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Time for politicians to change outdated sex laws

'They're being chicken not taking a stance . . . . Women are dying out there,' says B.C. madam

Ian Mulgrew
Vancouver Sun

Monday, January 08, 2007

Scarlett Lake sips herbal tea in the Sutton Place, a picture of demure middle-aged elegance as she advocates for those in the personal entertainment field.

CREDIT: Mark van Manen, Vancouver Sun

Scarlett Lake, who is to be featured in a CBC documentary, runs a city bordello service.

You probably know them as gigolos, hookers, whores, prostitutes or sex-trade workers.

A madam in Vancouver for more than three decades, Scarlett, who prefers to be known by her first name professionally, thinks it's time people started talking about sex laws like adults, and it's time we changed those dealing with prostitution.

She's angry that politicians continue to shirk that responsibility while women are being abused and murdered on the streets of Canadian cities. These laws are from another time, Scarlett maintains, and don't address the real problems.

Also, they have failed miserably to eradicate, curtail or even slow the booming growth of the sex-for-cash industry in this country. "I'm ready to move up a couple of steps and franchise," Scarlett laughed, reflecting on her own success.

"Wouldn't you? When you've developed an area of expertise and a following? I stopped having a double life nearly 10 years ago. Things I was afraid were going to happen, didn't."

I met Scarlett nearly five years ago and she was advocating then for amendments to the Criminal Code. In those days, she was attending conferences, giving lectures and insisting the legislation prohibiting professional sexual transactions will one day be considered a gross violation of individual human rights.

Others were speaking out, too.

Parliament responded by appointing a committee that spent a ton of time and money studying the subject. But instead of solving the problem, the lawmakers at the end of last month threw up their hands as if confronted by some Gordian knot.

"They're being chicken not taking a stance," Scarlett fumed. "They're worried about their political hides while women are dying out there. Let's get real. Look at what has happened in Britain [with the arrest of an accused serial killer], look at what is happening in Edmonton [with the arrest of an accused serial killer], and with the start of the Willy Pickton [accused serial killer] murder trial [which starts later this month]. Can't they see these laws put women at risk?"

Indeed, some researchers believe that perhaps as many as 200 marginalized women working the street across the country have been murdered within recent years.

Scarlett and many, many other people, including me, believe these women died because they were forced into dangerous lonely areas because of these bad laws.

These laws are also unfairly enforced.

Those who operate escort services, who advertise on the Internet, who do business discreetly, are rarely bothered by police, while streetwalkers (who represent only a small section of the sex-services trade) are targeted because they are a public nuisance.

"The laws are pushing things underground and keeping them there -- that's not good," Scarlett said.

"These laws are so old, we're a whole different culture in terms of our moral stance. The West Coast is the most open part of North America. There's a live-and-let-live attitude and the lawmakers just keep putting their head in the sand. People on the street have much broader and more permissive attitudes."

She's right.

Check out the erotic services available through such hugely popular websites as www.vancouver.craigslist.org. Or have a look at the infinite wealth of fetishist and specialty material offered on the Internet.

Turn on your radio and tune in a popular music station -- and no, not one broadcasting Pleistocene-era "goldies" by musicians now ready for embalming. Something recorded after Madonna's nude period.

Sex is a pervasive element of popular culture.

"How ridiculous it is that the special subcommittee on solicitation laws backed down from taking any action to protect working women in this country," Scarlett said.

I think she's right and it's time politicians listened.

You'll be seeing and hearing more of Scarlett -- she'll be on CBC-Newsworld Jan. 23 as part of a documentary entitled A Safer Sex Trade, a broadcast that will coincide with the opening of the Pickton trial.

The film explores the lives of three Vancouver women who sell sex: Jennifer, who returns to the streets to meet basic survival needs; Simone, an independent escort, offering "girlfriend experiences" to executives; and Scarlett, who operates a boutique brothel www.cheapanddirty.ca/index_safer.php.

"Prostitution is the final sexual frontier," Scarlett added. "I think people will learn a lot. And I think people will be interested in the comments of my father and brother."

If you have no personal experience in this world, it will be an eye-opener. Let's hope it also helps motivate discussion and much-needed law reform.

"But if we don't see some movement," Scarlett said, putting down her tea cup, "we plan a Charter challenge."

imulgrew@png.canwest.com

 The Vancouver Sun 2007

Courtesy of
The Vancouver Sun

 

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Updated: August 21, 2016