Here’s an interesting Q&A about the thinking behind an ad campaign designed, to, well I’m not exactly sure what the point is.
Stepping Stones, the group behind the ads, denies that it’s normalizing prostitution, and wants to draw attention to violent crimes against prostitutes. That’s a worthy goal; killing or raping a prostitute is not less of a crime than killing or raping anybody else, and police and the courts should behave accordingly.
But by portraying prostitutes as daughters, sisters and mothers, which to be sure many of them are, it seems to me that the ads try to paint prostitution as a wacky, unorthodox but entirely fine vocation for a woman – like becoming a monster truck driver, or working on an oil rig. Not for me, but who am I to judge, right?
The problem is that prostitution isn’t like other unusual jobs, and pretending that prostitutes have made this their life’s work and that we should respect that only makes things worse. For one thing, it turns a blind eye to the abuse, violence and misogyny that are integral to the business of selling women’s bodies, not unfortunate side effects. For another, it’s redolent of Anatole France’s biting observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges.” The libertarian take on the flesh trade would have us believe that, if only we got rid of outdated beliefs and gave people more autonomy, we would permit both strong women in thriving communities, as well as marginalized, victimized and frequently badly abused women, to sell themselves on the street.
This would be a victory neither for women, nor for Canadian society. Compassion and kindness towards prostitutes doesn’t mean destigmatizing what they do, and what is done to them. On the contrary: prostitutes are people too, as the ad campaign wants to remind us, and people should never be allowed by their families, communities or social safety nets to be so degraded.