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Decriminalization of Prostitution in Canada


Prostitution is one of the most ancient professions that attract criticism and praise at equal measures. The opponents of prostitution believe that it not only contributes to moral decadence, but also leads to erosion of cultural values. On the other hand, the proponents believe that it is a way of making ends meet. Nonetheless, the primary concern among governments that have prohibited prostitution is not the fear of losing social fabric that anchors societal values, but issues such as sexual violence, exploitation and exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. Policy makers have not done much to curb prostitution due to salient policy concerns bewailing this practice. Studies show that laws on prostitution are similar in most countries, and only a few have decriminalized prostitution. Primarily, the idea of decriminalizing prostitution has always remained conjectural.

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Across Canada, one of the hottest debates has been decriminalization of prostitution. From courts of public opinion to government quarters, Canadians continue to discuss the pros and cons of decriminalizing prostitution. Indoor court pronouncements have decriminalized prostitution in some countries citing the negative impacts of prostitution such as violence, exploitation and diseases. Undoubtedly, prostitution has become one of the most dangerous practices that expose victims to sexual violence, diseases and kidnapping. According to Coty and Haltianger, the sex market is full of vices that go against societal norms and practices, such as rape, physical assault, and sexually transmitted diseases. This paper discusses the negative effects of prostitution such as violence and human trafficking, and provides an insight on the advantages of decriminalizing prostitution in Canada (2004).


Prostitution is an act of using a body in exchange of gifts and money. Most people believe that prostitution is lack of dignity, while others believe it is an individual choice. The opponents of prostitution who are mainly religious persons, it is a sin to buy or sell sex. They have therefore called for illegalization of the practice. On the other hand, the proponents blame social structures and constraints as the main reasons behind prostitution, and that it is a way of earning a living.

Clearly, this moral debate seems endless. The biggest question these debates seek to discuss is whether legalizing or decriminalizing prostitution will cut off the inequalities and abuses that women involved in prostitution experience. Moreover, even as the debate on decriminalizing prostitution continues, there is also concern that legitimizing prostitution would do little to uphold human rights and values and enhance the status of women in the society. Whenever people mention the word prostitution, they bring the attention of morality. Is prostitution a sin and are those practicing it wicked and dirty? Is prostitution a tool of exploitation and enrichment such that governments should either regulate or abolish it? The headlines continue to portray prostitution as a mole that eats the tenets of societies, and one that dehumanize human beings by depriving them their dignity. However, it depends on which side one is standing (Weitzer, 2005).

In the last twenty years, the Canadian prostitution market seem to have undergone revolution by moving from a primarily street-based practice into an internal market with established networks running as agencies, and brothels. This practice is moving into an indoor marker due to globalization, and enhanced surveillance. Additionally, since the society does not approve the practice, sex workers hide for fear of victimization. Analysts predict that the sex trade generates over $14 billion per annum making it one of the most lucrative trade – bigger than major brands of the world. According to poll conducted in Canada in 2004, one-third of the men interviewed and aged 30 years and above, confessed to have participated in prostitution.

Some of these men also tested positive on gonorrhea. Sex workers have reported violence cases and some have even lost their lives. Human trafficking is on the rise prompting many governments to declare prostitution illegal. In fact, in Canada, the government forbids prostitution due to ethical revulsion, such as sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence. Indeed, these two fundamental policy concerns forms the basis for decriminalization of prostitution in Canada (McLaren, 1986).

According to the reports in Canada, over 25% female prostitutes reported to have tested positive on gonorrhea compared to 4% who have never practiced prostitution. The case study also reports that a female prostitute is able to see over 200 clients per year, making them more vulnerable to diseases. It is also easy for prostitutes to infect non-prostitutes, leading to one of the major reasons of decriminalizing prostitution. Another cause of consideration is the violence that has become universal in sex markets.

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The same study reports over 65% of female prostitutes engaged in outdoor market prostitution have experienced violence in form of rape and physical assault. Astonishingly, some prostitutes have become serial killers murdering clients. The aim of this paper is to use case studies to understand the causal impacts of decriminalizing prostitution in Canada. It will focus and lay emphasis on the effects of violence and diseases to form a basis for decriminalizing prostitution (Weitzer, 2005).

Vancouver indoor sex workers

Currently, human trafficking is one of the biggest problems facing the world. Reports in Canada indicate that there are over 500 sex workers under the age of 17 in Vancouver alone. Underage women continue to report sexual and physical assault cases. Additionally, cases of missing women have become common in the city. Many sex workers have lost their lives in the streets due to violence. The government has tried to stop these crimes in vain. Canadians have called for either legalization or decriminalization of prostitution, as one way of eliminating, sexually transmitted disease, human trafficking and sexual violence.

On the other hand, social experts have proposed decriminalization of prostitution in Vancouver rather than legalization to benefit both the public and sex workers. They believe that by decriminalizing prostitution in Canada, the number of arrests will go down, as many sex workers will opt for indoor prostitution that is more secure. Decriminalization of prostitution will allow sex workers to form brothels, groups and agencies to safeguard their interests. Definitely, this will lead to a dramatic decrease in violence and spread diseases such as gonorrhea (Bungay, Halpin, Atchison, & Caltlin, 2011).

Statistics show that decriminalization of indoor prostitution reduces chances of over exploitation and there are fewer cases of violence. Additionally, unlike street prostitution, indoor prostitution promotes self-esteem, brings satisfaction, and controls all activities within their work environment. On the other hand, the probabilities of getting a sexually transmitted infection, rape and physical assault through street prostitution are higher than indoor prostitution. Since there is not so much literature on decriminalization of prostitution, the outcomes of this paper will not only be useful to policy makers, but also educate the public on the impacts of decriminalizing prostitution.

A population that understands the impacts of sexual violence knows how to deal with the menace even under prostitution. Decriminalizing prostitution will also save various governments’ time and money spent on searching and arresting sex workers. The money spend by police departments to arrest indoor sex workers is huge. Instead, by decriminalizing prostitution, this money will go to other socioeconomic development projects that will help pull masses out of poverty. Conversely, decriminalization of prostitution attracts enormous political traction making it hard for governments to enact policies to stop the practice. Thus, all stakeholders must agree on the way forward by using convincing causal evidences (Farley, 2005).

Sexual violence

One of the biggest fallacies spread out to the public on prostitution is that its decriminalization will increase violence. However, decriminalization of prostitution has a positive impact on physical and sexual violence. In other words, an increase in the number of female sex workers does not imply that there will be an increase in sexual violence. Although many people argue that prostitution encourages sexual and physical assault, this is far from the truth. The fact that decriminalizing prostitution not only expands the market, but also favors indoor prostitution, does not imply an increase in sexual violence. Indeed, hypothetical studies show that decriminalization of prostitution cut physical and sexual violence on female sex workers (Hatch & Karlene, 1989).

For instance, by decriminalizing prostitution, female sex workers will feel secure and leap great benefits from their investments. The agencies involved in recruiting sex workers will generate more revenue and enjoy property rights as opposed to the current situation. Additionally, firms may use the revenue generated from the trade to enhance security by employing more people to work as security personnel. For instance, they can install security cameras to check activities going on within their premises. This will discourage premeditated predators looking to assault female sex workers (Sheshia, 2007).

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In most cases, when police officers try to arrest sex workers in Canada, the situation turns violent, as they tend to resist arrests. Thus, by decriminalizing prostitution, sex workers found on the wrong side of the law will now be willing to cooperate with security agencies. This will not only reduce physical and sexual violence cases, but also reduce police corruption incidents. Normally, sex workers cooperate with the police when something bad happens to them. However, through such cooperation, female sex workers will find it easy to report theft and violence cases to the police without fear of victimization. Currently, less than 34% of female sex workers report cases of physical and sexual assault to the police. Most surprisingly, some police officers demand sex from sex workers to arrest the culprits. Thus, by decriminalizing prostitution, the police officers will work with sex workers to tame sexual violence (Morton, Klein, & Gorzalka, 2012).

Decriminalization of prostitution in Canada will enhance social security and promote human rights by cutting off the deterrent effects of security. If sex workers are in a position to report cases of violence to the police, then the people who assault women will fear apprehension. Decriminalization of prostitution does not only benefit sex workers, but also the entire population as a whole. For instance, as discussed above, decriminalization of prostitution will lead to a shift from street prostitution to indoor prostitution.

The cases of sexual violence in indoor market prostitution are less than in market prostitution. Therefore, the government may channel the money allocated to police to stop indoor prostitution to other projects for the benefit of the society. Most importantly, the police officers will do other roles, thus decreasing crime rate in the country. Additionally, decriminalization of prostitution will allow sex workers to enjoy their fundamental human rights, as anchored in the constitution, while at the same time ensuring that the population does not suffer the negative effects of prostitution (Lowman, 2005).

Current state of prostitution in Canada

Theoretically, prostitution is legal in Canada such that one can get the services of a sex worker by making a phone call. However, from practical perspective, the business of buying and selling sex is unlawful. Ideally, this is just a half-baked concession that unites two warring factions: the rural Canadians and the religious fraternity. Many Christians in Canada do not favor decriminalization of prostitution, as they believe it attracts teenage prostitution and human trafficking. On the other hand, the rural Canadians think that the government should liberalize prostitution if the society is free of crime and public notoriety. Nonetheless, if the recent happenings in Canada are anything to go by, then the government will have to enact a salient prostitution policy to protect its people (Sullivan, 2007).

In 2010, the idea of decriminalizing prostitution through legislation came into limelight, but this time round with seriousness. In Bedford v Canada, the Ontario Superior Court made a ruling that the entire section of criminal code dealing with matters of prostitution was against the constitution. Although the Canadian government through the Attorney General appealed the ruling, the court reversed a small section of the ruling. The Bedford case elicited debate on the impacts of criminalizing morality not only in Canada, but also in the entire North American continent (Lowman & Louie, 2010).

Justice Susan Himel believed that by enacting a law governing prostitution, the society might achieve its objectives provided the values remain untouched. She argued that instead of trying to control prostitution, parliament should decriminalize the practice. Largely, Justice Himel considered the plight of sex workers and the things they do in order to enhance their security. For instance, female sex workers have to work indoors, hire security personnel, and screen their clients properly to limit chances of physical or sexual violence. Two years down the line, the public is still debating the pros and cons of decriminalizing prostitution based on this ruling (Chiu, 2011)?

Decriminalization of prostitution

This part discusses case studies of countries that have decriminalized prostitution across the world. Virtually, everywhere in the world, prostitution exists. Many countries have tried to criminalize this oldest practice, but the truth is that nothing has changed. Many policy makers have proposed stricter laws to control prostitution in vain. However, the idea of safeguarding human rights through salient policies has forced many governments to consider decriminalizing prostitution.

In the Netherlands, for example, prostitution laws allow female sex workers to offer their services from designated areas of cities in private rooms. In other words, they must operate indoors. Additionally, within the premises, there are health check-up clinics that offer services to interested parties. The laws also allow sex workers to form unions and support groups for their own benefits. Surprisingly, before 2000, Canada and the Netherlands had similar laws regarding prostitution. Notably, the two countries enacted laws that eliminated forced prostitution, shielded sex workers and thwarted any form of human trafficking.

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Nonetheless, even with laws and regulations on prostitution, over 50% of the prostitution cases occur outside the law. The decriminalization of prostitution in the Netherlands has benefitted sex workers due to reduced cases of exploitation and sexual violence. It has also discouraged underage prostitution and reduced sexually transmitted disease prevalence among female sex workers. Statistics also show that violence cases have gone down significantly. Remarkably, since the decriminalization of prostitution in the country, the sex trade in trade occurs indoors (90%) as compared to 10% street prostitution. Majority of those in the streets are either drug addicts or cannot afford to pay rent (Comte, 2014).

New Zealand had similar laws like those of Canada on prostitution. However, in 2003, the government decriminalized prostitution by allowing adult persons to take part in the practice at choice. The law proposed the formation of brothels consisting of about five sex workers certified by the state. The brothels must promote safe practices within the trade and those who fail honor this directive receive punishment. In 2008, the Prostitution Review Committee noted that although there were cases of sexual violence, human trafficking, walking away without paying for services, and burglary, this time round they were infrequent. Female sex workers also were free to report cases of physical or sexual violence to the police. Additionally, under-age prostitution remained relatively low. Just like in Netherlands, most female sex workers opted for indoor prostitution, as they felt secure (Gillian, FitzGerald, & Brunton, 2009).

Another country that has decriminalized prostitution is Germany. Before 2002, just like in Canada, it was a crime punishable under the law to run a brothel. It was even illegal to practice prostitution in Germany, as the government disallowed any form of sexual trade. Under special circumstances, sex workers had to register with the government and agree to undergo a compulsory disease screening exercise.

However, in 2002, Germany decriminalized prostitution by allowing sex workers to form brothels and offer sexual services to interested clients without pimping. The mandatory disease screening became invalid, but sex workers had to operate within the law. The major goals of decriminalization of prostitution in Germany were to enhance the working conditions of sex workers, reduce crimes, discourage human trafficking and prevent under-age prostitution. The Legislative Report of 2007 indicated that although the government hoped many sex workers would leave the practice, they did not. However, cases of exploitation of under-age women, violence, and human trafficking scenes dropped significantly (Margot, 2007).

In 1999, Australia decriminalized prostitution by allowing sex workers to form brothels, but run under restricted zones within cities. The law also discouraged street prostitution, and those found practicing it, face stiffer penalties. Nonetheless, the sex trade industry in Australia is relatively low, but continues to operate largely outside the law. The same year, Sweden also decriminalized prostitution and cases of violence on female sex workers have gone down significantly.


Canada is a country that respects and upholds fundamental human rights. Thus, the safety of very citizen, including sex workers, is of concern to the government. The government must protect all citizens irrespective of their social, political or economic status. Thus, to stop violence on sex workers, the government should consider decriminalizing prostitution. As discussed above, countries that have decriminalized prostitution have managed to control violence, under-age exploitation and human trafficking. Otherwise, from the Bedford case, it is cumbersome to enact policies, while upholding values of morality (Klinger, 2003).

Reference List

Bungay, V., Halpin, M., Atchison, C., & Caltlin, J. (2011). Structure and agency: reflections from exploratory study of Vancouver indoor sex workers. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 13(1), 15-29. Web.

Chiu, J. (2011). Women’s worlds collide. Herizons, 25(2), 5. Web.

Comte, J. (2014). Decriminalization of sex work: Feminist discourses in light research. Sexuality and Culture, 18(1), 196-217. Web.

Coty, M., Haltianger, N. (2004). Prostitution and the legalization or discrimination debate. Georgetown Journal of Gender Law, 5(1), 207-242. Web.

Farley, M. (2003). Prostitution harms women even if indoor: A reply to Weizer. Violence against Women, 11(7), 950-964. Web.

Gillian, A., FitzGerald, L., & Brunton, C. (2009). The impact of decriminalization on number of women in New Zealand. Journal of Social Policy, 38(3), 515-531. Web.

Hatch, A., & Karlene, F. (1989). The female offender in Canada: A statistical profile. Canadian Journal of Women and Law, 3(20), 432-456. Web.

Klinger, K. (2003). Prostitution humanism and women’s choice. Humanist, 63(1), 16. Web.

Lowman, J. (2005). Dealing with prostitution in Canada. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 172(1), 13-14. Web.

Lowman, J., & Louie, C. (2010). Public opinion on prostitution law reform in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 54(2), 245-260. Web.

Margot, P. (2007). Hard truths about prostitution. National Catholic reporter, 43(17), 12-17. Web.

McLaren, J. (1986). Chasing the social evil: Moral fervor and the evolution of Canada’s prostitution laws, 1867-1917. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 1(1), 125-66. Web.

Morton, H., Klein, C., & Gorzaika, B. (2012). Attitudes, beliefs and knowledge of prostitution and the law in Canada. Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, 54(2), 229-244. Web.

Sheshia, M. (2010). Naming systematic violence in Winnipeg’s street sex trade. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 19(1), 1-17. Web.

Sullivan, B. (2007). Rape, prostitution and consent. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 40(2), 127-142. Web.

Weitzer, R. (2005). New directions in research and prostitution. Crime, Law and Social Change, 43(1), 211-235. Web.

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