Politicians do some strange things for votes, such as sampling exotic foods at constituents’ cultural celebrations, cutting ribbons at grand openings, and getting their personal hands dirty pitching in on factory production lines. They even drag their spouses into doling out meals at soup kitchens. These things are all done as part of self-promotional photo-ops, of course, and not on their own time.
One Toronto city councillor was the subject of such a photo shoot during a lunch break from his duties at City Hall. The photos got the public’s attention because the councillor in question’s policy on the sex trade was a get-tough, clean-up-the-streets sort of attitude, the meal in question was taken at a strip joint, and the paparazzi had not been invited — it was, if you will, a surprise photo-op! The politician’s response to questions of why a down-on-the-sex-trade peoples’ representative would be in an adult bar was that he was doing a spot-check to make sure everything was on the up-and-up.
The city councillor was Giorgio Mammoliti, who is known for some pretty wild ideas, like his proposal to put up a huge flagpole in his district. Well, apparently flagpoles are not the only erections he has on his mind as he has come out in favour of the City of Toronto getting their piece of the pie by regulating and taxing prostitution.
He is quoted as saying, “The whole city of Toronto is a red-light district. All you have to do is travel at night above any strip plaza and anything that’s flashing that says ‘massage’ is a brothel” and, “The people who are making the most money right now are the mobsters in the city, and we should take our heads out of the sand and realize we need to address it and fix the problem and protect our local communities and understand, I guess, the clients that will continue to gamble and continue to use those kinds of services and provide some help for them at the same time. And the best way to do that is to regulate the industry.” he said.
His proposal for getting prostitution off of Toronto’s streets and out of the strip plazas is to open a red-light district on The Islands, an approximately 230 hectare (570 acre) Toronto park and recreational area that families go to for a few hours away from the glass and concrete of urban life by walking the beach and visiting the Franklin Children’s Garden or the Centreville Amusement Park. There are also people who live on The Islands.
The Pros (no pun intended)
“I believe that sex is one of the most beautiful, natural, wholesome things that money can buy.” – Steve Martin
The arguments for going ahead with the proposal to regulate prostitution and build a brothel on The Islands include…
- Certification: Regulating the industry would ensure professional practices and prescribe standards of hygiene. The licensing process would prevent drug addicts, those with serious criminal histories, carriers of disease, and other undesirables from this type of work.
- Urban Beautification: Gets massage parlours and street-walkers out of neighbourhoods and centralizes them in a red light district.
- Economics: The construction of the facilities will create jobs both in the industry and in spin-off businesses. The taxes on services rendered and licensing fees will provide revenues to various levels of government.
- Amsterdam: If other places in the world, such as Amsterdam, can have a successful, regulated sex industry, so can we.
- Safety & Crime Prevention: It will get prostitutes off the streets and away from pimps and human traffickers, providing the workers with a greater level of safety and ensuring that children are not working as prostitutes. Clients would not have to worry about being ripped off or criminal charges for being caught in a bawdy house and sex workers would be protected from violent clients.
- Tourism: It will increase tourism, be a boon to the local economy, and create new jobs and an increased international visibility for Toronto.
- Social Benefits: It provides a valuable service to lonely individuals who find it difficult to develop personal relationships.
- Progress: It’s “the world’s oldest profession” so let’s just get it out and into the open because it’s here to stay. Drop your archaic morality, accept and de-stigmatize it.
“I’m not into that one-night thing. I think a person should get to know someone and even be in love with them before you use them and degrade them.” – Steve Martin
This is a very bad idea. I don’t know what Mammoliti was thinking when he made this proposal but a legal and regulated Toronto red-light district simply will not deliver the benefits promised in any meaningful way. Here’s why…
Certification: In 1997, The Toronto Star claimed there were 10,000 prostitutes in Toronto, and I suspect that this number has risen in the fourteen years since the article’s publication. Even if all could meet the government standard, how many would a Toronto brothel be prepared to accommodate? What will happen to those that fail to measure up to the government standard? Will they be found employment in other sectors and/or be checked on from time to time to ensure they are not prostituting themselves outside the system and endangering themselves or the public?
There would also be those who would not register, such as illegal aliens, victims of human trafficking, and underage prostitutes, so these prostitutes would never register or apply for certification and remain outside the system. Others who would prefer not to have being a prostitute on record, such as those who sell themselves occasionally to make ends meet, students picking up a few dollars for tuition, etc., would not register either.
Urban Beautification: Regulation and a central red-light district simply will not rid other neighbourhoods of prostitution. In the first place, what will sex workers who were denied permits because of their age, substance abuse, lack of legal status, lack of space at the government pleasure palace, or criminal record do for a living? Upon rejection they will not just decide to go into another line of work, they’ll continue working outside the system as they did before regulation.
There’s also the question of the “Tim Hortons effect”. For those of you unfamiliar with Tim Hortons, it is an immensely popular Canadian doughnut shop chain. Personally, I don’t find their coffee very good (I like my coffee strong enough to be classified as weapons-grade, as per the Geneva Convention), but they are in almost every neighbourhood and their drive-through lines often spill out onto the street.
The point here being that a business selling a service or product profits from being close to its clients. Groceries, furniture, shoes, computers, plumbers’ services, and tax accountants are found everywhere — I cannot think of a single thing sold that is concentrated in one part of the city. Same thing with prostitution, you have to bring your product to the customer. This is why there are covert prostitutory operations in all corners of Toronto… people just don’t want to schlep themselves across town if they can find it locally. To make this ill-conceived plan viable, there would have to be such establishments in many areas of the city… even yours.
The residents of The Islands may not consider this industry being brought to their doorsteps as beautifying. Usually when politicians propose projects of this magnitude, they lobby to have it in their own riding. This is not the case here — Mr. Mammoliti does not represent The Islands. I can only guess that he is hoping to beautify his ward by moving prostitution out at the expense of the Islanders.
Amsterdam: Those attempting to justify a Toronto red-light district based on the “successes” of De Wallen, Amsterdam’s red-light district, are uninformed. Amsterdam has a population of about 780,000 vs Toronto proper’s 2,500,000 (or 5,000,000 for the metropolitan area or 8,000,000 for the Golden Horseshoe). De Wallen has 300 one-room cabins to service its population and tourists. For Toronto to mirror De Wallen’s layout, 1000 beds would be needed (and 1900 for Metro and 3,100 for the Golden Horseshoe).
It seems that regulating the industry has not cleaned things up much in Amsterdam. At the end of 2008, mayor Job Cohen announced plans to close half of Amsterdam’s 400 prostitution windows because of suspected criminal gang activity and some of the city’s 70 marijuana cafés and sex clubs would also be closed. Mayor Job Cohen explained, “It is not that we want to get rid of our red-light district. We want to reduce it. Things have become unbalanced and if we do not act we will never regain control”.
As for the claims that De Wallen is some sort of erotic utopia, Karina Schaapman, a former Amsterdam prostitute who is now a city councillor, said in 2009:
“There are people who are really proud of the red light district as a tourist attraction. It’s supposed to be such a wonderful, cheery place that shows just what a free city we are. But I think it’s a cesspit. There’s a lot of serious criminality. There’s a lot of exploitation of women, and a lot of social distress. That’s nothing to be proud of.”
In 2009, the Dutch justice ministry announced plans to close 320 prostitution “windows” in Amsterdam.
According to the BBC, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime lists the Netherlands as a primary country of destination for victims of human trafficking. The UNODC lists other countries with open policies on prostitution, such as Thailand, Philippines, and Germany, as being countries of destination for large numbers of victims of human trafficking.
This sort of thing is not unique to Amsterdam… criminals seem to creep in wherever prostitution laws are relaxed.
Safety & Crime Prevention: As we saw in the case of Amsterdam, criminality would continue be a problem and probably increase due to an influx of tourists increasing the number of people looking for sex-for-hire partners. Many prostitutes would simply not qualify for positions in the government brothel and would ply their trade elsewhere where they would not receive any more protection than they get now.
A regulated brothel will not help eliminate child prostitution because the children involved either resort to such a life out of desperation or are forced into it by pimps — nothing will change for them. The customers of child prostitutes are interested in sex with children, so adults working in government brothels would not appeal to them anyway… they will continue to seek out minors.
For a really basic reason we cannot hope that regulating prostitutes will increase their safety. After all, we have pedophiles registered and not the children who are their likely victims, right? Prostitutes are not at risk at the hands of other prostitutes, they’re being assaulted by their johns so the most logical way to increase the prostitutes’ safety is through the registration of all johns and mandatory real-time reporting of “transactions” before services are rendered.
This could be accomplished via smart phone apps which would track johns’ activities so assaults could be effectively reported. If linked to police databases, a swipe of a driver’s licence and an “OK” appearing on the prostitute’s phone would show that the john is of legal age and there are no prohibitions against the john engaging in these types of services. The system could be bolstered by GPS tracking so that if the john is flagged as being an abuser, the police could be dispatched immediately and automatically by the software. The johns’ records should be maintained for several years to provide law enforcement with information on any correlation between their activities and assaults on sex trade workers. Questions concerning a spouse’s right to access information in the database must be considered.
Tourism: Nothing puts a city on the map quite like being a world-class nookie destination. In spite of all else these cities have to offer tourists, what is the first thing that comes to most people’s mind when you mention Amsterdam or Bangkok?
Sure, Toronto’s hospitality industry will reap some benefits but the city will see a new class of foreigner, the openly horny kind. And think of the nicknames Toronto will be given, like “Toront-ho” or “The Big Poke”. Think of the t-shirts like “I got porked in Hogtown”. Won’t this make Torontonians proud? I don’t even want to think about the slogans using the name of Canada’s national aquatic rodent.
Economics: Yup, the city would generate revenue through licensing prostitutes, a cut of the action, and taxes on hotel rooms, meals, batteries, lotions, rubber gloves, and whatever other stuff sex-tourists spend their money on. The downside is the amount of money that would have to be spent on the administration of the whole thing, not to mention the security to keep the area safe, and the building, cleaning, and maintenance of the brothel itself. The police will still have to keep the human traffickers and the “free agents” in check, and probably to a degree greater than today because the demand added by the sex tourists will create greater opportunities for the criminals that feed off of prostitution.
The cost of all this administration, security, hygiene, and glitzy customer service cubicles is bound to add to the price of being boinked by a government-sanctioned Personal Pleasure Practitioner. Locals who availed themselves of such services before regulation would seek out less expensive hookers working outside the system.
Getting Toronto’s taxpayers to endorse spending their tax dollars on such a venture might prove difficult since most don’t use the services of prostitutes, are not likely to realize any significant direct monetary gain, or would see any real improvement in their neighbourhoods. People with moral objections to the whole thing would really kick up a fuss. The money would have to be obtained elsewhere, like from corporate sponsorship. Splitting profits with the private sector will cut into profits for the government, either increasing the cost to the customer (making patronizing the underground hookers more attractive for some) or reducing the brothel’s contribution to its own upkeep, ultimately reducing revenues to the public coffers (one of the major justifications for the project).
Social Benefits: I honestly believe that the vast majority of johns are guys who are simply horny and like the idea of a no-strings-attached sexual encounter. The power to just approach a woman who appeals to you and have her do your bidding probably also plays a part in the desire to hire a prostitute, in my opinion. But saying that it’s therapeutic is stretching it. These are sex-workers, not Florence Nightingales of the budoir.
If there is a need for arranging opportunities for patients to copulate as part of a bona fide treatment for certain psychological conditions or personality disorders, then I’m all for setting up trained therapists in a clinical environment where sex is part of real treatment. I’m even for Medicare covering the cost if it actually helps people. But I’m relatively certain most johns are just horny guys out for a good time with women whose livelihood depends on them not saying “no”.
If you go to prostitutes because that’s the only way you can have contact with someone sexually, try spending your money on some counselling to help you relate to people on a level that will make you more desirable to them. Or take a class in something you’re interested in and maybe you’ll come across as being somewhat less two-dimensional to members of the opposite sex (or the same sex). Sorry, I don’t buy that you’re just too shy to talk to girls but you’re not too shy to approach a prostitute, get naked, and “complete the transaction” with them.
Progress: First, let’s look at the idea that prostitution is “the world’s oldest profession”. Somehow, I have a funny feeling that there might have been other “professions” that predated prostitution. I figure that hunter-gatherer, butcher, cook, tribe leader, and stay-at-home mom were established vocations long before someone figured out that a starving person could be coerced into doing just about anything, including agreeing to having sex, if you waved a little food in their face. Let’s just say paying for sex has been going on for a long, long time.
So if prostitution has been around since practically the Dawn of Man, why are we still not comfortable enough to just accept it in our neighbourhoods and why don’t more people prostitute themselves?
The reason, I believe, is that we equate sex and reproduction at a very deep and primitive level and reproduction is a biological imperative. It’s not at the same level of importance as food, air, and shelter, as these are necessary for the individual organism’s survival. With this in mind, arguing that sex is a basic human need and therefore the right to obtain it should be safeguarded and even facilitated with tax dollars doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Reproduction, and the behaviours surrounding it, is necessary for the species’ survival, not the individual’s. I’ve never seen any statistic that even hints at virginity reducing one’s life expectancy, so that proves it.
Contrary to what some will have us believe, morality is simply a strategy for survival at the societal level — it was not invented as part of religious dogma. Because women were more vulnerable to natural dangers when pregnant and that it took many years to raise a child, it made sense that people paired together in monogamous relationships. At a very primal level, a woman playing the field threatens her partner’s chances of passing his genes on to the next generation and a man who finds other partners threatens his family’s security. So monogamy, or at least serial monogamy, was a good strategy for thousands of years.
Whether or not you buy my thoughts on the benefits of monogamy to Early Man, you have to admit that sex is a very touchy subject and infidelity is pretty much a deal-breaker in most relationships. Sex without “strings” has been frowned upon almost universally all over the world for a long time. Societies where polygamy or extramarital sex is traditionally accepted or encouraged are the exception.
Some who spend a lot of time thinging about and researching this subject believe that most prostitutes are victims, whether they realize it or not. Prostitutes tend to have histories of abuse of various forms. To me the very nature of the work itself — sex with several partners per day that you have no attraction to and not much of an opportunity to reject — seems “just not right” in the sense that I cannot imagine how low one’s self-esteem must be to choose this line of work. Then again, I’m judging what others do based on who I am and what I would not do willingly. I know there are people out there who are almost indiscriminate in their selection of sex partners, even when no money changes hands, but I have to wonder if this is a normal variation on human behaviour or if it is the result of some sort of trauma or psychological frailty.
We have to remember that this is not a regular job. Look at it this way, if I were to proposition a co-worker or, God forbid, pat her on the behind, I would probably be fired for sexual harassment. Bearing in mind that coercion is not a necessary component of sexual harassment, imagine what goes on between prostitute and john. On the one hand we’ve made a clear statement that even the mention of sex is not acceptable in the workplace while, on the other hand, some people are willing to make sex itself the job. By condoning prostitution we, as a society, are sending out some seriously mixed messages.
The acid test for whether I would support this proposal is whether I could see myself, or someone I care about, doing this job. Frankly, I would be most uncomfortable if my parent, sibling, or child were to become a prostitute. Would I be comfortable marrying someone who would return to turning tricks for a living after the honeymoon? No, I would not. Would my conscience be clear helping my daughter apply for such a job? No, it would not. I suggest that anyone leaning toward supporting Mr. Mammoliti’s idea look at it from this perspective. Most prostitutes would not want the people they care about to have to resort to this line of work.
I’ve asked proponents of liberalizing prostitution here in Canada if they would want a person they love, such as their daughter, to enter prostitution and their response is almost universally something to the effect of “If she did choose to be a prostitute, I would want her to be safe”. Aside being a neat way to avoid the question asked, this response is predictable in that if you weren’t concerned for their safety, that would be a pretty strong indicator that they didn’t really love the person considering prostituting themselves. Obviously, we want the people we love to be safe at work regardless of their chosen vocation. Who in their right mind would prefer someone they cared about to be at risk?
And to people who say that they would support a loved one’s choice to enter into a life of prostitution, I say “do everything in your power to dissuade them”. I firmly believe that in twenty-five years your loved one will not be telling you how much they resent your ruining their opportunity for a happy life. You might even save their life.
Happily, the Ending
I hope that if the government ever goes through with this, the utmost care is taken to ensure no one gets hurt by it, but a regulated sex industry will not live up to its promises of safety, the erradication of the prostitutes’ victimization, revenues, and the demise of the neighbourhood massage parlours peppering the city. All that will happen is a new civil service class of hookers will be created.
I wonder if Mr. Mammoliti would volunteer his wife, his daughter, his mother, and himself to service the first four customers of his brothel?
[Photo of “the pudgy, balding, middle-aged foreign guy” courtesy Mrs. HoaiPhai]