I did a talk for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers last December, and I gave an edited version to Tits and Sass as a personal essay. It’s published under my fakey-fake name because sometimes I use Tits and Sass as a teaching tool, so I didn’t want my name front and centre on there.
This piece is adapted from a December 17th speech the author gave this year.
“You’re so lazy, you’ll never be anything but a whore. And you won’t even be a good whore because nobody wants to fuck a girl with a book in front of her face.” Continue reading
Naomi, of http://www.kwetoday.com, has created this fantastic template letter for folks to send to their MPs in opposition to Bill C36, the Conservatives’ new anti-prostitution legislation. It explains clearly why this legislation is dangerous and ought to be trashed.
I have received a lot of messages from friends who were asking about what this Bill is all about? Here is a link explaining the Bill that is much easier to read than the Bill itself. This Bill is in response to the Bedford v Canada decision (which was an unanimous Supreme Court Decision). You can read about that decision here (and here is the actual SCC decision). Following this, many friends have also asked what they can do to help.
One way you can help is to write a letter to your MP. Here is a template to help you to write a letter to oppose #c36. You can find out who your MP is here. It is free (meaning no postage required) to send your MP a letter. A French-translation will be posted as it becomes available.
If you are looking for anymore sources and…
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As most people already know, the Conservative government released its proposed legislation related to prostitution yesterday. I sent this letter to Rick Dykstra and Peter MacKay today echoing the call for the bill to be scrutinized by the Supreme Court of Canada.
By maintaining the law against public communication by sex workers, coupled with provisions making it impossible to work indoors and difficult for sex workers who use drugs to work with others, the bill replicates exactly the same brutal conditions of criminalization that have been taking sex workers’ lives since the 1980s.
Regardless of where you stand on the criminalization of bosses and consumers, please raise your voice to object to provisions that can only facilitate violence against sex workers.
Dear Peter MacKay and Rick Dykstra,
I’m writing to echo the call for Bill C36, “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act,” to be submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada for review to determine whether its provisions pass constitutional muster.
In December 2013, the SCC decided unanimously that the federal government does not have the right to get sex workers killed in the name of eliminating prostitution. Canada’s anti-prostitution laws (which criminalized public communication for the purpose of prostitution, working indoors in a brothel, and taking money from sex workers) were shown to cause immeasurable harm to sex workers.
As analysis by Pivot Legal Society and many others has shown, the government’s proposed new legislation is not substantially different from the unconstitutional laws. It still criminalizes communication in almost every public place; it criminalizes the advertising sex workers must do in order to work indoors, effectively making off-street work impossible; and it still criminalizes many kinds of relationships with sex workers that are not exploitative, forcing sex workers to be isolated. These three practices, taken together, are lethal. They always have been.
I call on Peter MacKay and the Government of Canada to submit this legislation for review by the Supreme Court of Canada, and to draft, in its place, legislation that truly protects sex workers’ lives and livelihoods.
MA candidate, Geography, Brock University
Please feel free to use my letter as a template for your own. I plan to phone my MP tomorrow to repeat my demand for scrutiny of this terrible piece of legislation by the Supreme Court. You can find out who your MP is here: http://www.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseofCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC
This is Not Feminist Legislation, and it’s Not Supply-Side Decriminalization
For those of us who would like to see sex workers totally decriminalized within our lifetimes, the Conservative government’s Bill C36 – a replacement for the anti-prostitution laws struck down by the Supreme Court in R v. Bedford – was worse than we thought. I think a lot of us, including me, were expecting to see a hollowed-out version of the Nordic Model. Y’know, lots of bluster about pimpsnjohns and no more than the barest of lip service to addressing workers’ “push factors”: things like poverty that make prostitution one of very few viable options for many workers, labour market conditions outside of the sex industry that make sex work, even under the brutal conditions of criminalization, more attractive than temporary or minimum wage work. Joy Smith’s Tipping Point in bill form.
What we got are the same laws we had before, dressed up a bit and with sharper teeth. The better to get people killed with.
There is a law criminalizing the purchase of sex. But pre-Bedford anti-prostitution laws also criminalized clients, and we have
already seen how they were enforced. There is also exactly the same communicating law as before – the same communicating law that is undoubtedly responsible for hundreds’ of women’s deaths and countless women’s incarcerations – but now it’s limited to areas where there might be children. That could include any residential or commercial neighbourhood (so basically everywhere), which means sex workers will still be pushed into industrial areas at night, and will still be rushing transactions with their criminalized clients. We know exactly how this story ends.
The new “BUT THINK OF THE CHILDREN” veneer on this dangerous, cruel law doesn’t actually give sex workers space to work in their communities—but it does codify in law the cultural belief that sex workers ought not to be near children. Maybe someone with more legal knowledge than I have would be willing to discuss how this could affect sex workers in family court or interactions with child protective services (we know that Indigenous women are overrepresented among outdoor sex workers and, not by coincidence, that Indigenous children are overrepresented among children in foster care—so this really matters). Or how it could affect sex workers being denied housing in certain buildings or neighbourhoods, or former sex workers facing discrimination in non-sex employment. Continue reading
For those who don’t know, Kim Pate is the executive director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, a national association that represents a group of local social service organizations, all named for the Quaker prison reformer Elizabeth Fry. Their mission is to reduce women’s incarceration in Canada.
Elizabeth Fry Societies help women access legal aid, run diversion programs that women can be sentenced to complete instead of going to prison, supervise probation and community service, offer assistance meeting basic food and shelter needs, offer counselling and therapy, help women get pardons and do other stuff related to the general idea of making life a little easier for criminalized women. If you can swallow the smug self-righteousness that social workers seem to be trained in, and if you ignore the fact that “reform” and “collaboration with the criminal justice system” are very much one and the same here, you could say they are a force for good in a world where very few people give any fucks at all what happens to criminalized women.
The Supreme Court of Canada Thinks Human Trafficking is AWESOME
Since Pate became executive director, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies has also been an abolitionist organization, supporting “End Demand” laws. Fine. She’s probably not interested in changing her mind about that. But I want to talk about Pate’s response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down Canada’s anti-prostitution laws as unconstitutional. As the CBC reports, Pate said:
It’s a sad day that we’ve now had confirmed that it’s OK to buy and sell women and girls in this country. I think generations to come — our daughters, their granddaughters and on — will look back and say, ‘What were they thinking?’ …
To say that [prostitution] is a choice when you’re talking about the women we work with is to say that in fact it’s OK to just exploit them. …
We’ve never seen men criminalized for buying and selling women and girls. We’ve always seen women criminalized for selling themselves. We absolutely object to the criminalization of women. Our position would not interfere with those women who truly have made their choices.
We’ve seen plenty of “prostitution is bad and everyone who disagrees with me is a lying pimp” rhetoric these last few days (Jacqueline Guillion, determined not to admit that the Bedford applicants are current and former sex workers, called them “hopeful pimps”). That’s to be expected.
But criminalized women are kinda relying on Kim Pate to know what the fuck she’s talking about, considering she’s heading up a national legal advocacy organization on their behalf. And if it’s not the case that Pate doesn’t understand the Bedford decision, well criminalized women (and the general public) are also relying on her to not mislead them. Continue reading
Before I finished my BA, I encountered a social worker who was working on her MA. Her politics were generally pro-decriminalization, but she also liked to trade in horror stories about women whose vaginas fell out from having so much sex. She had secured the cooperation of a rescue organization that collaborated with police to be allowed to study their Very Marginalized Whores. She wanted my help nailing down her research question.
“Don’t do this study,” I said. “Find something else to research.”
“OMG why are you so mean?” was more or less her answer.
I’m finishing one MA and starting another right now. In my first MA, I have studied sex work for a few years. In my second MA, I will not study sex work. I am going to explain why, and I hope others in the same position will also choose not to study sex work. Continue reading
Apparently this is my new blog theme: re-posting my letters to that fucking feminist listserv and making all kinds of GAH ARGH UGH noises while I do it. (Also, I really doubt this one will pass the moderators to make it on the listserv itself. To their credit, they posted it after a short delay, so far without comment.)
Every time I see a sex worker become a vocal antifeminist, I feel sad. “Sure, feminism has problems,” I think to myself. “But don’t hop in bed with the enemy over it!” And then feminism does shit like this.
For anyone who is not following (which is everyone except about 1600 feminists in Canada who subscribe to the Policy Action Research Listserv), there is a feminist listserv in Canada which hosts regular, unpleasant “debates” about whether or not to “abolish” prostitution and whether or not trans women are real women. There are also posts of events, interesting articles and other announcements to the list, but sex work and trans women do get the bulk of the discussion and debate.
It is always awful. The debates are beyond pointless, and do little besides blow my mind, over and over, that holy shit. I am actually having to argue to a feminist law professor that a sex worker’s domestic violence and child custody issues belong inside a feminist analysis. That’s a conversation I never thought I’d have. But I’ve also seen a back-and-forth between two non-sex working men about sex work, in which one announced that nothing the other was saying mattered because the other was only a medical doctor who researches sex work and besides, he appears to have liked boobies on his Facebook. (The “like” in question was in relation to Facebook’s ban on breastfeeding images, which a feminist doctor would legitimately be interested in, even if he is only a medical doctor.) So, you know, feminism happens.
But in July, there was an exchange about Radfem Rise Up’s exclusion of trans women and an exchange about the murder of a Swedish sex worker amidst a particularly bad convergence of aboltionist laws. Typically debates on Par-L are undertaken by interested, but unaffected, parties. In these two cases, however, a trans person and a sex worker actually took part in the discussion.
Par-L responded by banning all discussion of sex work or trans women until after Labour Day. Continue reading
This is another repost of an email I sent to the PAR-L listserv, an email discussion list for feminists in Canada. The post I was responding to denied that the continued criminalization of sex work in Sweden had anything to do with the murder of sex worker Petite Jasmine by her ex-husband, who was awarded custody of their children because the woman, as a sex worker, was considered unfit to parent. The post I was responding to was written by a Quebecois translator and “radical feminist”  Nordic Model advocate named Martin Dufresne:
“It’s so much better for prostitutes in Sweden, where they aren’t criminalized, isn’t it?”
I don’t understand the point of Nicole’s [a previous poster who sent out the Rose Alliance’s statement on the murder with the above as the subject line] sarcasm here? Her barb seems to be putting down Sweden’s decriminalization of prostituted women, the point on which feminist abolitionists and sexual libertarians agree in this realm? Attempting to “spin” a woman’s murder in support of a political agenda is always chancy at best. But in this case, it just doesn’t make sense. Ms. Jasmine was murdered in the name of male entitlement, in this case her ex-husband’s feeling of entitlement to her children. How could even *more* male entitlement, that to paid sex on demand and profiting from the sale of women (the current sex-libertarian agenda), be part of the solution? That *is* the issue on which we differ.
Also, Nicole suggests that Ms. Jasmine was necessarily denied justice by Sweden’s child protection system. There is no way we can determine that sight unseen from afar, but how could *less* care and justice (insisting that her living conditions be completely kept out of the psychosocial assessment?) then be part of the solution?
To which I answered (against my better judgement, as usual — it is one of my life goals to stop arguing about prostitution on this listserv):
This, as far as I can tell, is the logic of the Nordic Model at work. While Petite Jasmine herself was “decriminalized,” her life was still criminal in the eyes of the family court, still regulated by criminal law. Though she was not at risk of being jailed, she was still on the wrong side of the law. What I have read on the case says that the family court explicitly cited her “self harm” by doing sex work and sex work advocacy as evidence that she was an unfit parent. Continue reading
Note: This class does not actually exist. I made the syllabus as a sample for a job application (for a job I am not at all qualified for and am unlikely to actually get), and now I’m just showing it off, in “here’s what I would teach” fashion. I cut the boring stuff about assignments and class policies and why you can’t hand your essays in late, so it’s mostly just a reading list. The imaginary class is a third year university labour studies class.
Where the readings are available for free online, I’ve posted links to them. A great many of them are available online, for folks who like to read. I have now found and linked either the original or a very similar replacement for every reading except “The Lone Streetwalker” by Shawna Ferris, which stinks because that’s actually one of my favourite things I’ve read about sex work ever, and “Is Sex Work Queer?” by Corinna McKay. I’ve briefly summarized those two articles.
Of course I am quite open to hearing from other sex workers on what I’ve decided should go into a class like this. One thing I regret — and which I want to think more about how to include — is that there is nothing really practical for sex workers in here. E.g., nothing on how people get into the sex industry, operate various sex businesses, or move on to other jobs.
The textbook for the imaginary class, in which about half of the readings can be found, is Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy and Research on Sex Work in Canada. Continue reading
I mentioned to a couple of folks that I had used their blogs or posts for a paper, and I promised to post a bibliography when I had one ready. For those who are curious, here it is. It’s far from every blog ever written, but if you want to sift through it, you will find the foundations of a very solid critique of sex-positivity and authenticity in political advocacy, from a pro-decriminalization standpoint. I also read and cited the comments on most of these posts, but cut them from the bibliography for brevity, and I read dozens of other online writings that I just ran out of space to write about — so there is a lot of knowledge that gets produced by the fact of having a community, but it’s not readily documented within the conventions of academic citation.
Here’s the short version, in other people’s words, of the argument in my paper about sex workers’ unhappy stories:
I feel like our culture, as a movement, has come to revolve around either the memoir or the closet, after work in the sex trades. — Sabrina Morgan
From early on, speaking for myself meant straining to somehow fit my experiences and my opinions of my own experience—at times, it felt, of my very self—into one of two dichotomous positions: for or against. — Melissa Petro
I remember when I first got involved in sex worker rights and was a naively impressionable young woman.… I mentioned that I didn’t like sex work myself I was chastised by fellow activists. — Wendy Babcock
And there are a lot of us, more than most folks realize. We frequently stay closeted … partly because we may lack the physical energy or emotional stamina to brazenly insert ourselves into the activist communities that dislike us. — Lori Adorable
It is no longer acceptable to maintain a barrier between conversations about the positive potential of the choice to do transactional sex and the injustices many people face when they do sex work because of circumstance or coercion. To do so is to maintain a class divide that is wide and deep. — Audacia Ray
The truth doesn’t have a sound bite. It’s complex. — Hadil Habiba
In a comment on my last post, I made an analogy to abortion advocacy, based on a paper I read about an activist’s decision to talk about all the “things we cannot say.” Here is that paper, authored by Jeannie Ludlow. It’s a bit thick over the first few pages, but the analysis is worth it, in my opinion. Continue reading