Thursday, September 22, 2011

Trisha Baptie & Michael Markwick
Issues & Ideas

p. A15.

Robertson needs to be progressive on prostitution

On March 26th, 2009, Councillor Kerry Jang convinced Mayor Gregor Robertson to sign a declaration that named, correctly, prostitution as "violence against women and youth". Back then, Mayor Robertson committed himself to stop "the sexual enslavement of women and youth" in prostitution.

Today, with an ill-conceived report set to go before a Council subcommittee, the mayor and the councillor seem determined to enhance men's power to be the "employers" of "sex workers". This is a fundamentally regressive position.

A truly progressive mayor would, along the lines of the leadership Robertson showed only 30 months ago, tackle the core root of this issue — which is not poverty, vulnerability, or a myriad of other urgent factors, but, more urgent still, the inherent gender inequality that says women and girls can be bought and sold.

Instead of allowing Vancouver to be lead by a report from City staff that relies on scant peer-reviewed research and ignores two and a half years of testimony from aboriginal women, Asian women, and formerly prostituted women, a truly progressive mayor would look to the ways Sweden, after 10 years of study, has solved the problem of oppression in prostitution.

Sweden realized that the problem was not whether or not women should have the freedom to sell themselves. Instead, it built emancipating public policy to make sure girls, youth and women live free from men's power to demand sex. Sweden acted against men's power to violate the basic human rights of gender equality.

If he does not reject the strategy advocated by Councillor Jang and staff, Mayor Robertson would offload onto the City's own social services and the services provided by front-line agencies, the very harms inflicted on girls, youth and women by the power to buy sex.

He would entrench Vancouver's status as a sex tourism destination, a location of choice for pay-as-you-go rape.

His attempt to re-brand prostitution as "sex work" will do nothing to save girls, youth and women from being brutally murdered by men because changing the language cannot change the fact that prostitution is always, as the mayor at one time professed, violence against women and youth.

By the leadership they showed 30 months ago, Mayor Robertson and Councillor Jang recognized that it is impossible to profess to support "exits" from prostitution, while at the same time preserving the power of men to keep girls, youth and women prostituted. Today, they are on the verge of doing everything they can to protect the powerful.

All of us support the systemic corrections by all levels of government contemplated in the report: poverty elimination, better employment prospects, support for urban aboriginal communities, and supported employment for people exiting prostitution.

Community centres, libraries and other city sites can play an essential role if — but only if — they allow exits from and sanctuaries against prostitution.

Human dignity is not a matter of opinion, but the goal of a truly progressive and emancipating politics.

For 30 months, we witnessed aboriginal and formerly prostituted women demand that Mayor Robertson do the right thing by rejecting the cant about "sex work", naming prostitution as prostitution, doing everything possible to ensure emancipation, and leading all levels of government to end the power of men to buy sex.

Today, we are faced with every indication that he seems determined to entrench the power of men to buy sex, to be the "employers" of "sex workers".

We want the Gregor Robertson we knew to please come back.

– Trisha Baptie and Michael Markwick are founding members of Emancipation Now, a historic alliance of academics, frontline workers, aboriginal women, minority community organizations, faith and feminist leaders, people emancipated from prostitution, women's groups, which at one time, included Mayor Gregor Robertson.

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Created: September 22, 2011
Last modified: November 12, 2011
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