This is the edited version I sent into Laurier’s chapter of JHR after the editors’ suggestions.
Considering the amount and range of coverage of the 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 – the Olympic sex trade. 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 become apparent as a largely male tourist demographic participates in the sex trade as they follow the Olympics to Vancouver.
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 trade industry traffic and exploit women (and men, and children), and many men buy into it. Some news-stories, 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 slave owners realised they could sell the rape of their enslaved to other men for a large 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.
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 the women in prostitution claim they are needed for the Olympics. The West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) is eager to say that legitimate businesses will fund a “co-operative brothel” for the games. Most support for getting women in street prostitution into indoor prostitution illustrates how this has little to do with support for their safety, health, human rights, or dignity. Supporters often plainly state it is about “cleaning the streets up” and “protecting children from seeing it.” In other words, predominantly white, middle class people don’t want the “good people” to see. This would further evident in Vancouver, where the criminalisation of homeless people is thorough, with loss of shelter, no sit no lie laws, and police violence against squatters. Another common reason is the tax revenues that could be gained. Possibly most importantly, a lot of men want to buy prostitution sex legally, and cling to the view that it is harmless and between consenting adults. Most commentary on the topic involves these rationales.
It’s illustrative to look to already legal systems of prostitution to demonstrate it’s about cleaning up the streets and providing women for male consumers. In legal brothels, only women are tested for sexually transmitted diseases, never the customers. Research by Mary Sullivan of women in legal brothels in Australia, Janice Raymond of Holland, Coalition Against Trafficking in Women of Germany, and Melissa Farley of Nevada show how little attention is paid to the women’s safety. Women are taught hostage negotiation, have panic buttons, and such in the better brothels. Women actually have less control over the prostitution experience than they do in street prostitution, such as not being allowed to refuse a john, and exorbitant fines to police their behaviour. Countries that legalise experience increased street prostitution, child exploitation, and trafficking.
Prostituted women, such as women in the research mentioned throughout, as well as “Peridot Ash” (a pseudonym), Suki Falconberg, Rebecca Mott, speak out against legalised prostitution in any form that legitimates pimps, procurers, and johns as “businessmen” or “facilitators.” They strongly believe that those in the industry not be treated as criminals—and that the abusers must be. They stress both the international scope of the industry, and the damage it does to the body and mind. Kelly Hollsopple’s fantastic study of women in stripping reveals that emotional, sexual and physical abuse runs rampant, and Lisa Kramer’s astute analysis of women’s emotional experiences of performing prostitution in a variety of types, most indoor, reveals profoundly negative impacts and effects on the mind. They, most eloquently Andrea Dworkin, 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, and what they are good for. In fact, it is 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 voices called “Flesh Mapping.” 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, CATW, 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 according to many studies, such as those in Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress, ed. Melissa Farley, and the vast majority of johns are, well, johns, not janes.
Additionally, these groups all speak of both their experiences as currently and formerly prostituted people, and empirical studies which show that the vast majority—most studies, from Farley to Kramer to the UN’s International Labour Organisation, find over ninety per cent—of those in prostitution want to escape it, not be told they just need to do it indoors. Farley and Jacqueline Lynne did a study on women prostituting in Vancouver experiences of trauma, from rates of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) double that of war veterans to broken bones by pimps to homelessness and rapes by johns.
An instructive lesson as to what could well happen if the legal brothels are set up for the Olympics, is to look at what happened during past Olympics and other international sports events. During the 2006 Olympics in Athens, 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 there, ninety per cent were immigrants, with 40 000 trafficked into Germany for the sole purpose of this mega-sporting event. Additionally, legal brothels often act as covers for trafficking, and make investigation difficult.
So why is there so little press surrounding this 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 we continue to understand the construct of the Olympic Games as expressed through their three pillars of culture, sport and environment, it is important to critically assess if these pillars are being holding, and it is perhaps even more important to ensure Canada’s commitments to human rights are being upheld.