Addressing the perversity of sex trade laws

It was probably The Floor Tile that did it. Or maybe it was The Fly. When Alan Young represented Terry Bedford better known as The Bungalow Bondage Dominatrix back in the ’90s when she was arrested for operating a common bawdy house he admits it was challenging not to pass judgment on a guy willing to pay $500 to be treated like a floor tile for eight hours. “The girls at the house would step on him drop food on him even vacuum him” Young explains speaking on The Legal Regulation of Sexuality at the Guelph University Sexuality Conference this past June. The Fly on the other hand paid $150 an hour to buzz around the house like a fly while a dominatrix would try and swat him or threaten to pull off his wings and legs. Again a little weird admits Young but once he got over his personal reaction realized that there was no actual sex going on and that you’d see more nudity at a local Hooter’s he said “Wait a minute. Where’s the beef? How is this considered a bawdy house for prostitution?” Still though no actual sex took place because the clients got erections Bedford was charged. Ultimately says Young it was because a bunch of old men (i.e. the judges in the case) found what was going on disgusting that it was deemed illegal. “Just because people find something arousing that you don’t should that be grounds to make it illegal?” questioned Young who is also an associate professor of law at the University of Toronto. It’s a perfect example of how the law dictates morality in our culture says Young who chronicles the relationship between sexuality and the law in his book Justice Defiled. Whether it’s women whose insatiable sexual appetite is so feared they are considered witches and must be burned at the stake or Victorian women 400 years later who apparently had no desire laws around sexuality based on religious or cultural morality make little sense. Sure says Young we dropped the “hellfire and damnation” approach to laws around sexuality but during more secular Victorian times this was merely replaced with the pseudo scientific and medicalization of sexual panic — that old masturbation-causes-epilepsy-therefore-it-must-be-evil-and outlawed approach. Undoubtedly the most illogical and morally fraught laws are those surrounding the sex trade. Originally outlawed under Victorian social-hygiene-policy-based “vagrancy laws” — which also applied to jugglers loafers and other general undesirables — these were considered discriminatory when Canada’s first Criminal Code was passed in 1892. The buying and selling of sex was made legal but “soliciting” was not. Sort of like trying to be a door-to-door salesman who isn’t allowed to go door-to-door. “They basically prohibit every activity surrounding prostitution — communicating bawdy houses and pimping to name a few — in the hopes that it will make it so tough no one will do it” explains Young. We can all see how well that’s worked. And if you think prostitution should be outlawed because you have a moral objection to the commodification of sex adds Young everything is commodified. “Why is sex is so sacred it can’t be bought or sold?” he asks. “We sell religion.” It’s your moral right to frown on prostitution says Young but morality doesn’t justify putting women in danger. The law is intended to protect the vulnerable in our society and given that according to Stats Can prostitution is in the top three most risky professions along with cops and cab drivers I’d say these (mostly) women fit the description. Still prostitution laws achieve the opposite. Because “communicating” is illegal street workers have to jump in cars with strangers to negotiate their terms. The streets aren’t safe but because bawdy houses are illegal they can’t go indoors. One need only look at the Pickton pig farm case for proof of this job’s hazards. There should be legal limits on sex says Young but they should be there to protect vulnerable people not to reflect or dictate our sexual morality. Laws exist to make us look good on the outside but as a result we’ll never have a healthy sexuality says Young. “You can’t say ‘I hired a hooker on the weekend’ or ‘I watched porn all weekend’ as long as the law maintains the stigma” he concludes. “To look to the law to tell us what is healthy sexuality is just wrong.” This is the third column in a series concerning the Guelph University Sexuality Conference held in June. In two weeks: Canada’s Sexual Report Card.