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I read a really salient comment today on an otherwise not terribly interesting article @ CBC News.  After an article describing high-end street-walking prostitutes being herded out of Vancouver’s Yaletown in advance of the oncoming Olympic onslaught, commenter NixONeill posted:

This goes to the heart of the difference between the Left & Right. The left sees issues like prostitution and homelessness as social issues where the people directly involved are victims of ineffective systems, and they are most effectively resolved using early prevention and education – the right sees prostitution snf homelessness as law & order issues where the victims are the people who are reminded of the ineffective systems through the presence of prostitutes and the homeless, and this is best resolved using laws & the police, and gentrification.

Indeed.  The real victims of social problems are those who endure their ignominies.  The only place to start solving the problem, if it actually is one, is with them.

However, in this case perhaps neither side of the debate is correct.   Some argue quite compellingly that prostitution isn’t actually a social problem at all.  They would paint the community activists and neighbourhood residents who report this as a crime as self-righteous and prudish.  And while the “problem” of prostitution may be widespread in society, they argue that it is a rather personal one imposed by the religious or moral upbringing of the offended individual — not of the women or their Johns.

An interesting conceptual approach, and not sure whether it’s one I agree with.  Having lived in Yaletown a few years in the 1990s and now within a block or two of the “Stroll”, as I’ve just discovered they refer to it, I have never found myself disturbed or upset or otherwise offended by the presence of scantily-clad female professionals.  Having never been a prostitute or even known one, I can’t speak with authority on whether or not these women are victims of a social problem.  I do suspect that some are afflicted by other social problems, such as abuse or drug addiction.

I do suspect if it were happening out front of my house, on the other hand, that the cat-calls of horny young males accompanied by horns honking and other immaturities that follow these ladies would probably get to me.  I wouldn’t object to the hookers themselves but the noise would certainly affect my lawful “quiet enjoyment” of my residence.  So perhaps the Police aren’t really misstating facts when they claim: “Really this is in response to the change in demographics, the complaints and the comments we have been receiving in increased numbers from the new residents in there, and that is how we are approaching it”.

These women present an interesting moral dilemma if they’re well-appointed, clean, and disease- and drug-free.  Since prostitution itself is not illegal there are limited laws which apply to discouraging their activity, thus failing to appease the needs of the right.  If the victim label cannot be applied to them then does this not reduce the ammunition that the left can bring to bear in flagging this as a social problem?

If people are encouraging law enforcement to herd away prostitutes from newly-high-rent neighbourhoods (as is frequently the case) because it offends their moral sensibilities, or because in some way they’d rather not be reminded of what they consider to be a social problem, then I would find their behaviour, and that of the police, to be quite despicable.  If you feel that strongly that prostitution is a social problem, then you should be working to help those whom you consider to be its victims.  I suspect you might be surprised to find that the notion of being victimized by their customers is news to many of these women.

The sad thing is that more likely than not this is just yet another example of NIMBYism of the worst kind — moving into a neighbourhood where an activity has thrived for years and then clamoring for others to eliminate it.  The police do not exist to service selfishness, in my view.

And, by the way, the corner of Davie and Homer is frequently a stroll for one or two male prostitutes.  Are we as offended by their lingering on corners as we are the women?  It will be interesting to find out.