Stories From the Shadows

Jade Markus’ new work brings the unheard voices of women in the sex work industry to the forefront

No matter your job or your gender, everyone seems to have an opinion about women working in the sex industry.

From prostitution laws to the stigma attached to having a night at the strip club, the constant debate over objectification versus female empowerment through sex is stronger than ever. Regardless of an educated and informed opinion, the female body is something that seems to belong more to the loudest, most public voice and less to the woman herself.

For Jade Markus, 23, gathering the stories of the women actually working in the sex industry became an important and critical part of the messy conversation. The result of her efforts is Exposed: Selling Sexuality, a collection of anecdotes from the inside.

“I tried as best as possible to make this book not about me but about these women,” Markus states. “They have valuable and informed opinions that too often go unheard. These are the people who should be vocalizing what they need and what should be done.”

Markus, currently in her final year of the creative communications program at Red River College, first became interested in the topic while spending a night at Solid Gold with a friend. Clad in blazers and sipping on scotch, Markus and her pal wondered about the backstory of the nude woman dancing and smiling in front of them.

Diving into the project with optimism and the expectation of girl power, Markus’s first interview was with an escort. In the comfort of her own apartment, the woman was open with Markus about her vocation. Showing the young journalist her collection of sex toys, she was very comfortable with what could have easily been a very vulnerable position. For Markus, this was an ideal first interview.

“It started out as a project about women who are strong, and a lot of them are,” Markus explains. “A lot of them feel sexually empowered and have a very liberal mindset where they see bodies as bodies and a job as a job. What became important is that it has to be the woman’s choice.”

What Markus also uncovered was that it isn’t always as nice as that. For some of the women, entering the sex industry was their only option.

“The sad ones stick with you but I wanted to make it clear that it’s not only about the sad stuff,” Markus says.

She profiles 10 different women in jobs from exotic dancing to nude modelling and providing escort services. The creation of Exposed brought Markus to prostitution hot spots, late night pizza joints, escort’s bedrooms and many strip club bathrooms.

“I often ended up interviewing the women on the spot,” Markus says. “I was catching them at work and these are busy people.”

With her debut work out on shelves and her brain filled with the voices of women she’s met, Markus can see herself delving deeper into this necessary field.

“There are both happy and sad situations that this project will shed light on,” Markus says. “Hopefully it will bring up what needs to be changed or discussed or improved upon. Hopefully it could be a catalyst for change.”

Published in Volume 69, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 4, 2015)

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