Crime Control, Social Order, and Prostitution

Garland’s article entitled, Crime Control and Social Order, presents the arguments the criminal justice system is “part of a larger system of ideological regulation reflecting the sociocultural order of late modernity” which influences crime control policies (p. 297). The crime control policies and practices are then an extension of “criminological, cultural, political, and economical conditions of the social world” (p. 297). He calls these reactionary politics (p. 301). Initiating these reactionary policies to crime is the “insecure character of today’s social and economic relations” (p. 302). Garland posits that there exist new social relations along with a new political culture within the field of crime control (p. 304). He also argues that crime control policies over emphasize the politics of choice and responsibility when controlling for crime (p. 304). Contributing to these new social relations, political culture and crime control policies is the neoliberal state and “widening of the gap between the rich and the poor” (p. 305). Garland’s also states that government policies to crime control views criminals not as disadvantaged but as different (p. 304).

Employing Garland’s theory of crime control and social order presents a contradiction when paralleled with the crime of prostitution.[1] The reasoning to police prostitution is often that prostitutes do not have a choice and that they are victims, as emphasized most recently by Justice Minister Peter MacKay.[2] If all other criminals are allowed to determine the choices they make and are to be held liable for their actions, then the argument follows that they need to be held liable. However, this argument falls short when, as I stated, prostitutes and prostitution are substituted into the argument. If prostitutes are victims and do not choose to enter the trade freely, then they should not be held liable for their choices. Unfortunately, this same argument is utilized to say that policy must criminalize clients of prostitutes. This argument is premised on the assumption that all prostitution is violence against women and that prostitutes are victims. It also states that prostitutes can engage in selling sex but they should not be paid for their sexual services wherein these policies are argued to ultimately prevent exploitation of prostitutes. Further, this argument presents the same inconsistencies of the original argument as it is still holding prostitutes liable for the choices they make–as they are unable to be paid for their services, if they engage in prostitution then they are liable for putting themselves into poverty or into the pathway of violence. One might argue that prostitutes do not make a free choice to enter into the trade. However, the approach that all prostitutes are victims (who don’t make choices) and all prostitution is violence (because who makes that choice to put them in the pathway of violence) further relegates prostitutes to the margins of society and detracts from the real violence that women experience.

Additionally, the government is so obsessed with policing and regulating prostitution and preventing prostitutes from earning an income, but at the same time it is benefitting from the income of prostitutes. Canada Revenue Agency even has an industry code for prostitutes to utilize when filing their taxes. This presents a conundrum: If the government can benefit from the income of prostitutes, why can’t prostitutes benefit from their own income?

The Bedford v. Canada decision outlined inconsistencies within the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC) when it came to the sections policing prostitution. Chief Justice in her decision stated that the objectives (of the laws that were struck down) were to prevent community nuisances and to also prevent prostitutes from exploitation.[3] However, the evidence presented demonstrated that the laws actually contributed to the exploitation of prostitutes. When we return to the argument that all prostitutes are victims and that we need to protect them exploitation, we return to the original objectives of the laws that were struck down. The government runs the risk of re-creating the same unsafe conditions for prostitutes if they base their argument on preventing exploitation of prostitutes by not allowing them to be paid for their sexual services. In fact, the Government increases the risk of violence committed against prostitutes.[4] As was demonstrated by Wally Oppal’s Missing Women Inquiry, Governments and police should prevent rapes or murders of prostitutes.[5]  There are also existing laws within the CCC (human trafficking) whose objectives are to prevent the exploitation or coercion of all individuals in any trade. Are prostitutes really a special class of people that they deserve their own laws whose main objectives are to prevent exploitation? The Government’s approach to prostitution still perceives prostitutes as different—as the Other. There is nothing new to this policy to criminalize the trade, whether it is criminalizing the buyers or sellers of sexual services. While, on one hand, Garland’s argument that the criminal justice system is “part of a larger system of ideological regulation reflecting the sociocultural order of late modernity” which influences crime control policies is correct, on the other hand, when we substitute the crime of prostitution it falls short. In closing, with respect to the social relations and political culture, nothing has changed in response to the policing of prostitutes or prostitution within the context of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws.


[1] Within this post, I utilize the term prostitution/prostitute as a legal term.





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