Humanism and prostitution

[Photo of Ian Bushfield.]
Ian Bushfield

By Ian Bushfield

The Ontario Court of Appeal today upheld an earlier ruling that the federal laws banning “bawdy houses” (brothels) is unconstitutional. They further ruled that the law against “living on the avails” of prostitution could only apply to exploitative relationships. Finally, they overturned an earlier ruling and upheld the ban on solicitation.

The court has given the federal government 12 months to rewrite Canada’s current prostitution laws to better balance the rights of sex workers and their communities. Nevertheless, this decision would put any government in an awkward position, having to deal with a sensitive and contentious issue that is likely to divide sharply along partisan lines.

Leaving the political and partisan implications, we are still left with the question of what the humanist take on this ruling should be.

While prostitution has been called the world’s oldest profession, its existence often depends on the subjugation and exploitation of women. One needs only look at the deplorable practice of human trafficking, which often involves girls from overseas being traded as slaves into the sex trade, to see the arguments against legalized prostitution.

Of course such a simplistic view glosses over the nuances that are necessary to make a rational decision on such an emotional issue.

The issue gets complicated when we begin to look at the consequences of our current laws and see that harms are being caused.

With such heavy-handed restrictions on the activities related to prostitution (but not the actual act of paying money for sex itself), sex workers are forced to live outside the law and judicial system. Instead of relying on local police to protect them from predators like Robert Pickton, or being able to establish safe houses where they can defend themselves, sex workers fall victim to pimps and thugs who would exploit them.

Furthermore, humanists often prefer to err on the side of increased civil liberties whenever possible, and therefore we should have fewer laws restricting how one can choose to make a living. What the law should do is protect individuals from exploitive situations.

While this issue is certainly controversial, it is likely to be one of the dividing social issues to be debated over the next few years. As humanists we should seek to develop our positions on the basis of reason, evidence, and compassion, while being wary of emotional and moralistic arguments from wherever they may come.

On the About Us page: “The British Columbia Humanist Association has been providing a community and voice for Humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious of Metro Vancouver and British Columbia since 1982. We support the growth of Humanist communities across BC, provide Humanist ceremonies, and campaign for progressive and secular values.

We are a registered charitable organization. Our mission is:

  • to promote the ideas and philosophy of secular humanism by all available means of education and communication;
  • to serve the educational needs of its members and others of humanistic, scientific and naturalistic outlook, in a democratic, non-dogmatic manner free from authoritarian doctrine;
  • to provide opportunities for fellowship, study and service at all levels of humanistic endeavour, and to advance the values and welfare of humanity in dedication to the continuing enhancement of human life through human effort and understanding;
  • to offer and provide meaningful ceremonies to members and non-members at significant times such as marriage and death; and
  • to elaborate and to express publicly Humanist positions on issues of concern to people, including values, morality and ethics.

Find out more about Humanism or the issues we support.

We are run by a democratically-elected volunteer Board of Directors and a small staff. We are funded entirely by donations from individuals who share our vision for a world based on reason and compassion.”

Originally published on the British Columbia Humanist Association website on March 26, 2012.

Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular AllianceCentre for Inquiry CanadaKelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.

Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du QuébecAtheist FreethinkersCentral Ontario Humanist AssociationComox Valley HumanistsGrey Bruce HumanistsHalton-Peel Humanist CommunityHamilton HumanistsHumanist Association of LondonHumanist Association of OttawaHumanist Association of TorontoHumanists, Atheists and Agnostics of ManitobaOntario Humanist SocietySecular Connextions SeculaireSecular Humanists in CalgarySociety of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph)Thunder Bay HumanistsToronto OasisVictoria Secular Humanist Association.

Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an AgnostikerAmerican Atheists,American Humanist AssociationAssociação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and AgnosticsAtheist Alliance InternationalAtheist Alliance of AmericaAtheist CentreAtheist Foundation of AustraliaThe Brights MovementCenter for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist IrelandCamp Quest, Inc.Council for Secular HumanismDe Vrije GedachteEuropean Humanist FederationFederation of Indian Rationalist AssociationsFoundation Beyond BeliefFreedom From Religion FoundationHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist InternationalHumanist Association of GermanyHumanist Association of IrelandHumanist Society of ScotlandHumanists UKHumanisterna/Humanists SwedenInternet InfidelsInternational League of Non-Religious and AtheistsJames Randi Educational FoundationLeague of Militant AtheistsMilitary Association of Atheists and FreethinkersNational Secular SocietyRationalist InternationalRecovering From ReligionReligion News ServiceSecular Coalition for AmericaSecular Student AllianceThe Clergy ProjectThe Rational Response SquadThe Satanic TempleThe Sunday AssemblyUnited Coalition of ReasonUnion of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.

Image Credit: Ian Bushfield/Devan Scott.

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