Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Socioeconomics of Prostitution in Canada: Prostitution as an Unregulated Labor Force Encourages Capitalist Gain

When one considers the act of prostitution the term capitalism is in all probability not the first word that comes to mind. However, Prostitution has an inherent link to capitalism. This paper’s purpose is to discuss prostitution’s relevance to the economy as it encourages capitalist profit through the exploitation of these illegal laborers. This paper will first outline the definitions of capitalism and prostitution, prostitution as a social construct, discuss the legality of prostitution in Canada, how the prostitutes constitute as an unregulated labor force and finally how unregulated labor encourage capitalist profit.

Capitalism is an economist theory heavily influenced by the work of Adam Smith and his ‘invisible hand’ theory discussed in his writing the Wealth of Nations. It emphasizes profit through private ownership, and a free market. An ideal capitalist society would have little to no regulation on companies; this includes taxes, and labor restrictions. Adam Smith was a firm believer that this type of society would benefit the whole through the trickle down effect; the wealthy gain more wealth and subsequently it trickles down through the classes helping the whole of society. Today however, we know this optimist view of capitalism to be false; the wealthier become more wealthy while the poor remain destitute.

Prostitution is defined as the selling of one’s sexual services for money, or as Kingsley Davis defines it, “the use of sexual stimulation in a system of dominance to attain non-sexual ends”. Despite the simplicity of this definition there are areas of uncertainty. Davis characterizes this uncertainty with his belief that “the employment of sex for non-sexual ends within a competitive-authoritarian system- characterizes not simply prostitution itself but all of our institutions in which sex is involved, notably courtship and wedlock. Prostitution therefore resembles, from one point of view, behavior found in out most respectable institutions.” Simply, types of prostitution are ever present in our most valued institution in society. This makes it difficult to create legislation with a clear definition of prostitution if it is morally acceptable in valued institution such as marriage.

In Canada criminal legislation regarding prostitution is bewildering. Sections 210-213 of the Criminal Code of Canada deal with aspects of prostitution: Bawdyhouses, prostitution of a person under the age of eighteen years, procuring, and other offences in relation to prostitution. The criminal code clearly sets a definition for bawdyhouses, forced prostitution and minors committing the act of prostitution, and that they are undoubtedly a criminal offence. Legislation regarding prostitutes that are willfully soliciting sexual acts for money does not make prostitution itself illegal but rather the solicitation itself. This means the only manner in which a prostitute can be prosecuted for solicitation is if one of the two parties mentions the exchange of money in correlation with sex.

As prostitution is not technically illegal, and is simultaneously not considered a legitimate career option as the profession is degraded by society, prostitutes are trapped in a type of limbo. This obscure position leaves prostitutes in a difficult situation where they are able to work as prostitutes, but their choice to do so can cause them undo hardship, exploitation and violation of their fundamental rights and freedoms; in short, prostitutes can be seen as an unregulated labor force in Canada. This lack of concrete legislation or lack of regulation (depending on one’s personal views towards the matter), infringes on the rights and freedoms of prostitutes set forth and guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. These infringements occur with regards to sections 1, 6.2 and 7.

Section 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that it “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society”. It cannot be justifiable in a free and democratic society to have prostitution in solicitation be in existance in many of our highly recognized institutions and be illegal for the career of prostitution. Although the charter further states that there are reasonable limits, when the definition of prostitution is so blurred reasonable ;limits cannot justifiably apply, as it would be applied differently to two situations with the base of both being inherently the same.

In Section 6.2 b of the charter says that “every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.” Although Canada likes to pride itself in being a country with plentiful jobs there are those who do not have the experience or ability to perform jobs at a income equivalent to that of a prostitute. Their livelihood is being hindered due to the fact their skill set may be in the career of prostitution. If we are hindering their livelihood, then we are denying prostitutes their fundamental rights as outlines is 6.2 b.

Moreover, Section 7 states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.” One must ask what is fundamental justice. Since the legislation regarding prostitution is so bewildered, one could argue that that legislation is not fundamental to society. Therefore we can focus on the deprivation of the fundaments rights of liberty and security of the person with prostitutes. First liberty as they do not have the legal right to peruse their career of choice. More importantly security of the person is being hindered as our law does not make prostitution illegal but rather the solicitation and therefore as an unregulated labor force are subject to undue preventable harm. Denying one their personal freedoms is a type of exploitation.

Davis states “Capitalism like communism, has tried in the case of prostitution to negate the basic capitalistic principle”(16). Nevertheless, the legislation created to prevent prostitution has done the opposite and rather encouraged capitalist ideals. “There is no reason to believe that a change in the economic system will eliminate either side of demand” (17). Canada’s capitalism is not responsible for prostitution but rather the lack of legislation and concrete definition of prostitution. Capitalism is rather encouraged as a result of prostitutes being an unregulated labor force; they are able to continue soliciting sex for money, just in a more cautious manner.

With the lack of regulations for prostitution as a profession, prostitution is on a free market. As previously discussed a free market can generate more revenue but generally rests within the upper echelon of society. In this sense, prices are encouraged to be competitive. As the product itself can be viewed as substitute, it is easily competitive on the market; each product varies but roughly has the same purpose. This means that each prostitute must estimate her pricing in order to be competitive with other prostitutes, while keeping demand for his or her product in mind. This can drive the prices down in order to for the prostitute to stay competitive in his or her field.

With a free market we must look at the prostitute who willfully solicit sex for money, and further classify them into two categories: prostitutes who are sole proprietors and those with pimps.

Prostitutes that are sole proprietor, with the nature of competitive pricing on substitute products, are in risk of losing money if there is not an increase in supply and demand for the product (prostitution). In short the prostitute would have to be able to provide sexual services to an increasing amount of clientele.

Prostitutes that are managed by a pimp are often the more exploited of the prostitutes. Not only is the money from their soliciting supposed to ensure their livelihood, but also for the livelihood of their pimp. The pimp, as an unregulated boss is able to subject the prostitute to unfit working condition, abuse, and slave wage labor. As prostitution is able to continue, as there is a lack of legal legislation, but is technically not legal, the prostitute is unable to challenge the actions of the pimp and their unfit working condition through the Canadian legal system. This again is an example of the legal limbo prostitutes are faced through their exploitation.

The pimp and prostitute relationship is another example of how capitalism is able to flourish. The pimp is an example of the bourgeoisie while the prostitute is the proletariat. The bourgeoisie are the ones who profit immensely from the labor of the proletariat while the proletariat is exploited for their labor. As mentioned previously capitalism does not encourage the trickle down effect but rather further oppressed the poor and widens the gap between them and the wealthy. Unregulated labor benefits capitalists (especially the pimps), allowing them to exploit labor for their own profit. However, Davis is adamant that is not capitalism that is encouraging this in prostitution but rather our legislation (or lack there of).

As prostitutes are an unregulated labor force, they are exploited which leads to the encouragement of capitalism in Canada. It is interesting to regard this profession as part of the labor force as it raises questions abut the legality of prostitution but more importantly why prostitution itself is regarded as an immoral activity. While reading Davis’s journal article, “The Sociology of Prostitution” I gained a lot of perspective on how our institutions retain elements of prostitution in them. This made me think of the hiring of retail workers at local Abercrombie and Fitch stores. It is common knowledge that employees are hired based on their appearances. In a sense they are soliciting their body for money, they are using their ‘good looks’ into to retain revenue. Furthermore, institutions that offer adult entertainment like pornography and stripping, in many ways share the base fundamental principles that the definition of prostitution rests (although both activities are viewed as sleazy and barely acceptable in society). So I ask why is prostitution so unacceptable in society? I believe that it is because the purpose of sex is lost in the pleasure. The purpose of marriage, the purpose of sex is to create a new generation and to pass on one’s lineage. Sex with a prostitute, has no purpose but that of pleasure. In society there remains a stigma towards having sex without procreating, especially in certain religions. I believe that till this stigma leaves society sex for pleasure, whether it be premarital sex, prostitution, or masturbation, sex for pleasure will be viewed in a negative light.


Beamish, Rob. 2006. Reading in Sociology’s Task and Promise. Canada: Mcgraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

Beamish, Rob. 2006. Sociology and the Classical Tradition: An Introduction. Canada: Mcgraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

Brock, R. Deborah. 1998. “Making work, making trouble : prostitution as a social problem.” University of Toronto Press.

Davis, Kingsley. 1937. “The Sociology of Prostitution.” American Sociological Review. Volume 2(issue 5): Pages 744-755

Larsen, E Nick. 1999. “Urban politics and prostitution control: a qualitative analysis of a controversial urban problem [Bill C-49 & Toronto].” Canadian Journal of Urban Research. Volume 8(Issue 1): page 28.

Little, B. Craig and Stuart H. Traub. c1999. Theories of Deviance 5th. Itasca, Illinois: F.E. Peacock Publishers

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