VANCOUVER, British Columbia—Prostitution is the quintessential expression of global capitalism. Our corporate masters are pimps. We are all being debased and degraded, rendered impoverished and powerless, to service the cruel and lascivious demands of the corporate elite. And when they tire of us, or when we are no longer of use, we are discarded as human refuse. If we accept prostitution as legal, as Germany has done, as permissible in a civil society, we will take one more collective step toward the global plantation being built by the powerful. The fight against prostitution is the fight against a dehumanizing neoliberalism that begins, but will not end, with the subjugation of impoverished girls and women.
Poverty is not an aphrodisiac. Those who sell their bodies for sex do so out of desperation. They often end up physically injured, with a variety of diseases and medical conditions, and suffering from severe emotional trauma. The left is made morally bankrupt by its failure to grasp that legal prostitution is another face of neoliberalism. Selling your body for sex is not a choice. It is not about freedom. It is an act of economic slavery.
On a rainy night recently I walked past the desperate street prostitutes in the 15 square blocks that make up the Downtown Eastside ghetto in Vancouver—most of them impoverished aboriginal women. I saw on the desolate street corners where women wait for customers the cruelty and despair that will characterize most of our lives if the architects of neoliberalism remain in power. Downtown Eastside has the highest HIV infection rate in North America. It is filled with addicts, the broken, the homeless, the old and the mentally ill, all callously tossed onto the street.
Lee Lakeman, one of Canada’s most important radicals, and several members of the Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, met with me one morning in their storefront office in Vancouver. Lakeman in the 1970s opened her home in Ontario to abused women and their children. By 1977 she was in Vancouver working with the Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter, founded in 1973 and now the oldest rape crisis center in Canada. She has been at the forefront of the fight in Canada against the abuse of women, building alliances with groups such as the Aboriginal Women’s Action Networkand the Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution.