The headlines have been a bit sensational over the last week with a sex worker arrested in relation to the death of a client in the United States. The story has all the elements of an attention grabber; High-end Escort, high profile global company, drug overdose, the big yacht, and a manslaughter charge. The emotive language used in the headlines ‘Prostitute left Google exec to die of heroin overdose on yacht’ stirs the emotions and fear – those evil prostitutes are coming to get you…
Which is probably what the perpetrators of mass murder in Iraq thought too, fuelled by righteous indignation and religious zeal, when they shot ‘27 alleged prostitutes’ last week. The reporting of this slaughter (using a little emotive language of my own here) was mixed. Some of the locals’ comments implicitly supporting the crime while others clearly articulated their shock and fear; “so what if they were prostitutes?”.
One story getting no coverage here is that the Canadians are currently legislating to criminalise the clients of sex workers, and impose penalties of sex workers themselves. This approximately follows the Scandinavian model where such activity is legal for the sex worker but illegal for the client. This will also restrict where and how sex workers can advertise, and the potential is to push the industry ‘underground’, and the language being used in Canada around this story is increasingly vitriolic.
So much is unknown about the two terrible incidents, and the Canadian experience isn’t getting a lot of press, but one thing binds them together; illegality of sex work in the respective countries and the attitudes of their communities to sex work. Globally sex work is divided into three categories; Illegal, Legal but not organised, and, Legal and Regulated. The New Zealand model is hailed as among the most progressive and reasonable.
The best way to mitigate risk to participants and public of any activity is through legalisation and regulation. Regulation may be a pain in the ass, but it brings legitimacy and safety to most aspects of the business. There is still a chasm separating public opinion of sex work, sex workers and clients. The services we take for granted in our everyday lives are more difficult for the sex industry – like banking and health for example – for no other reason than antiquated notions of propriety and appeasement of conservative society.
Fear and anger will continue to marginalise people associated with this industry, and the potential for the self-righteous and ill-informed to push their narrow minded agendas is huge. We’re bloody lucky here in New Zealand to have the legal environment and operators in the sex industry which allow us to enjoy the freedom to act and exist in a safe and legal manner. I hope the rest of the world catches up soon.