The legalization of prostitution has been a long debated issue. The topic heated up once again after a recent court ruling deemed that the existing laws against brothels and pimping were unconstitutional. Buying Sex explores the prostitution laws in Canada, and the people it affects, from both sides of the debate. There are some, like sex worker and advocate Valerie Scott, who argue that the laws against prostitution do more to put sex workers in harm than it does to protect them. In the other corner is Trisha Baptie, a former sex worker turned abolitionist, who wants to see Canada decriminalize female prostitutes and put the legal pressure on the men who purchase their services.
Scott and Baptie both favour different world models that they each feel Canada should adopt. For Scott, New Zealand’s approach to legalizing prostitution has put the power and safety back in the hands of the sex workers. Whereas Baptie prefers Sweden’s approach to punishing the “Johns” thus eradicating the demand for prostitutes. Buying Sex directors Kent Nason and Teresa MacInnes, travel to both countries in order to get a better understanding of how each methodology has impacted their respective regions. What they find ultimately makes the debate even more complex.
In New Zealand the filmmakers talk to a female brothel owner whose employees included women who either have degrees or are currently in nursing school. One analyst points to prostitution as being an economic issue rather than a moral one. He notes that it takes women in New Zealand 6 to 7 years longer to pay off their student loan debts compared to their male counterparts. Prostitution offers a faster way to clear this debt. As one sex worker points out, it is the easiest and hardest way to make a lot of money.
For Sweden it is not an issue of economics, but one of power. Experts in the sex trade field argue that it is never okay to be in a position where a person can buy a “body.” They even point to a natural progression from men who commit workplace sexual harassment to men who eventually get involved in sex trafficking. Swedish advocates believe that the prostitutes will more be more likely to quit that lifestyle if there are no longer any buyers.
Of course there can be no discussion about legalizing prostitution without talking to both the lawyers fighting for and against the laws, the men who keep the sex industry alive, and most importantly the sex workers themselves. The wide range of testimony that Nason and MacInnes capture in their interviews further underlines how difficult it will be to reach a decision that is suitable for all involved. Buying Sex does a wonderful job of documenting how the conversation over legalizing prostitution is far from a simple black and white debate. It is a complex issue that is far deeper than the moral stance that many people take. Buying Sex is a film that should be seen and discussed.