Licensing the escort industry would create a distinction between legitimate massage businesses and illicit parlours, says Saskatoon’s mayor.
"What I want to do right now is make sure we in fact have businesses in our community that say they’re in the business they’re in," Mayor Don Atchison said. "The industry is exceedingly frustrated when people put a false front on their business."
Police Chief Clive Weighill is proposing to license escort agencies and individual escorts to install more stringent regulations of the "adult services" industry. The licence would allow police or bylaw officers to check the age of the growing number of escorts advertising online to ensure they’re over 18 and enter storefront parlours for inspections.
Atchison said escort agencies and dubious massage parlours or rub shops are licensed under a variety of titles from holistic or wellness centres and spas to aromatherapy shops, most of which need little accreditation or oversight to operate.
Licensing escort agencies and massage parlours would ensure there are proper regulations in place for that industry, said Weighill.
"We need to have the opportunity to enter and make sure the people working there are of age and make sure they have the accreditation they say they have," Atchison said. "What this regulation deals with really is to make sure the youth of our community are out of the sex trade industry."
Atchison said the regulations proposed by Weighill would be "the toughest in North America."
Another approach is what has been done in Sweden where prostitution is seen as an act of violence against women and children.
One important initiative—the groundbreaking Swedish legislation from 1999 that criminalizes those who attempt to or have purchased a sexual service—has gained international attention as a viable and effective tool to prevent prostitution and trafficking of human beings. According to the law, “A person who…obtains a casual sexual relation in exchange for payment shall be sentenced for the purchase of a sexual service to a fine or imprisonment for at the most six months.” The law was originally proposed by the Swedish women’s movement and resulted from Swedish society’s long-standing commitment to gender equality and to combating violence against women. The Swedish law emphasizes that prostitution is a serious form of male violence against women, one that targets the economically, racially, or ethnically marginalized and that it is a serious barrier to gender equality; the law considers prostitution as both harmful to victims and to society at large.
Notably, those who are exploited for prostitution in Sweden are not criminalized or subjected to administrative penalties; rather, they have a right to social-service support and exit assistance programs. The law is an expression of the political commitment and consensus in Swedish society to prevent and fight prostitution and human trafficking by targeting men’s demand for women, other men, and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Those men who purchase or attempt to purchase a sexual service are prosecuted and convicted; it is recognized that the law also has beneficial normative effects on the prostitution behaviour of individual men as well as on public attitudes toward prostitution and sex trafficking in Sweden.
I don’t know what is the right thing to believe, on one hand, I think the licensing of the problem would give the police an ability to check for trafficked women and for health professionals to ensure that the women are safer but I still believe that it is an act of violence against women (as does the Swedish government).
The impact of the Swedish law has been unexpected.
In light of these debates, the Swedish government decided in 2008 to appoint a special inquiry charged with evaluating the practical implementation of the law that prohibits the purchase of sexual services and its effects on the existence of prostitution and sex trafficking in Sweden. The 2010 report concludes that the number of persons, mainly women, exploited in street prostitution in Sweden has been halved since 1999, while in the neighbouring countries of Denmark and Norway the number is three times higher.
Many of the law’s critics have claimed that prostitution activities would “go underground” or be moved into other arenas as a result of enforcement. But the special inquiry report does not find this to be the case. In particular, there is no evidence of an increase in indoor prostitution. Prostitution through the Internet, however, has increased in Sweden, as it has in other countries, but this increase is not due to the law—it is rather a consequence more generally of improved online technology. And just as with outdoor prostitution, the number of individuals sold for prostitution purposes via the Internet is much larger in Denmark and Norway.
Most notably, despite a significant increase in prostitution in neighbouring countries during the past ten years, the special inquiry report finds no evidence of a similar increase in Sweden. The report concludes that this is due to criminalizing the purchase of a sexual service in Sweden. Another significant finding, consistent with the annual reports of the national rapporteur on trafficking in human beings, is that this prohibition has deterred organized-crime networks involved in human trafficking for the purpose of prostitution from operating in Sweden.
The special inquiry report also discusses the normative effects of the law, pointing out that it enjoys strong public support (71 percent in favour) and that its implementation has led to significant positive changes in attitudes.
I know Sweden is a much different culture than Canada but I am surprised by these results. The one thing that I doubt is that street prostitution would diminish if prostitution was criminalized here. I wonder how much of the decline was because of the criminalization and how much of the decline was due to the national conversation and education campaigns the government launched.