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The Real Feminist Cause Behind Bedford

By Mandy Kahlmeier

The Bedford decision released December 20th 2013 struck down all three Criminal Code sections that indirectly criminalized prostitution. The finding that the ‘living on the avails of’ was overbroad is likely the only room that Parliament will have to re-legislate on, without making either the buying or selling of sex illegal.

I had hoped that if the SCC were going to do this, they would do it exactly for the reasons that they listed. Instead of getting sidetracked by the Pretty Woman view of prostitution, the Court clearly saw the reality of prostitution: it is not a choice for the vast majority of prostitutes, most of which are on the streets. Luckily the Court did not fall for the red herring dangled in front of them by the Feds (the causation argument that harms in prostitution are inherent and caused by third parties, therefore the legislation is sound, clearly a flawed argument as this is about State action).  The Court RECOGNIZED that the true face of prostitution is not Julia Roberts, and is not Ms. Bedford. The real face of prostitution in Canada is street prostitution of a drug-addicted, intergenerational, and predominantly Aboriginal nature. The Court did an excellent job of pointing out that a law that makes it more dangerous for a person to have sex for money, simply because society doesn’t want to see or know that this person has sex for money, is a law that values protecting Puritan sensibilities over the security of persons in the sex trade.

After the Puritan holdouts finish fainting in the House, they have to start thinking about new law.  They could go the way of Sweden (illegal for sex buyers not sellers) or of Germany (flat out legal for all). The Swedish model has reportedly seen numbers in support of reducing harms associated.

That said, the real solution here isn’t a legal one. The laws surrounding prostitution thus far have done nothing but cater to the idea that ‘we don’t want to see it’ because prostitution is somehow offensive. The law doesn’t get to be offended about people selling sex in exchange for money. The law should be offended about those people who are exploited in the process, and those who are not making the choice to sell sex for money as a matter of liberty, but rather as a form of survival. It is time to start creating legal mechanisms that target buyers of sex who are abusive, and those who use fear, drugs, and violence to make money off of the body of a prostitute. We need laws that target and punish the exploiters not the exploited.  Lastly, I do not appreciate this decision being called ‘a feminist victory’ for ‘all the women’ that want to sell their body. The real feminist cause here is the sheer number of women who are harmed by this activity, not the ‘choice’ of women to engage in this line of work.