Red Light District

the-red-light-districtRecently the media in our province did, if you will pardon the pun, an “expose” on the colloquial massage parlours. These are not the offices and suites of Registered Massage Therapists. We’re talking about rub ‘n’ tug establishments here. Whorehouses. Brothels.

Here’s the deal – the province’s largest city (Saskatoon) has opted to license and regulate “adult entertainment services”. This means that massage parlours (brothels) must acquire a business license from the city in order to operate. It also means that the individuals working in these establishments must be licensed as service providers.

In Regina, the provincial capital, there is a bylaw that “massage parlours” can only operate in the industrial areas of town. That’s it. That’s all that’s said about them – except for the weird thing about being 110 metres away from a bowling alley, because what else do you do on a Saturday night but go bowl a few frames and then hit your local rub ‘n’ tug for a perfect cap to the evening.

So the public debate has begun about whether it’s okay for the law to “turn a blind eye” to what goes on in these establishments, and whether Saskatoon is right in licensing and regulating brothels or whether Regina is more correct in simply stating that if you’re going to ask someone with whom you are not romantically entagled to put their hand(s) on your genitals in exchange for money, you have to do that near the Refinery. I cannot believe that was just one sentence. There have been debates and talk shows and articles in the paper and a great deal of, as my friend @JasonDFedorchuk would say, “pearl-clutching” (which is, I must say with full props to Jason, probably the very best backhandedly-snarky description of the kind of gut reaction we get in Saskatchewan whenever someone mentiones any sort of change. Just picture all of us – every single Saskatchewanian, sitting in our dining rooms, clutching our pearls and saying things like “well I NEVER” and gasping loudly).

So we’re dealing with two issues, really:

  1. What to do about the sex trade
  2. Where to put the sex trade

Both of these questions seem pretty easy to answer, in my never humble opinion:

  1. Legalise and regulate it
  2. With any other business

[cue the pearl-clutching]

Look. Everything is a commodity. Everything. Food, shelter, clothing, romance, sex, drugs, culture, art, water…about the only thing that *isn’t* commodified is air…oh wait. Yes it is, at service stations sometimes you have to pay to use the air compressor. If you don’t pay for goods, you pay for services. If you pay for neither, you live in the sort of world of which I am quite jealous, and in which I’m not sure I could thrive. But it’s true.

If you *really* want to be cynical (and I know you do), the argument can be made that every interaction is a kind of transaction – the trade in information, the trade in sound, the trade in non-verbal communication. While much of those sorts of interactions are not commodified, some are (do you pay for long distance service on your telephone? Do you pay for internet access? Then your *interactive transactions* are being commodified – you pay for the service of communication). We don’t feel any moral indignation over buying kumquats from our local kumquattery, and we certainly don’t feel any moral indignation over paying for a spa treatment, so what’s the big outburst of moral indignation at the idea of selling sex?

Well, the church (on which our legal codes were established) taught us that sex is bad and dirty and wrong. I mean, *wanting* to commit sex is right up there with murder and theft when it comes to the ten commandments of things you Really Ought Not Do. I don’t want to get in to a debate about the rightness or wrongness of religion, so I won’t. The fact remains that the written codified laws of most of western society were established based on the common law, which was heavily influenced by the church’s teachings of morality and of right and wrong.

The sex trade has been vilified for hundreds of years, and it’s really difficult to change our minds on that, and it’s really difficult to get these horses going in a new direction. But hey, we can hold each other’s hands and bravely go forward together. I’ll be right here with you.

There shold be nothing morally objectionable about sex. Therefore, there should be nothing morally objectionable about commodifying sex. As long as the choice is yours to offer sex as a service, you should have the right and the privielge to do so however you see fit, providing you do not harm others. [Insert argument here about people who are married stepping out on their spouses and exposing people to disease, etc.. See ‘providing you do not harm others’. Also, with a licensed and regulated sex trade, sex workers would have better access to things like health care, and benefits like every other employee in Canada.]

red_lightIf you legalise and regulate the sex trade, you can also tax it. Consider it a ‘sin tax’ if you’d like (which completely countermands my argument about sex not being a sin, but whatever).

Question two – where to put it? Any damned where you please. [cue the “dear Glob won’t someone please think of the CHILDREN” argument.]

This argument always confounds me. Do people really think that if children know what goes on behind the bedroom door, they will be irrevocably broken? Do you think that seeing a prostitute is going to make your children decide to become prostitutes? Do you think that brothels automatically attract rapists and murderers and drug dealers and all of the other criminals?

There you go, vilifying sex again. Listen, the claim that only criminals have sex is pretty ridiculous. The claim that only criminals want to pay for sex is only an accurate claim because we have made buying sex services illegal. That right there is what we call circular logic. If something is only illegal because doing it is illegal, then only criminals will do it.

If you legalise and regulate the profession, then you get to set bylaws and policies which outline things like safety, cleanliness, health codes, etc.. Sure, don’t put a brothel in a high school or across the street from a daycare, because by and large, schools are built in residential zones anyway. Keep commercial endeavours in commercially-zoned areas, and we’ll all be good.

We good now? We’re good.






9 responses to “Red Light District”

  1. melistress Avatar


    And now I want to start a tug n bowl.

  2. eyecon69 Avatar

    I think there are really 3 points to touch on here.

    – Crime
    – Human Trafficking
    – Right and Wrong, or What the City Says and What it does

    The big “fear” is that prostitution is seen as illegal. I can’t count how many times I’ve had to explain to people that receiving monetary gain from sexual favors is actually legal. Its too hard to have the argument that a stay at home wife is a prostitute, and escorts offer a service of company rather than favors. The legal lines here really lay in the discussion of said “cost” for said favors. When a street worker finally comes up for air and you give her $200 bucks there probably isn’t going to be a problem ( I hope not anyways) but if you say boy do you ever suck toss a twoonie in her face and tell her to get out there could be a problem, and this is where the self defense, libel assault and what not comes into play because she’s probably going to want more than $2 for her services. This is why the law is about the discussion about said services. A husband and wife don’t generally state that the husband is going to give the wife $100 dollars a week for services and if she doesn’t she doesn’t get the money… its just kind of agreed that if he’s working, she’s not that he will give her a bit of spending money so as not to go stir crazy or what ever their agreement is… its not about said services. I know of (through no direct avenue) that some escorts charge upwards of $400 per half hour (and they get paid that) but they generally are selling their company not their services.

    The idea of legalizing this sort of thing is similar to the Marijuana debate. If you go see a drug dealer… he’s a drug dealer and may have a variety of specials he can offer you. Depending on the prescription you’re looking for this may be a stepping stone to something else. There is a good argument that if MJ was treated the same as Alcohol being a taxable, regulated item, it would be harder for minors to obtain, and would see a control in the traffic. I think the point on this is just general “fear” of this being the gate way to worse sort of things. There are a good deal of girls that start off as strippers and end up as escorts for the better money. Registering as an adult entertainer in various capacities will probably mean screening, medical checks, and therapy if needed. It would seem to me that there would be a good deal of those folks in the trade that might not like that idea, and those that would love to see this regulated. It may come to the point where those in the trade would end up squeeling on their coworkers that have broken off to start their own… “Independent” operations. This would put pressure on the unmarked brothels. Any sort of drug dependencies and medical could be identified early and treatment administered.

    Tying regulation into the next point, there are a tremendous amount of women that have went missing in the decade.Many of them are identified as street workers. Edmonton has a task force setup to specifically approach street workers, compile a database of identifiable marks (tattoos etc), DNA, and next of kin to offer closure. The program doesn’t help protect the workers in any way but does help with alot of missing persons cases. Apparently they have lots of bodies, lost of missing persons, but no way to link the two. When you have unmarked homes offering these services there is a good chance that girls can be drugged and taken or just offered a promotion. Having checks and balances on workers can help identify problem spots. That is if the magic hands Spa consistently loses workers there may be a larger problem with human trafficking. Additionally if there is a greater than median occurrences of drug addiction there may be other problems at this spa.

    There are many arguments for and the largest argument against is of course the traditionalists. Saskatchewan has a hard time changing, we’re used to the rest of the world doing their thing and we just watch the wheat grow.

    Times are a changing, whether we like it or not. Which pulls in the third point, Right and Wrong or what the City says and actually does. Bylaw 9900 states you can’t park a camper/RV in front of your home or front drive way between Oct1 and April 30th. However if no one ever calls it in no one ever gets fined. Sometimes people just don’t know its a bylaw, but most of the time people don’t really care. According to the maps in the article by CBC there are 3 massage parlors just a short stroll from my house.. I guess the 3 on Broad street and the other 2 on Victoria avenue don’t count.

    My personal concerns is that I have a School Directly across the street from me which is already at risk youth, Some days I feel pretty stiff and would like to go for a real massage but I’m too nervous to go into a place and just ask for a regular joe blow.. errr regular joe massage, AND there is a private bowling alley just down the block from me whats a fella to do!

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Some awesome points here.

      I still think people (including “the public”) would be safer if we just legalised all aspects of the sex trade and made all drugs legal.

      But I’m some kind of crazy revolutionary or something.

  3. cabrogal Avatar

    It’s a public policy issue so I reckon you need to put personal morality aside and just try to judge it as cost-benefit to the community.

    What happened when we decriminalised sex work in NSW was that almost overnight the police corruption and exploitation of sex workers that was such a feature of inner and eastern Sydney decreased to a fraction of what it had been. Organised crime previously had a hammer lock on it – just four men ‘owned’ the vast majority of parlour, strip club and “gentlemen’s club” based sex workers in the city with a lot of the street walkers forced to work for cop pimps. Now it’s a mixture of small, tax-paying businesses and coalitions of independents often working discretely from residential homes. There’s still a little street work but much less than in the 1980s.

    It’s regulated by council health inspectors now and while I bet plenty of them are corrupt and take bribes neither the quantities nor consequences are likely to be a shadow of the police corruption we had before.

    It’s also easier for outreach services to help sex workers at risk of violence, STDs or addiction – so that also makes things easier on clients and the general community.

    There’s still illegal, unlicenced sex work. The tax avoiders, the ones with illegal immigrants, the ones catering to pedophiles. But there’s no indication that they’ve risen in number and now when other sex workers hear of illegal practices they can call the cops without getting busted themselves.

    The regulations include keeping certain distances from churches and schoolyards and they still have to go through the same council approval systems as any other potentially disruptive commercial enterprise, so if you were proposing to work a dozen girls from a floor of a block of residential flats you’d probably be refused a licence, but not if you set up in a commercial premises on main street.

    About the only downside I can think of is that it upsets prudes and some folk complain that street walkers are affecting their property values and can’t be swept from the street anymore. NSW state politicians obviously miss the bribes though. They’ve recently been trying to grab sex work regulatory powers from the local councils.

    1. cenobyte Avatar

      Heaven forfend we should upset a prude.

  4. Lee Avatar

    Christianity and Judaism did not teach that sex was dirty. Why was “Be fruitful and multiply” the first COMMANDMENT if this was the case? DUH.

    However, every society from tribal to those civilized had moral codes enforced in some way. Will it make for a better world that these things are legalized? No. Will it protect women? No. The red light districts in Amsterdam only led to the moral goal posts moved so that really wild things went on in the non-red light districts. And that was totally unregulated. The legalization of prostitution in New Zealand only led to some teenagers thinking of it as a viable career option, with the legal stipulation of age only being some technicality.

    There is a moral ecology just like there is a physical ecology. What one does really does affect everyone else at least a little. A society that is purely utilitarian ultimately becomes dehumanized, though I offer that the highest utility would actually come about if we regarded how sublime those old codes were. The moral premise of “I can do whatever I want so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else” will take us back to many (not all) of the values we had in that Christian era–so long as our definition of hurt is not short-sighted.

    These days our marriages don’t last, this generation of young people is love-starved and acting out in craving for attention, and 1/3 of them don’t even survive the womb because we have detached sex and marriage and suicide is one of the highest causes of death. So much for our “enlightened” wisdom that threw out all the old morals. We are so blind we can’t even see the consequences.

    1. cabrogal Avatar

      Agree that utilitarian morality is mechanistic, inhuman and ultimately not moral at all. But I’d also suggest that adhering to rules from a holy book or a postulated deity is absolving yourself of responsibility for your own morality and is just as mechanistic and inhuman as utilitarianism.

      But the fact is that criminalising sex work not only fails on utilitarian grounds (i.e. it does nothing to reduce it and empowers organised crime) it also fails according to Kantian principlism. By sacrificing the health, safety and economic options of sex workers to ‘send a moral message’ you are treating other human beings as means to an end.

      Here in NSW we decriminalised sex work about twenty years ago. It was not only a huge boon to the health and safety of sex workers and a crippling economic blow to the criminal syndicates that had dominated inner and eastern Sydney but with one stroke it eliminated a major source of police, political and judicial corruption. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who cares more about people and community than about words in a book.

      1. cenobyte Avatar

        I love hearing about what’s happening in your neck of the woods, cabrogal. some day, maybe I’ll turn up on your doorstep. THEN PEOPLE WILL WORRY.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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