Vancouver 2010 Olympics and Legal Brothels

This is the version I sent in to be edited. It was supposed to be around 500 words–it’s more than double that 😛

Considering the amount and range of coverage of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics in both mainstream and alternative media, there is a shocking paucity of recognition of an issue that hits women and children, especially those further marginalised by race and class inequalities—prostitution as integral to the Olympics. It seems forbidden for women in prostitution, feminists, First Nations activists, or any other concerned people to speak of the sexism, racism, and colonialism that will be further in evidence from the male tourists arriving in British Columbia next winter.

It is truly bizarre—influxes of men into nations are quite plainly seen as opportunities for the prostitution industry. The legal and illegal sectors of the sex industry traffick and exploit more women (and men, and children), and many men buy. Some newsstories, true to racist/classist misogynist form, are going with the tagline “the world’s oldest profession”—which is phallacious: it implies that it was the first thing women did for wages in past economic systems, as if it is in women’s nature. (In truth, as feminist historian Gerda Lerner argues, prostitution as we know it began when slaveowners (male, of course—no woman was free) realised they could sell the rape of their enslaved to other men for a larger return on profit—it was the monetary exploitation of their bodies combined with the realisation that the sexual pleasure they got in raping others could be transferred to other men for even more gain.)

Pro-sex work organisations want to legalise prostitution and set up government-approved brothels. It is explicitly stated, by both supporters and detractors, that this is being done for the Olympics next year, with the businesses behind it stressing that yes, it will be done in time for the influx of sports-watching men. Incredibly, some reporting on the proposal of legal brothels in Vancouver has the audacity to claim that it’s the women in prostition who say that they are needed for the Olympics. The West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) is eager to say that legit businesses will fund a “co-operative brothel” for the games. Reading people’s reactions to getting women in street prostitution into indoor prostitution illustrates how this has actually little to do with support for their safety, health, human rights, or dignity. It’s about predominantly white, middle class people, especially children, not being exposed to the filth. After all, who wants their nice white child to see some Aboriginal “whore” struggling to feed her family?

Formerly and currently prostituted women speak out against legalised prostitution in any form that legitimates pimps, procurers, and johns as “businessmen” or “facilitators.” They stress both the international scope of the industry, and the damage it does to the body and mind. They also discuss how as prostitution is increasingly entrenched in society, justice for women becomes more and more difficult. Johns are encouraged to see women and “lesser” males (eg Aboriginal, poor, homosexual) as simply existing to facilitate male masturbation; those “masturbation aides” are constantly told, by pimps, johns, even the average citizen, that that is what they are, that is what they are good for. In fact, it’s so true to their nature, it should be legal for men to use them as such.

Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter produced a powerful documentary of prostituted women’s voice called “FleshMapping.” Other groups opposed to legalised brothels include Ex-Prostitutes Against Legislated Sexual Servitude (X-PALSS ), Aboriginal Women’s Action Network (AWAN), members of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, and the umbrella campaign No 2010 Brothels. They speak powerfully of the racism that they see as inherent in prostitution, from the heightened vulnerability of women who are Aboriginal, Asian, Black, and from the former USSR; to the sexism seen as inherent—approximately eighty five per cent of prostituted people are female, and the vast majority of johns are, well, johns, not janes; to the classism built into prostitution—how many would be in the industry for free, or even minimum wage—and why is unemployed or minimum wage usually the other “choices?” If it is so liberating, why are those with the fewest options, as both classes of people and as individuals, virtually the only ones in it?

These groups all speak of both their experiences as currently and formerly prostituted people, and empirical studies which show that the vast majority—probably over ninety per cent—of those in prostitution want to escape it, not be told they just need to do it indoors. Researchers such as Melissa Farley, Jacqueline Lynne, and Lisa Kramer write of the trauma they—and many of the people in prostitution—see as inherent in the industry. The rates of trauma in those prostituting in Vancouver, as elsewehere, are astonishing, from rates of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) double that of war veterans to broken bones by pimps to homelessness to rapes by johns.

An instructive lesson as to what could—and probably will—happen if the legal brothels are set up for the Olympics, is to look at what happened during past Olympic and other international sports events. During Athens holding the 2006 Olympics, an estimated 40 000 girls and women were trafficked to satisfy the increased demand for prostitution sex, according to Victor Malarek, author of The Natasha’s: Inside the New Global Sex Trade. Germany, which has a legal system of brothel prostitution, held the 2006 World Cup. The UN-affiliated NGO CATW says that of the 400 000 people in the prostitution industry, ninety per cent are immigrants, with ten per cent trafficked into Germany for the sole purpose of the games. Additionally, legal brothels often act as covers for trafficking, and make investigation difficult. Anecdotal reports suggest that women actually have less control over the prostitution experience than they do in street prostitution, such as not being allowed to refuse a john by the house, and exorbitant fines to police behaviour.

So why is there so little press surrounding this “women’s issue” of prostitution—is it because so many of them are women of colour? Is it because the vast majority of “customers” are white men? As an activist in the anti-2010 Olympics movement, it was easy for the author to find information detailing the environmental impact, the lack of respect for native land, the criminalisation of homelessness—but relatively little on what it meant for those in prostitution. In fact, mainstream news sources contained more. What does this mean—is it indicative of the Lefts dismissal of the more controversial “women’s issues.” The author thinks so. She suggests that readers try to get the word out there. If someone tells you to hush up, grab the megaphone—and kerosened rags—off of them, and use them.

ps. this was listed in my related posts section. i advise reading it too:

Published in: on January 16, 2009 at 11:05 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Nicely written article. Just curious as to where you sent it in to?

  2. Oh, should’ve explained it. I sent it to a peer editor, than my final version to the magazine editors of our campuses JHR newsjournal. It’ll be the first edition. I’ll post the published version here too, and the final i sent in if it differs much.

  3. Right on!

    But I thought that they decided not to do the brothel after some high-muckity-muck from the gov announced that there was no way he was letting those laws change even temporarily.

  4. Thanks! I’ll post the final version soon (I’m working on the edits the editor suggested rite naow). indicates that legalization isn’t having an easy time going. “The move had the support of Vancouver’s then-Mayor, Sam Sullivan, and VANOC (the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games), but has so far been refused by Canadian Justice Minister Rob Nicholson.” That’s the most recent info i could find.

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