Coming down on sex work

Sex worker responds to federal government’s attempt to ban trade

Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that sections of the criminal code legislating prostitution violated the charter rights of sex workers. The Court withheld striking down the law to allow the federal government one year to respond. Now, as the Dec. 16 deadline approaches, the federal government is pushing to pass Bill C-36, a bill that aspires to abolish prostitution by criminalizing clients and curbing demand. 

C-36 is under fire for many reasons, including the absence of sex worker perspectives in the construction of it. Lauren (a pseudonym used to protect her identity) is an exotic dancer and member of the Winnipeg Working Group, the local division of the Canadian Sex Worker Alliance. She sheds some perspective on the matter.

“I came into the industry by choice, starting as an escort while being mentored by an experienced dominatrix and madame,” she says, noting that her experience in the sex industry has been non-violent. “But I want to be sure to not silence or ignore the fact of the horrific violence that is experienced by many others involved in the sex trade.”

“Sex worker” is defined as an adult who consensually sells sex as her work, through a number of facets such as prostitution. The scope of prostitution covers a “spectrum” of women, including people who engage in prostitution consensually, and others “forced into the sex industry, sometimes by pimps and traffickers, sometimes by lack of economic opportunity.” 

“I think that [all of these] perspectives share a desire to better the safety of those involved in the sex industry, and hopefully focusing on our shared priority of safety can shift this from a two-sided debate to a more productive discussion,” she says.

Lauren attributes the lack of violence she’s experienced in the sex industry to a few aspects including her race, and socio-economic privilege. She acknowledges that Aboriginal and transgender people are disproportionately targeted for violence. Another is her screening regimen, and the fact that she has been financially able to refuse clients who will not comply. 

“By criminalizing clients, sex workers will have to cater to a client’s fear of criminalization, by not collecting the personal information we would have previously asked for as ‘insurance’ against violence,” says Lauren, who explains that her regimen as an escort included requesting a client’s ID, email, work number, and home address.

In her current and legal work as an exotic dancer, safety is provided by many aspects unavailable to prostitutes because their form of sex work is criminalized. 

“Having an established location, security staff, and the ability to explain and discuss the service I provide are what creates safety in my work,” Lauren says. “And [this is] what should be available to all persons working in the sex industry.”

Bill C-36 spent four days this summer in deliberative hearings lead by the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, and now makes its way to the Senate for review.

The bill is predicted to pass this fall with minor amendments. 

“I feel the government is blinded by the moral issues they attribute as being inherent to the sex industry,” Lauren concludes.

Published in Volume 69, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 10, 2014)

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