Author: bodie robinson – Contributor
A petition to close down Regina’s “Oriental massage parlours” appeared on change.org about three weeks ago. Since then, the petition has gained attention from the Leader Post and CBC News. As of Oct. 25, the petition has about 730 signatures. A woman named Anna Kabat started the petition, stating that the massage parlours are a “front for prostitution.”
Kabat explains her reasoning behind the petition in three points. First, she claims that the parlours are almost entirely “Asian-run,” and that it’s probable these Asian women have been trafficked to Regina for the purpose of providing sexual services.
She writes, “The women in them barely speak a word of English and are rarely seen leaving the buildings. It looks like they live there. If they do leave, they are ‘guarded’ or accompanied by someone else. It just looks too much like they are confined to this type of work. It is very likely that they have been trafficked into our city and forced into this kind of work.”
Kabat’s second concern for starting this petition is that these parlours can be seen by youth around the neighbourhood.
“Many of them are located in residential areas even near schools and parts of the city where many of our most underprivileged youth reside. We don’t want this oppression of women for the gratification of male lust and greed to be an example of acceptable ‘business’ for our youth.”
And lastly, Kabat considers these parlours illegal, and that they have only remained open due to the municipal government’s incompetence. She cites Mr. Fred Searle, a city planner in Regina, saying, “Under the current bylaw provisions, we processed no applications for a massage parlour.” She goes on to say, “These massage parlours are basically brothels and have no place in Canada and no place in Regina.”
Let’s keep in mind that under current Canadian law, it isn’t a criminal offence to sell sexual services. However, it is illegal to buy sexual services and it’s illegal to manage sexual transactions. It’s also illegal to negotiate these transactions in a public place, or to explicitly advertise them. In other words, it’s not a crime to be a prostitute; it is a crime to be a pimp or a john, though. It seems to me that Kabat’s intentions are benevolent and probably justified. But, sadly, Kabat completely misses the point. Her plan is merely an aesthetic one.
“Shut down the parlours and get them out of sight!”
This is just run-of-the-mill prudery. We need a more comprehensive approach that confronts the conditions, which put women into the sex trade in the first place.
The biggest problem, obviously, is sex-buying men. Johns and pimps tend to be sex workers’ biggest threat to their safety and mental well being. Prostituted women have higher rates of PTSD than soldiers in combat do; this is the excruciating reality that the vast majority of sex workers must endure. Sex-buying men are our fathers, brothers, uncles, and husbands. The sex industry will remain a multi-billion dollar enterprise that profits off of the commoditized bodies of women, men, and children for as long as men keep buying them.
Another problem is the normalization of pornography in our culture. The failure of our public schools to properly educate our youth about sex has inevitably left room for porn to take on this role. Learning about sex from porn is akin to learning to drive in a Formula 1 racecar. But, more importantly, the imagery in porn is unhealthy and harmful to women. It’s no wonder that prostitution still thrives when on our televisions, cellphones, and advertisements we see the same message repeated ad nauseam: women are designed for men’s pleasure, and they love this role.
So, what’s it going to be? Are we going to take Kabat’s route of moral superiority, attempting to legislate prostitution and the misogyny it’s inextricably tied to out of existence? Are we going to pretend that we can “save” all of these women by shutting down their brothels, running them out of town and out of their livelihood? Or are we going to confront the conditions that push women into these circumstances in the first place?
Statistics show that 89 per cent of sex workers are in the industry due to financial strain or coercion, and that they want out – this isn’t a job like any other. So let’s be honest, something ought to be done for those women who want out. Raiding their brothels and pushing them underground won’t help. Instead, let’s focus on curbing demand and providing exiting services for those women who wish to leave. The patriarchy wasn’t built in a day, folks. It certainly won’t be smashed overnight.