This afternoon I decided to take a walk down Center Street North to Lina’s Market to grab some groceries (strongly recommend that place to anybody for Italian food by the way). I was thinking of blogging further on the deteriorating condition of Center Street North as City Hall continues to sit on it’s hands with whether or not they will run an LRT line up Center Street in the future. This indecision by City Hall has left a large tract of the city in a development limbo which is leading to an increase in crime and a fast growing stretch of slum in what used to be a nice part of the city. Who in their right mind would maintain or develop a property when there is potential that it could soon be expropriated and torn down at any time?
Walking is better way to get a look at how things are. I drive Center Street quite often but getting out on foot one can see much more closely and clearly how things are doing. Needless to say, in my hike I found that things were indeed even worse than I had thought. Virtually every house on Center that has not already been boarded up or torn down is in brutal disrepair. With an indifference to property maintenance and improvement, landlords have rented to predominantly the seediest of tenants. Crack houses are blossoming and who knows what else is going on in those firetraps along the street.
It is not only rather undesirable people inhabiting these properties, undesirable businesses have been moving in as well. The are many many houses with sheets over the windows, a lighted “open” sign and the word “massage” painted on the window. A few years back I was quite naive and never really paid much attention to the massage parlours fronting for prostitution in the city and never really realized how many there were. In the 2009 Calgary Glenmore by-election I was tasked with trying to find a space for a campaign headquarters. In one strip-mall, I had found what I thought to be a good office space that we could use. I brought another person along to have a look and he immediately said that it was inappropriate. I was confused and asked why. He pointed to the office next to it which had it’s windows painted over and nothing aside from a lit “open” sign. He explained that it was a massage parlour providing prostitution. We found a better location and the campaign carried on. Media often came by to our headquarters and I can’t help but wonder what sort of awkward scenes may have ensued had we rented the first spot I had found as some “client” of the rub-and-tug next door comes out and bumps into a camera crew.
I am digressing as is my wont. Either way, that experience led me to peripherally watch for those businesses and when you look for them it is quite surprising just how prolific they are in the city. There are many legitimate businesses providing massage of course. They are pretty easy to identify as they will be sure to trumpet that their massage services are therapeutic and advertise the credentials of their practitioners. I am sure that legitimate massage practitioners want more than anybody to ensure that the clients they get want no services aside from a proper massage.
Along with these “massage” businesses, street prostitutes are beginning to appear. Our former community association president had frequent and disturbing prostitution issues right outside of his house. I was propositioned while simply sitting in my truck waiting for Jane to come out of a convenience store. It was surprising in her boldness and disturbing personally in that she felt I looked like a potential customer.
Now in walking back today, I passed the the Northminster United Church on Center and 32nd Avenue. This church provides daycare to children and has a fenced play area right out front. I was mortified and outright disgusted to note a discarded condom while walking past the church parking lot. I can only guess that some creep had utilized the church parking lot to use the services of one of the local prostitutes. This activity, the location where it was carried out in and the bio hazard that was left behind really drives home why prostitution presents a great threat to residential communities and why it needs to be brought under control.
In light of these kinds of problems the kneejerk response is invariably to call for a police crackdown on prostitution in the area. While increased law enforcement may indeed reduce the overt prostitution in my area, it will not end it. The prostitutes, their pimps and their clientele will simply slide over into another district and the problem will be shared with a whole new crowd of innocent residents.
Afganistan has some of the strongest laws against prostitution in the world. Despite that, it is still happening there. If being potentially executed or being incarcerated for decades won’t stop prostitution can we finally safely assume that increased law enforcement is not the solution to this problem?
I am sure if one interviewed 50 prostitutes they would find 50 different stories as to why they entered that line of work. Whether the person had addiction issues, poverty issues, mental health issues or even they possibly simply like that kind of work, some people will be drawn to taking the route of prostitution in order to make money. The legality of the issue really does not factor into things.
We have to learn to accept that there will always be an element of people who want to pay for sexual services and there will be an element of people providing those services. If we can be realistic and work from that basis we can work towards mitigating the real damages that prostitution causes.
It is not the act of the prostitution in itself that causes the most damages to communities. The problem is the involvement of the criminal element in the trade bringing associated crime with it. Pimps and gangs thrive on the abuse of women in prostitution and prostitutes working without pimp and gang protection can find themselves abused by their clientele. Drug use usually comes hand in hand with prostitution. In following with supply and demand, one can rest assured that dealers are always nearby and ready to supply addicted prostitutes as they earn their funds. These dealers will happily sell to our children as well and cause more neighborhood risks as their violent turf wars occasionally erupt. Massage parlours are notorious for practicing human slavery as dependent immigrant women find themselves trapped in those places. Underage girls can be found on the streets and in these brothels too. Disease is rampantly spread in this unregulated and illegal industry as well.
The vast majority of the associated problems with illegal prostitution can be eliminated if we simply accepted reality and legalized and regulated prostitution. A red light district can be established well away from residential areas. Sex trade workers can be properly screened for diseases and it can be ensured that they are of legal age and willingly participating in the trade. Pimps can be eliminated and both clients and prostitutes can have their safety ensured in a protected environment. Taxes could be paid by businesses as well of course.
It is true that many addicted or otherwise troubled prostitutes would not qualify to work in a controlled brothel. These people would find the industry in street prostitution to be far less lucrative though as I imagine that most of those who frequent prostitutes would prefer to go to a safe and legal facility rather than take on the associated risks that come from patronizing street hookers. Police could focus on the remaining illegal and unregulated prostitution activities which could greatly help in reducing the practice. It can be hoped that with illegal prostitution being less lucrative the troubled people participating in in may be more likely to seek help to get off the streets.
Legalizing prostitution will hardly solve all problems by any stretch of the imagination. Considering that the practice has been happening for millenia though we have to accept that it is not going away and we really should work on a realistic approach to this practice. This facade of enforcement and illegality is simply making things worse and pretty much everybody is losing here.
Essentially, if a person is of the age of majority it is none of our business what they legally chose to do with their own bodies. Supporting the legalization of prostitution does not mean one condones the practice, it simply means accepting reality. Nobody wants their daughters to make a living that way and paying for services cant be the most healthy sexual practice for men. One can oppose the law without condoning the practice.
The late great George Carlin covered this in a great rant. It is laden with expletives though and I do suggest that people not play this video at work or around kids.
Lets deal with this issue realistically. I am tiring of seeing the damage that the current setup for prostitution is doing to both people and my community. This hybrid of legal/illegal prostitution is simply a failure for all of us.