety of the woman partly depends on her being decriminalized, but wholly depends on the abolition of the sex trade so that women do not end up in this heinous situation, which can never be made safe. 

Q: Some activists believe that by decriminalizing prostitution, you make life safer for the women?

A: Obviously the activists in Vancouver are pushing for full decriminalization, and they are using arguments about safety. But we have reams of evidence from countries where this has been experimented with. We have Germany, the Netherlands, Nevada in the U.S., Denmark, (part of) Australia, and of course we have New Zealand which has a decriminalize model — the evidence from these countries is that it has been an unmitigated disaster. That it hasn’t protected the women, and in fact it has just protected their abusers. 

Q: Was the Supreme Court wrong to strike down Canada’s prostitution laws in the Bedford case, and should Prime Minister Trudeau change the Tories’ Bill C-36?

A: The right thing that Canada could do is to recognize that people in prostitution are not making choices. The likes of Terri-Jean Bedford and those who are a-typical of prostituted women are making the loudest noises and yet they are the least represented of any in the sex trade. I hope that Trudeau and the Liberal politicians that surround him … recognize that this is a human rights violation.

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