In Defense of Women who Sell Sex

Columnist says book tells only half the
story

 

May
13, 2009 04:30 AM

Living
Columnist

Victor
Malarek is practically shouting over the phone.

 

Maybe
it’s because he’s talking on his mobile, on his way to satisfy a craving for
strawberries and ice cream.

 

More
likely because the investigative reporter, formerly with CBC’s the fifth
estate
and now with CTV’s W-FIVE, is frustrated with my objections to
his new book, The Johns: Sex for Sale and the Men Who Buy
It
.

 

It’s a
follow-up to his The Natashas: The New Global Sex
Trade
.

 

It’s
not that we disagree on many points. Human trafficking is, indeed, very wrong.
Child prostitution is horrifying. Sex tourism is disgusting. What happens to
women who hit the streets, where they fall prey to drugs, violent clients,
brutal pimps, corrupt cops and even serial killers, is
unspeakable.

 

As for
the misogyny online, where Malarek found 16 “johns” he interviewed and “five
thousand posts” he analyzed, well, tell me something I don’t know. Cyberspace is
one-handed nirvana for misogynists who cruise degrading porn and talk trash
about women.

 

What I
object to is Malarek’s contention that all sex work is wrong; that there is, for
all intents and purposes, no such thing as, to use his words, a “happy hooker.”

 

Which
infuriates “Ginger,” one of several women I know, maybe even the mom next door
to you, who love their escort jobs.

 

A
fortysomething divorcée with two teens, she stumbled into the trade through a
friend 10 years ago. When she discovered that she could support her family
working only a few days a week – with NHL players, touring rock stars and even
(former) provincial premiers – she quit her social services job and never looked
back.

 

“(Malarek)
just cannot see anyone choosing to do this,” Ginger tells me, echoing other
professional escorts. “It’s a very paternalistic, patronizing attitude he has
and he chooses to ignore all the women – I know women are talking to him. I know
women are saying, `Listen to me’ – and he brushes them off as the happy hooker
contingency.”

 

To
Malarek, those who lobby for the decriminalization of prostitution are “bozos”
who are “unrelenting and vociferous shills for the sex industry” and “staunchly
defend women’s rights to sell their bodies and men’s rights to buy
them.”

 

Well,
as a supporter of this “happy hooker lobby,” I must say that most of the groups
he lists do not represent men at all, except for those men who work in the sex
trade.

 

Instead,
what the groups, such as SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada), do is fight for the
rights and safety of adults – mostly women – who choose to work as “call
girls.”

 

After
all, sex is not illegal here. Neither is buying a woman a drink and/or dinner
and getting consensual sex in return. And neither, for that matter, is
prostitution.

 

What
is illegal are the means that protect sex workers from harm.

 

Canada’s
Criminal Code, for example, prevents the keeping of a “bawdy house.” That means
women can’t set up shop together. Isn’t there safety in
numbers?

 

It
also prevents people from “living on the avails” of prostitution. That means,
if you’re working to put your live-in teenage son through college, he could be
construed as a “pimp.”

 

(Note
that, in Ontario, SPOC is fighting a legal challenge against these
laws.)

 

Malarek’s
book really doesn’t get into the legal details, except to rant against how
legalization – which he conflates with the very different decriminalization –
has been a failure in other countries.

 

But
where is his research? His footnotes? His citations?

 

Instead,
he relies heavily on American clinical psychologist Melissa Farley, whose work
is subsidized by a group that equates sex work with human trafficking.

 

But,
if there’s so much human trafficking in North America, how come there haven’t
been mass arrests? Why do abolitionists such as Malarek (and Farley) focus only
on street workers and sex slaves?

 

As
Ginger points out: “There aren’t data on average mainstream sex workers because
they don’t get arrested, don’t have drug problems and don’t fall within
statistics. The only thing I do that’s illegal is that I work for an
agency.”

 

An
agency that supplies drivers to keep an eye on things, maintains “bad client
lists” and takes about $45 from every $200 one-hour “call.” All sex is
“covered” – i.e., safe – and, according to Ginger, who has never had a bad
experience, makes up only a few moments of the typical
hour.

 

But
Malarek ignores such escort services – which are legion – to complain that “in
the world of prostitution, there is no such thing as safe sex. It is a world
prone to violence, drug addiction, degradation, disease, depression,
vulnerability.”

 

No
argument there, with one caveat: That usually happens only when sex workers are
treated like criminals, pushed to the margins and have no
rights.

 

In
fairness, Malarek reserves his harshest judgment for men who, in his opinion,
should never have a reason to buy sex, no matter what. Even if they’re infirm,
socially awkward or butt-ugly.

 

“They
can get a relationship!” he shouts into the phone.

 

To
him, it’s simple. Go after the “male urges.” Punish the
johns.

 

But to
Ginger, that’s simplistic.

 

“I
think the abolitionist theory is dangerous,” she insists. “You’re not going to
abolish it, first of all. So that makes the book profoundly unrealistic.

 

“The
problem is, if you punish the johns, if you go by the Swedish example, the only
customers you lose are the good ones, the ones with good jobs and lives who are
afraid of infringing on that with criminal charges. The ones who stay are the
bad guys who don’t care.”

 

And,
as Malarek insists, there are enough bad guys buying sex as it
is.

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