Jamie Lee Hamilton, who runs a brothel, would doubtless be grateful if the hostile Vancouver neighborhoods, where she keeps attempting to hang her shingle, showed some Nevada-type hospitality. In most of Nevada's counties, brothels are not only legal, but are hallowed state institutions, and brothel owners are important contributors to the economic and social affairs of the community. So much is the brothel part of Wild West ambiance, that old-time Nevadans are furious with Calvinistic suburban newcomers for their attempts to outlaw this establishment. Ms. Hamilton, however, is not a woman easily deterred. She has worked as a prostitute, she was once a man, and, less daunting, she has attempted to become a Vancouver City Councillor. Not lacking in gumption, we can anticipate the day when Ms. Hamilton sheds her least interesting persona: that of confused activist, and steps out as an enterprising madam.
There was a time when Grandma's House, as Ms. Hamilton's brothel is called, did not raise hackles. This was when it was a safe house dedicated to sheltering women who were in the process of extricating themselves from the profession. Naturally, now that the mission of the House has turned from "rehabilitation" to tricks, Ms. Hamilton is no longer the recipient of government or private charity funds. Could she have ceased to acquiesce in the feminist orthodoxy that sees prostitutes as victims of male oppression? Faced with adult women wanting to make a living, did the wily Ms. Hamilton decide to step in and fill a gap in the market by providing a much-needed service? Hopefully at play is a dose of Adam Smith's providential self-interest, but for a host of reasons, the transformation remains incomplete.
For one, while prostitution is legal in Canada, somehow running a bawdyhouse is not, which confirms that the profession has yet to be decriminalized. Decriminalization, writes author Wendy McElroy, "refers to the elimination of all laws against prostitutes, including laws against those who associate with whores: madams, pimps, and johns." Legalization, on the other hand, can give way to a host of intrusive government regulations. The prostitute may be required to have her profession stamped in travel documents, and she may find herself barred from entering certain countries. A registered prostitute may also be subjected to forced medical examinations. If anti-prostitution feminists tend to infantalize the prostitute by claiming that she is always the victim of the patriarchy; never the architect of her own choices---state-regulations tend to reinforce this state of affairs.
The prostitute-as-victim construct has seen policy pivot in the direction of harassing mostly men who benefit from prostitution. According to McElroy, organizations for the rights of prostitutes do not support anti-pimping initiatives (and a madam is a female pimp). If an adult prostitute has opted freely for the arrangement, her choice must be respected. Uninvolved third parties may think a whore dim for supporting a lover, but why should a secretary, a lawyer or a doctor be free to so do absent intrusion, but not a whore? McElroy ventures that the pitiful image of the prostitute is based on research in which streetwalkers, who are more likely to be addicted, abused, and ill, are over represented. Most women in the industry are call girls and do not conform to the streetwalker paradigm.
Harassment of johns and madams, in particular, both interferes with the livelihood of the more vulnerable prostitute, and jeopardizes her safety. What average man seeking a liaison is going to risk being coerced into john School, or having his name and address plastered over the local newspapers ---all strategies used by police to harass clients? Unlikely as they are to be deterred by such harassment, it is the tough, more brutal johns with whom the women are left to deal. Scaring good johns away, or forcing brothels to close, harms the streetwalking community. Harassing those who live off or contribute to the avails of prostitution, says McElroy, prevents prostitutes from forming those economic associations that most women take for granted.
In this sense, Jamie Lee Hamilton's efforts to further the right to engage in "voluntary trade of sexual services" are important. But she needs to get her house in order. "This is not about profits," she continually protests, while conceding that business is good. The boom should signal to Ms. Hamilton that her service is in short supply and that she can aim for good returns. More of a freewheeling Nevada spirit---less of the Vancouver East Side welfare-attitude, and Ms. Hamilton is poised for profits and property acquisition, these being the most effective defenses for herself and her clients.
©2000 by Ilana Mercer
The Vancouver Sun