It’s true. I’ve known more than one abusive man in my day. Some I knew intimately and some were only acquaintances. You know, just friends of friends. Some men still think it’s ok to maintain friendships with abusive men dontchaknow. At a certain point someone might accidentally let it slip that so-and-so, you know, that guy we party with, you know, maybe tormented or threatened or tried to strangle his girlfriend, and funny thing! I wouldn’t want to hang out with those dudes anymore. How awkward for everyone. “Meghan, Meghan – we don’t acknowledge those things.” “Hey! Buddy never abused me so who knows, right? His girlfriend is probably lying about that abuse.” If you don’t see it with your own eyes you should just assume it isn’t happening and go on with your life, yes? OH those ladies and their nutty stories.
But I digress. My friend Easily Riled wrote a post about the Bedford decision and some of the rhetoric coming from those who advocate for the decriminalization of pimps and johns. She pointed out that:
“The appeal judges decided that the Communicating law did not violate the Charter rights of
prostituted people sex workers, and represented a reasonable limit on rights to expression. Because as we know, it is difficult to tell–no matter how much time you have to “screen” some guy– when he’s going to go off on you. Women in prostitution have told us many stories about going with men they knew, regular ‘clients’, men the met and talked with for an hour or so in the bar, men referred to them by trusted friends– who, when alone with them, became violent. And, you know, women often MARRY men who turn out to be abusive– five minutes on a street corner isn’t going to make a difference–he always decides how to behave, she will never have that control. In theory, then, the communicating law can be used against the men who buy sex.”
One of the more common arguments for the decriminalization of johns is that if buying sex in the street is completely legalized, prostituted women will have more time to asses a client before getting into a car or going to a room with him.
This argument has been refuted by many, including Janine Benedet, who acted as co-counsel for the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution during the Bedford trial, who noted in a recent talk that the 27 year old man who murdered Nicole Parisien was seemingly, just a “regular” guy. Andrew Evans was a rugby player and former peer counselor. Benedet noted that he found Parisien through an ad on Craigslist and met her at an apartment of her choosing – an apartment that was being used as a brothel in Kitsilano.
Are these the “safe” indoor brothels people are advocating for? I imagine that Parisien thought this man was “safe”. Turns out he wasn’t. Turns out that being indoors, being able to suss out clientele first didn’t stop Evans from becoming violent when he couldn’t maintain an erection. Benedet added:
“This is a good example of the male sexual entitlement that is quite evident in prostitution. When she didn’t give him what he wanted he turned to violence and she was dead very, very quickly. There was no time for anybody to intervene. A good reminder that just putting things in a brothel or in a woman’s own apartment doesn’t stop this kind of violence.”
So Evans may be spending his life in jail but Parisien no longer has a life.
Devastatingly, these stories are not uncommon – there is something about men who buy sex who seem to think that the women they buy are disposable. Male entitlement is tied to prostitution. Men who buy sex think they are entitled. They believe that their pleasure is more important than women’s lives, women’s health, women’s well-being. Do you think that the man I saw the other day while waiting for the bus at Main and Cordova, who stopped his black SUV at the corner and dropped off a woman limping in platform shoes, steadying herself with a cane, cares about her life? Do you think he wants her life to get better? I doubt it. I doubt any man who buys sex wants the lives of prostituted women to get better. If their lives were better there would be no one left to give him blow jobs on his lunch break.
These are the men we are talking about decriminalizing. Not some imaginary “nice john.” What “nice man” wants women to remain so poor that they have no choice but to service him? What “nice man” kills a woman because he can’t maintain an erection? And what “nice man” thinks he deserves this – that he is owed, nay, is entitled to a blow job? Because he is a man. It is his right. Women are his right. Access to women, 24/7, is his right. That’s what we are talking about when we talk about decriminalizing pimps and johns.
I’ve known a number of abusive men in my lifetime. And you’d never know by looking at them. You probably wouldn’t even know it by talking to them for five or ten minutes (although you do begin to recognize certain traits in certain kinds of abusers – but the smart ones know how to hide it). Sometimes women don’t find out that their partners are abusive until they become pregnant. I can pretty much guarantee that if I had A) gone through with my pregnancy, and B) stayed with the man who impregnated me, the abuse would have escalated. Sometimes women only find out their partners are abusive once their partners get drunk. And hey, sometimes we even get clues early on but sometimes we don’t know they’re clues. Or maybe we’ll ignore the clue. Or maybe the abuser will manipulate us into thinking we are crazy or mess with our heads so that we no longer trust our own instincts. Or maybe we’ll leave. But the idea that women can somehow predict which men are abusive (whether it is verbal, emotional, or physical – and often all these forms of abuse work in congruence) and then avoid said abuse is bunko.
The abusive man is often quite a popular dude. He is often a pillar in his community. He is often charming and intelligent. I know tons of these guys. They are still invited to parties, to meetings, to community gatherings. The women they tormented are not, of course. Those women are not to be trusted. Those women must hide out or feel ashamed or are ostracized. Or they simply remain silent, never saying a thing. Women who name their abusers don’t always get support and, in fact, they often get the opposite of support. Often they are blamed or they are not believed.
So I’m not convinced that talking to a man through a car window, or over email, or even over the phone will tell a woman whether or not this man might become violent or whether he might call her names or whether he will degrade her. We do know that, whoever these men are, even if they aren’t physically violent, they believe that women exist on this earth in order to provide men with sexual pleasure. It is also clear that men who buy sex from prostituted women are often violent, are often abusive, and are often murderers. Sometimes they are “non-violent” misogynists. But not always. We also know that regardless of whether or not a woman has had the opportunity to chat with a man for five or ten minutes, she will at some point be alone in a car or in a hotel room or in an alley with him, and he may or may not have displayed his violent tendencies within the first five minutes of meeting.
What I’m addressing here is of course the idea that decriminalizing johns will make prostitution safer. Or rather, that it will make johns safer. Because that’s what were really talking about, right? Violent, sexist men? We aren’t really saying that women can somehow predict or avoid violence. We’re saying we need to stop violent men. We’re saying we need to stop normalizing sexist behaviour. We need to stop reinforcing the idea that men have the right to access female bodies 24/7.
In a past relationship I told a man that what he was doing constituted verbal and emotional abuse and that he had no right to treat me in that way – I told him I didn’t deserve to be treated in that way. And you know what he said to me? “It was your choice to stay”. And do you know what that means? Do you know what he meant when he said that? He was telling me it was my fault. He was telling me that there was nothing he could do to change and that since I had “chosen” to stay, I must either be ok or somehow deserve that abusive treatment. That since I chose to live in the same house as him and knew that his behaviour was abusive, it was ok for him to continue to treat me in that way because, in the end, it was my responsibility to stop that abuse from happening. Not his. Of course I did leave eventually but I’ll never forget the feeling of being blamed for my own abuse. Of making it about “my choice”.
This isn’t the only time this has happened. Another time I told some people about a man who was their friend who had been abusive to me throughout our relationship. I had already left him at this point. Do you know what they said to me? “Well, you chose to stay, didn’t you?”
OH choice. Magical, magical choice. If you “choose” to put yourself in a position to be abused, according to our f**ked up culture, it’s your fault. So if women do a bad job of sussing out johns before getting into cars with them, and those johns turn out to be violent, who is to blame?
The answer is obvious, but based on some of the rhetoric coming from those who advocate only for a harm reduction model and from those who want johns to be decriminalized, you wouldn’t know it. There is NO reason to protect these men. There are many reasons to protect prostituted women. These women, most certainly, need to be decriminalized so that they can safely go to the cops if they need to. These women, most certainly, need other options. They need to not have to service misogynists or get into cars with them or go to brothels or hotel rooms with them in order to survive. But decriminalizing johns isn’t going to make those men any safer. It certainly isn’t going to convince them not to abuse women and it certainly isn’t going to convince them that they don’t have the god given right to a blow job at any given moment, so long as they can pay.