Print media from 2008

{Begining with most recent}


Laws put sex workers at risk

If there's one thing that divides feminists, it's the sex business. On one side, you have those who regard the world's oldest profession as a form of slavery, which only desperate women would get into, or get forced into. They maintain that it victimizes all women because it makes men see them as sex objects, or worse.

On the other side, there are those – count me among them – who look at it as a career choice, and a necessary service. It has nothing to do with patriarchal structures because it probably predated any form of patriarchy – and may well outlive it.

It's the woman's body and she's free to use it as she wants, we say.

After all, nobody stops race car drivers from risking their lives for fame and fortune, thrills and chills. So why put the brakes on sex workers? Why criminalize sex – a perfectly natural act – when drinking, smoking, gambling and other vices are not a crime?

The funny thing is, prostitution is legal in Canada. It's everything that allows a worker to safely ply her trade that will land her in jail.

All of which results in exactly the kind of exploitation from which the sex police want to shield prostitutes.

"People have a moral problem with us," says Amy Lebovitch, interim executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC). "The media definitely play a part. They've created this view that sex for money is exploitative – but sex goes on every day."

So why should the religious right and righteous left impose their morality on sex workers, despite how virtually all the research indicates that sex workers' are put at risk by laws that cause more problems than they prevent?

This was the battle in San Francisco during the 2008 election campaign. Proposition K, which would have corrected the criminal approach to sex workers, while redirecting police resources to traffickers and pimps, missed passing by some 60,000 votes last week.

As for Lebovitch, she is no victim.

"I began in the profession because I wanted independent security," she tells me. "There are always going to be people involved in it for all sorts of reasons – to pay off debt, or to go through school or because they enjoy it. There isn't just one box you can put all us into it. I don't feel exploited."

This is why, last year, SPOC mounted a legal challenge to strike down three provisions of the Criminal Code: s.210, which forbids the keeping of a bawdy house, s.212 (1) (j) which makes living off the avails a prostitution a crime and s.213 (1) (c), which bans communication for the purpose of prostitution.

All week, sex workers, lawyers, academics, experts and the Crown have been duking it out in a closed boardroom at the Superior Court of Justice. The case will be heard well into next year.

SPOC says that barring bawdy houses prevents women from working in their homes, or sharing spaces with other sex workers. Not only is that a violation of their human rights, but it forces them into the streets.

Living off the avails means they can't be in normal, healthy relationships because their partners will be charged.

As for communication, to make a deal, women must climb into cars with strangers before they can safely assess the situation.

None of these laws, say the experts, have ever prevented the real problem – human trafficking. In any case, there are kidnapping, abuse and rape laws on the books for the slave trade.

In fact, the Criminal Code, as it now stands, makes it easier for traffickers.

"These laws create an environment where trafficked girls are prevented from going to the police because they're told they will be deported if they do," says Lebovitch. "If these laws are struck, sex will move from the underground into the open where people can see it as a legitimate choice."

All sex workers want is what all the rest of us working girls do.

Says Lebovitch: "We want to be able to live with partners. We want to have safe lives. We want our rights and freedoms."

Seems fair enough.

Just because sex workers do what they do, doesn't mean that they should get screwed.


Talking about a tough job
Decriminalize it, don’t legalize it, prostitute says

By DAN ARSENAULT Crime Reporter

The Chronicle Herald / Halifax

Fri. Oct 17, 2008

By handing out a nickel to about 120 people gathered to hear her talk, Valerie Scott said she’d turned them into pimps who were living off the avails of her prostitution.

As executive director of the Sex Professionals of Canada, the Toronto woman came to Halifax to speak Thursday night at the annual general meeting for Stepping Stone, the Halifax agency that helps sex workers.

She told the audience at the Italian Cultural Centre on Agricola Street that she identified with "saloon girls" from old cowboy movies when she was young and didn’t even know what sex was. After dabbling in it, she began a life in the sex trade at age 24. Now 50, she’s worked in Miami, Halifax and "way too short a period in Sydney, Australia."

Ms. Scott said Canada’s prostitution laws leave women at risk. They are ostracized by laws that prevent anyone from living off their earnings and they are usually afraid to tell police about any beatings they endure.

"Sexual predators know this and they take advantage of this."

She said legalized prostitution isn’t an improvement because it puts sex workers at the mercy of people, such as brothel owners or crooked cops, who could get their very expensive licences revoked.

She praised New Zealand and some Australian states for decriminalizing sex work. Because those workers are treated like business owners, they are not afraid to contact police and prosecute any violent clients, she said.

Valerie Scott, executive director of the Sex Professionals of Canada, speaks about her experiences during Step­ping Stone’s annual meeting in Halifax on Thursday. (PETER PARSONS / Staff)

After her speech, Ms. Scott gave a brief interview to The Chronicle Herald.

Herald: How do Canadian laws increase the likelihood a sex worker will be a victim of violence?

Scott: They ostracize us (and) it’s illegal to work safely. It’s illegal for us to network and to watch out for each other — to work together. Working together dramatically decreases violence (by having) other people being around.

Herald: Why don’t you like legalized prostitution such as in places like Amsterdam or Nevada?

Scott: They corral us in little ghettos instead of viewing us as a legitimate business. When you . . . view it as a vice, you end up at a very different place than if you view it as a legitimate business and part of a community.

Herald: How do you compare sex workers to the position homosexuals were in decades ago, whenhomosexuality was illegal?

Scott: Gay and lesbian people were viewed as morally inferior and (were) objects of contempt. It was illegal and that gave people licence to beat them up and deny them basic human rights. Gay bashing, in many quarters, was considered a sport and it’s not anymore. That’s because it was decriminalized and not legalized. Could you imagine if you had to get a licence to be gay and what if they were only handing out so many?

Herald: Tell me why you prefer decriminalization over legalization?

Scott: Legalization views sex work as a vice and it hasn’t worked out in places that have legalization. It’s very bad for the women. They don’t have basic freedoms. They’re only allowed to work in these little areas and in some places they’re not even allowed into the city. It’s as if they’re a package of cigarettes or a bottle of alcohol. We don’t see that as an improvement.

Herald: You’ve said you believe sex work can be a good profession. Why do you think that?

Scott: Because it’s about sex and money and those two things are good things. There’s nothing inherently violent about sex or about money. It can be a very good job. I choose my clients carefully and I’ve met wonderful men. I have a regular that I’ve been seeing since the mid-1980s and some marriages don’t last that long.


Sex trade workers call for decriminalization of their trade

JON TATTRIE, METRO NEWS HALIFAX
October 17, 2008

 

{photo: Erin MacDonald/Metro News Halifax}

{Rene Ross, the executive director of Stepping Stone, a non-profit organization that supports individuals involved in the sex trade, hosted An Evening with Valerie Scott last night. Scott is the head of the Sex Professionals of Canada, a group seeking to challenge Canada’s laws related to the sex trade.}

The head of the Sex Professionals of Canada called for the decriminalization of sex work last night, arguing the current system exposes sex workers to violence.

Valerie Scott, speaking at a packed Stepping Stone meeting at the Italian Cultural Centre in Halifax, said SPOC is launching a constitutional challenge to remove the laws used to prosecute sex workers.

“It is the laws that make prostitution a violent occupation,” Scott said. “I’ve been in sex work for many a year and it can be a very good job. It need not be in the gutter, it need not be violent.”

Selling sex is a federal matter in Canada and it is legal, but it’s illegal to live off the avails of such work, to solicit for sex work, or to run a “common bawdy house.”

Scott looked to New Zealand and parts of Australia, where sex work has been decriminalized.

“It’s a different world over there,” she said. Sex workers are protected by the police and courts, not prosecuted. She did not advocate legalization, which could lead to a costly licensing system and forced health checks. Decriminalized sex workers would operate like any other small business, including paying taxes.

“(Sex work) has been here for eons, and it’s staying,” Scott said. “People are afraid if it’s decriminalized, there will be a brothel next door and naked women on the lawn. It’s not like that.”

She said many women quietly sell sex out of their apartments and nobody has a clue.

“There is already a brothel on your block; you just don’t know about it,” Scott said. “We are your family — your daughters, your sisters, your mothers. Just because someone may have a moral problem with the commercialization of sex is not reason enough to make us a social punching bag.”


On the stroll

Sex work and fireworks at Homewood and Maitland

Xtra! Magazine / Shawn Syms / National / Friday, September 12, 2008

"I was surrounded by an angry mob," says Paul Hyde. He's talking about the night that 80 people showed up to protest his group, the Homewood Maitland Safety Association (HMSA), who stand at a Toronto street corner popular with trans sex workers and discourage clients from approaching the women. Hyde says the protesters asked him to speak, but they wouldn't listen to him. "They stood around me in a circle, calling out 'Hitler' and 'fascist' whenever I opened my mouth."

***

Controversy over sex work flared up on the streets of Toronto's queer village this summer. In one corner, a frustrated residents group who don't believe sex work should take place on their doorstep. They are facing off against street-based trans sex workers — many of them women of colour — and their supporters.

The sex workers are trying to make a living in a risky environment. The residents seek to get rid of them. They say they care what happens to these women, but that no one will work with them on a common solution. Many activists — some of whom don't even live in the neighbourhood — seem to see only class hate and gentrification greed.

This is no surprise based on some of the violent anti-sex-work rhetoric that's been flying around the blogosphere recently — which the HMSA officially denies any hand in, even though some online commenters have identified themselves as HMSA members. When the viewpoints and allegations on this issue diverge so widely, it can feel hard to know who to believe. Is there any room for common ground at the corner of Homewood and Maitland?

***

The Homewood-Maitland Safety Association says they've been misunderstood — and they want to set the record straight. They don't hate trans women or sex workers. But the number of women working on the corner has dramatically increased, they allege — bringing noise, bumper-to-bumper traffic and fights at all hours.

"This has been a corner known to transgender sex trade for a long, long time," admits Hyde. "But over the last 4 or 5 years, we found crystal meth has found its way to sex-trade workers' use. That kept them working longer, extending their hours.

"At daybreak, they were still on their corners, and kids on their way to the high school and public school were passing them. The johns were sticking around, too. Then drug dealers — guys on bicycles and cell phones — started hanging around," says Hyde. 

That's when things got violent, he says. "The sex workers would get into fights with one another." He says more and more women began to work on the stroll. "Where it used to be 2 or 3, it became 10 or 15. Last year it became 35 or 40. That's a lot of people working a single corner and its surrounding strip."

The HMSA's Michel Bencini says the neighbourhood has changed, and that condo owners just won't accept an active sex trade in their midst. "We can't turn back the clock — this area has become gentrified. It's just a sociological fact. The kind of upper-middle-class person who buys here has a very low tolerance for illegal activity." He thinks the sex workers should move to a non-residential area — such as Queen's Park Crescent. "There's even a place for the johns to park behind the legislature."

Both men are sympathetic to the situation facing trans women in sex work, and say their group includes trans women as well as both gay and straight members. The government's refusal to legitimize sex work puts both the women and residents at risk, they argue. "There should be a safe and legal red-light district," Bencini says, "just not in our residential neighbourhood."

Hyde says no one — from the city to the 519 — would answer their cries for help, so they were forced to take matters into their own hands. Sex workers he approached, Hyde says, just told him to fuck off.

The people who protested them just don't understand, according to Hyde. "They are passionate about human rights and they should be. But people supporting this activity do it from a distance. If they had it outside their doors, if they had sleepless nights, if they had this illicit activity happening in their front yard, and if that endangered their children or their spouses or their visitors, their sympathies wouldn't be long-lived."

By holding up signs and flashlights and standing near the women any time a client tries to approach them, the HMSA may have reduced the number of sex workers, but they've gotten a lot of bad press and haven't made many friends in the process. Why?

***

"Even if this group succeeds in getting rid of sex workers, they will just move to another residential area, and new sex workers will show up to replace them in this neighbourhood," says Laurel Ronan, who spent years as a Toronto-based sex worker and sex-work advocate, and was on staff at Maggie's, a drop-in centre whose main clientele were street-based sex workers.

Does she see any validity to the HMSA's concerns? If the issue is safety, Ronan says yes. "Everyone should feel safe in a community — homeowners, outdoor sex workers, business people — all people who are present in a neighbourhood have that right."

But residents groups themselves compromise safety in their aggressive focus on extinguishing the local sex trade, argues Ronan, who says she's dealt with many of these organizations over the years as a member of Sex Professionals of Canada. "When one side sees the other as not members of their neighbourhood or community and ostracizes them, I don't think any success can come of that."

"They may be willing to entertain hearing the other side — but ultimately they just want the sex workers to leave," she adds. She says if the residents group really cares about the plight of women selling sex on the street, they should expand their efforts to actively fight for decriminalization — and other things that would improve their situation, such as better job training, affordable housing and childcare. "There are so many gaps in our society. And we don't really like to look at those. We just like to look at the outcomes, we don't like to look at the cause."

Her advice for the HMSA? "Acknowledge that sex workers are members of your community and have as much of a right to be there as you do. Whether they work there, live there, or both — they are members of the community." That basic respect makes all the difference in the world, Ronan says. "Once you create to an inclusive space — through real dialogue — people start feeling like they are a member of that community, so they are less apt to do anything anti-social."

"Engage sex workers as fellow human beings, because they are. We all bleed the same colour."

***

Toronto is not the first place where residents have clashed over street-based sex work. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), a UK-based policy think tank, carried out a detailed research study on the impact of street sex work in different communities. They found that residents have a wide range of views on sex workers, from wanting to displace them from to offering them support and sympathy.

According the their research, communities are most likely to succeed in creating harmony between residents and sex workers when the city is actively involved in addressing public space concerns — a gap highlighted by the HMSA — and when sex workers themselves are directly, meaningfully and respectfully involved in developing solutions — which, as Lauren Ronan points out, is missing from the mix. As both sides point out, this issue is not going to go away, so this elusive cooperation will need to be forged somehow. If one group gets to enforce its desires on the other, there will never be a lasting solution.

***

A few days after I talk to Laurel Ronan, I visit a friend on Homewood Street. In the elevator on the way up to his apartment, a TV screen posts messages encouraging residents to sign up for the HMSA's street patrols, every Friday and Saturday night from 11pm till 4am. There are sign-up sheets in the management office.

Claude Mercure lives in a building where Hyde and Bencini told me several HMSA members also reside. I ask him if he's ever experienced any noise or other problems because of sex workers.

"If they were pushy or unpleasant, or if there were many of them, I might object to their presence. But I've lived here nine years, and it has never bothered me.

"I've seen them out at night, and they've asked me or my friends if we wanted 'a date' a few times," he says, adding that as a gay man he found this amusing rather than inconvenient.

He says he frequently spends time all along both Maitland and Homewood streets, and hasn't experienced the problems the HMSA describes. "I've never witnessed any altercations between sex workers and other people in my neighbourhood."

Mercure says the numbers of sex workers seem the same as ever to him. "When I see them out, which is always at night, there are usually about three. Often there are none at all." He did see the HMSA protestors on the way home once, though.

"I don't understand why they do this," he says. "I try to live and let live. I forget the sex workers are even out there as soon as they pass out of sight. I don't know why those other people continue to think about them. Maybe they object to the very existence of sex workers."

***

It's 1am on a Saturday night at the tail end of summer, and the streets are bustling. I exit my own condo building near the corner of Church and Carlton, where a handful of women in distinctive PVC outfits stand and advertise their services. Groups of gay men congregate across the street outside Zippers as hot rods and streetcars make their way in either direction. I walk two blocks over to Homewood and Maitland to see what the fuss is all about.

A humid breeze wafts slowly through the air, and I witness a tall, pretty sex worker bearing a slight resemblance to Donna Summer kibitzing with a colleague in a pair of overstated red leather boots. They turn around as another woman approaches. Short and dark-haired with a big white purse in tow, she could pass for a suburban mother from Woodbridge. 

"Look who's back working the streets," the first woman calls out, letting out a celebratory whoop. She high-fives her approaching friend, a bit awkwardly because of their difference in height. I wouldn't call her the quiet type, but she makes a lot less racket then the dozen drunken hostellers I pass right around the corner a few minutes later.

Across Homewood, a half-dozen queer twentysomethings hang out. I eavesdrop on their chit-chat, glancing across the street where three dog owners and their assorted canines are assembled. It looks like a pretty peaceful coexistence to me. If any of these people are protestors on either side — and it sure doesn't look like it — they have reached a curious détente.

I stay up as long as I can, scouting the streets from Jarvis to Homewood to Maitland to Carlton to Sherbourne and back again, looking for any trouble to be found. I exchange glances with the eight sex workers spread out on the various street corners along the way, but no one says a word to me. I think to approach one for an interview, but it suddenly feels rude to interrupt them while they're on the job.

A police car hovers just south of Maitland briefly. Two working women pass by without incident. The most drama I can dig up is when I pass a guy pretending to use the payphone at Wellesley and Sherbourne who's actually taking a piss against the brick wall. Startled as I walk close by, he says "Sorry, dude."

"No worries, man," I reply, and shuffle away, heading for my waiting bed.


Sex workers seeking decriminalization—and equality

By Diane Walsh / Website

Originally published in Victoria’s Lower Island News

July/August 2008, Volume 25, Issue #4, page 17

Vancouver—For as long as anyone can remember Canada’s hypocritical solicitation laws have been controversial. Prostitution goes unchecked for a time—and for one haphazard reason or another—the dusty law books emerge with arrests made selectively but with a biting vengeance.

“So who’d have thunk it?” Sex workers want to be able to work in their own preferred safe house and without the fear of criminal arrest—what a concept. Apparently it takes constitutional lawsuits in the works and activists coupling with sex positive women in sympathetic union groups to bring about change. Ontario’s hearing is already underway, with BC’s case still engaged at a research stage.

 The sex workers from Toronto are finally getting a hearing. As of May 5 th 2008, the Ontario Superior Court has agreed to hear the challenge to strike down three provisions of the Criminal Code s.210 (bawdyhouse), s.212 (1) (j) (living on the avails) and s.213 (1) (c) communicating for the purpose of prostitution. 

A public statement has been issued by Sex Professionals of Canada. S.P.O.C is the on-line society providing safety support tips to sex workers. “The act of prostitution itself is legal in Canada yet the provisions challenged in this application operate to deny sex workers safe legal options for the conducting of legal business. The applicants will argue in court that the combined effect of these three provisions violates s.7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving sex workers of their right to liberty and security in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice”.

Activist lawyer lan Young of Osgoode Hall is providing his legal services for the Ontario case pro bono. Having faced three years of court delays, albeit ready with documentation from 150 workers interviewed, it’s now time—Amy Lebovitch is taking the stand, along with Valerie Scott and Terri Jean Bedford. All three women plaintiffs are self-described sex workers but only two are S.P.O.C members [Lebovitch and Scott]. Sex worker safety is being claimed as a constitutional right.                                               

Lebovitch understands the more long-term legal strategy is that the Ontario and British Columbia cases will mesh at some point in the future, setting the stage for a bid to the Supreme Court of Canada. She explains very clearly neither she nor S.P.O.C. favour legalization of sex work. “The movement is toward exemption, not unlike the decriminalization paradigm operating in New South Wales Australia at this time”. No sex worker she knows wants legalization.

The problem is that decriminalization becomes portrayed as legalization. Legalization is viewed as an overbearing role of the state, as opposed to decriminalization, which removes specific sections of the criminal code pertaining to adult sex. The legal case focuses on the working conditions in which sex workers are forced to work under Canada’s current solicitation laws.

The gruesome Pickton murder trial caused a significant stir across the country. This has given impetus for sex workers to move on their political strategy. Susan Davis of Vancouver has been granted an “op-out”—as of early June 2008 she was allowed her safe house. Reports are Jamie Lee Hamilton ran “Grama’s Place” for a time in Vancouver as well. In parallel, in Victoria, Jody Paterson has been active forming a group interested in setting up a cooperative where a percentage of trade proceeds go to job option programs for workers wishing to leave the trade.

Member of Parliament Libby Davies (NDP, Vancouver East)—once a Vancouver city counselor—has for some years been instrumental in making the progressive case for changes in the law at both municipal and federal levels.  She has concentrated on questions such as, “What is the manner in which the sex worker is forced to do business?” and “What has been the effect of actively stigmatizing women [primarily] with archaic and irrational solicitation laws still on the books?” Davies has been successful in garnering support for proposed changes.  She put forth a motion in 2003 to do research on the sex trade. Over three Parliaments she and her colleagues managed to get the review committee reconstituted.   

Over two elections, a comprehensive report was developed and although members did not call for decriminalization, Davies says, “The language is quite significant. The report did not go as far as to recommend decriminalization—which is what I wanted—but it says that three parties believe that the state should not intervene or prohibit consenting adult sexual activity”. 

Jody Paterson—who still has her Friday column in the Times Colonist and who served a three-year term as executive director of P.E.E.R.S— has been an activist in this cause since almost before anyone even used the term “sex worker” in public discourse.  As a first step, progress could entail refraining from using loaded words such as, “whore” or prostitute” [sic], which, in itself, may convey unwittingly an opposing and resentful view of anyone working in the trade.  Paterson is now, known for putting pressure on the labour movement to take up the safety for sex workers’ cause, and getting behind any initiatives which could help to move toward addressing the working conditions of sex workers. To date albeit no union has actually agreed to get out there and start mobilizing for the labour rights of sex workers. Maybe the time will come.

Apparently, the unions flagged for support by Jody Paterson have—according to Libby Davies—entered the dialogue. “I know Susan [Davis] has met with the BC Federation of Labor on what it is like to be in a union…There was a big talk among members about the need to assert—making sure workers sex workers are protected.  Of course it is quite controversial.  They [CUPE] are not going to organize people.  The union is apparently very interested in the in this issue. The women’s committee is somewhat divided, as it is in the in the feminist community”.

 Adding, Davies says, “I have not worked so closely with Jody [Paterson], but I have with Susan [Davis] who is doing a similar thing in Vancouver where they want the cooperative run by sex workers. I call it a safe house. They call it a brothel. The word is their choice and I have been very supportive of what they have been doing here in Vancouver”.

 Gradually, performing sex work may begin to lose some of its off-colour reputation—what little stride has been gained of late may be due in part to Jody Paterson’s crusade to lift the stigma—getting indoor workers’ working conditions documented and then coming out defending the need to establish a cooperative for those now working the street.

 Libby Davies is certainly flexing her political muscle as well now, advocating openly for decriminalization. Most organizations she’s worked with support the initiative. She’s met with various women’s groups within the BC Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress and says, with confidence, “I know three unions personally that had some discussion on this question to looking at it [sex work] as both a labor issue [and] as an issue of women’s equality”.  

 The blind anti-prostitution pledge so entrenched in the collective consciousness is said to no longer hold water. She adds, “Some feminists say sex work is inherently exploitative but I think that is an unrealistic position. The key question is to differentiate what is consensual adult behavior and what is harmful, as you would in any other situation. Using the analogy that there is violence in marriages, our response is not to ban marriage.”

 When asked what will happen to activists who set up safe houses, Davies says, “Maybe nothing”. Going on to say, “To me it is far preferable to have a place run by sex workers themselves; they have control of comings and goings; they have people close by to monitor what is going on. A common sense point of view is far preferable to what we see going on right now which is basically where sex workers are in incredible danger, especially the street sex workers”

 Many sex workers simply want to be left alone to operate independently if they so choose. Plaintiff Amy Lebovitch—who, remarkably, agreed to be interviewed despite a degree of risk from police authority—is one of these people. Strategically, she refers to her co-workers as “colleagues”—understanding that dignity should be afforded to all women in this trade and based on the notion that every woman be respected unequivocally.

Having the courage to participate in Ontario’s constitutional lawsuit is Lebovitch’s way of dealing with having been treated as somewhat of an outcast by society. S.P.O.C. has been a vital support resource for workers trying their best to keep themselves safe while working. Internet posting opportunities on S.P.O.C’s website brings greater safety for all. It may be that a worker finds she is wary of someone and now she has the option to post her concern—alert her colleagues. “Flag that John” who may still be seeking service from another worker. Further, she explains that “being picked up by the police” is something that concerns every worker, particularly those “working the street”. The effect of police activity against workers is that workers are inclined to work alone, rather than in groups of two or three, which would be much safer.

The implementation of sporadic street sweeping methods produces one of the major occupational stresses associated with isolated sex work. It wouldn’t/doesn’t have to be this way, if sex work was regarded differently in the Criminal Code.

“Sweeping prostitutes off the streets”—as policy—is but one aspect of law enforcement, decriminalization activists are seeking to challenge. Even some police officers agree sweeping as-a-stand-alone policy doesn’t solve anything. It’s simply not an approach that works as a comprehensive policy against crime.  

Enforcement officers may be less inclined to arrest sex workers if those officers were required to attend professional training classes exploring the social and safety effects of actively stigmatizing sex workers. The option to get out of the trade shrinks more so once visible stigmatization occurs. No one can dispute that it must be harder for a sex worker to succeed in leaving the sex trade and finding alternative employment once she’s marked with a criminal record.

The Pickton murders have shown what happens when our society turns its back on sex workers. There have been some changes in policy in Toronto.  For instance, there is now a female-headed unit in Toronto’s division, which promises “victim” response services for a sex worker in danger without the implicit or explicit threat of arrest. At least that’s what Amy Lebovitch has been led to understand. The police are attempting to establish better trust and rapport so that sexual rape and/or violence are more likely to be reported.

Sex workers should not be a segregated labour class having to work under inhumane conditions and on the wrong side of the law. The current situation is not supported by our Charter, which affords human rights to all people, including sex workers. They must be protected against harm, just like anyone else. Keeping sex work criminalized only increases the power of the organized crime syndicates.

Decriminalizing sex work is about women’s rights and ridding society of a sexual apartheid. Protecting women from unnecessary harassment and violence—women who happen to be women who work in the sex trade. Progressive communities—particularly the gay communities across Canada—are behind the decriminalization initiative. Some say sex worker activists have reignited the women’s movement for full equality.
Sex Crime
Activist says prostitutes need the protection of legal legitimacy

Prairie Dog Magazine / July 17th, 2008 / Regina, Saskatchewan

by Gregory Beatty

In nearly 20 years of writing, I couldn’t even begin to guess how many interviews I’ve conducted. A thousand?
Fifteen hundred? Who knows? And not once in that time, I’m proud to say, have I ever committed a criminal
offence. Until July 4, that is.

That day, I interviewed Valerie Scott, executive director of Toronto-based Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC). During a trip to Regina she contacted prairie dog about a constitutional challenge SPOC is mounting to have three Criminal Code sections declared unconstitutional: s.210 (keeping a bawdy house), s.212.1(j) (living on the avails) and s. 213.1(c) (communicating for the purposes of prostitution). Scott says the sections deprive sex workers of the right to liberty and security.

At one point in our conversation, Scott reached into her purse, pulled out a matchbook and handed it to me. Inside, I found a nickel. “Lawmakers generally frown upon overly broad laws,” she said. “A good law should be as narrow as possible so as not to end up with unintended consequences.”

Valerie Scott in Regina

{photo/Darrol Hofmeister}

Under a strict reading of s.212, Scott explained, by accepting the nickel (chosen by SPOC because of the beaver on it, she laughingly informed me) I could be charged with living off her earnings as a prostitute. Not a pleasant prospect, especially since the “avails” section has a reverse-onus clause. Instead of the Crown having to prove my guilt like in a normal trial, I’d be required to prove my innocence.

The laws [on prostitution] are as broad as you can imagine, and yes, there have been unintended consequences,”
she says.

“People ask ‘What about those guys with purple suits and big floppy hats’ — we’ve all seen those movies — ‘who are abusing sex workers?’” says Scott. “Well, they should be charged for whatever it is they’re
doing — extortion, forcible confinement, sexual assault.

“A lot of people have an opinion on the pimping law, but very few have actually read it. One part states that anyone who lives with or is habitually in the company of a prostitute can be charged and, if convicted, be jailed for up to 10 years.

“So I can’t have a lover or a roommate, and if I have a friend it’s dicey because they might habitually be in my company. Technically, we’re not permitted to support our children if they are over 12 because they can be charged.”

After 18 months of preparation by a legal team working pro bono, SPOC launched its case in Ontario Superior Court in May. Opposing them are seven Crown attorneys, along with lawyers representing the Christian Legal Fellowship, Catholic Civil Rights League and REAL Women, who have applied for intervener status.

On its website, REAL Women says this about SPOC’s suit. “If successful, [it] will result in very detrimental effects — practical, social, legal and health — that will undermine the social fabric in Canada.”

To press their case, SPOC has recruited dozens of witnesses — sex workers, social activists and criminologists. Among the last are Elliott Leyton from Newfoundland’s Memorial University, who’s an expert on serial killers, and John Lowman, who’s a professor at Simon Fraser’s School of Criminology.

Writing in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2005, Lowman said, “the prohibitionist lobby has managed to scuttle almost every attempt to introduce harm-reduction strategies for prostitutes, reasoning that creating safer working conditions would legitimize prostitution and sustain patriarchy. Prostitution, they say, hurts all women by reinforcing the ideology that women are sexual objects for the enjoyment of men. They assert that no woman would choose to become a prostitute if she really had a choice.”

But based on over 30 years of research, Lowman distinguishes between sexual slavery and survival sex — driven by things like poverty, addiction and debt bondage where the person has limited options — and a situation where a person with alternatives chooses to work as a prostitute.

“Rather than seeing prostitution as harming all women, I agree with prochoice feminists who argue that denying women control over their own bodies, including the decision to sell sexual services, denies them full and equal personhood,” Lowman wrote.

Prostitution itself is not illegal in Canada. But in 1985 [Dec. 20, to be exact, Scott says she remembers the
date well], Ottawa passed changes to the Criminal Code that cracked down on prostitutes communicating
publicly with clients. “When they brought in Bill C-49, we went to the parliamentary hearings in Ottawa
and told them what would happen. And they said ‘Thank you very much’, and passed the law. It wasn’t
two months after that that we began hearing about people being beaten up, raped, robbed.”

In his CMAJ article, Lowman recounted how people in the know warned the government that dire consequences would ensue. “Sadly, they were right. In British Columbia, for example, 11 prostitutes were murdered in the 25-year period before [1985], as compared with approximately 100 in the 15-year period immediately after.”

B.C.’s figure is inflated by Robert Pickton’s sickening exploits, of course. But by further pushing prostitutes into the shadows and hindering their ability to look after each other, Bill C-49 created the perfect conditions for predators like him to operate.

Rather than work to prohibit prostitution, Lowman agrees with prochoice feminists who argue that the
ultimate goal of social and legal policy should be to ensure that prostitution really is a matter of choice.

“The law kind of indicates to people that we’re criminals, and that we’re disposable,” says Scott. “So you
can do whatever you want with us and it’s okay,” she says. “It’s like the feds brought in a de facto death penalty for prostitutes.”

And when prostitutes are assaulted, raped, murdered and robbed, they often don’t receive the same consideration by police and the courts that more “upstanding” citizens do.

“When the murders were happening in Vancouver, we heard about the pig farm three years before Pickton was arrested,” says Scott. “In Toronto, we heard about this. C’mon, the cops in Vancouver must have known something. Instead, I remember reading quotes from cops saying ‘Well, these are transient women. They just picked up and began a new life.’ Wait a minute. These are women who didn’t have enough money to get a bus out of town.

Decriminalization VS. Legalization

by Gregory Beatty

Escort agencies, like those listed in Regina’s Yellow Pages, operate in legal limbo in Canada. They provide prostitutes a measure of security compared to working the street alone. But they also rarely report bad clients to police because they can be charged at any time with living on the avails.

Other jurisdictions treat prostitution differently. In the Australian state of New South Wales, for example, it’s been decriminalized since the late ’80s, while in Victoria prostitution is legal. SPOC champions the former approach.

“Legalization views sex work as a vice that needs to be contained and controlled, while decriminalization views sex work as a legitimate business that may need some regulation, but regulation that’s based on practical realities — not hysterical moral reactions,” says Scott.

In Melbourne (Victoria’s capital), she says, to have a brothel you need a licence. “There’s no fee. Except, there is a fee. You’re routinely turned down, so you hire a battery of lawyers and grease palms, and about $100,000 later, if you’re lucky, you’ll get a permit. Sex workers don’t have that type of money, so they don’t ever end up owning the brothels. It’s outsiders, often rather unsavoury people.”

Women who work in the brothels, says Scott, are exploited. “It’s 12-hour shifts. You have no right of refusal, so if a client wants a type of sex you’re not comfortable with, you have to do it anyway. That’s sexual assault.”

In addition, workers are charged exorbitant fees for things like clean sheets and food, and are routinely fined for things like having messy hair and being late for a line-up.

“Who in their right mind would work under those conditions? Well, in Victoria it’s women from Thailand. The Australian women, they all work illegally. They wouldn’t be caught dead in a brothel.”

In New South Wales, conversely, all that’s required to open a brothel is a basic business licence. At any given time in Sydney, between 70 and 75 brothels are in operation. Prostitutes are free to work where they want and even open their own brothels.

Prior to New South Wales moving to decriminalize prostitution, says Scott, “there was an insane amount of policecorruption. Each brothel had to pay police $1000 a week. Each street girl paid $200 a week. Cops were selling heroin out of the back of their cruisers.”

When a new Labour government was elected, she says, it held an inquiry. “It wasn’t like the ones we have in Canada, where inquiry is another word for coverup. Heads rolled. Cops went to jail. And the government decriminalized a whole bunch of things.”

Brothels are restricted from operating near schools and churches, but otherwise can open where they wish. And while they are regulated under the Disorderly Houses Act, says Scott, “the Supreme Court of New South Wales has ruled that you have to be a true nuisance.

“People can’t shut you down because they don’t like you.”


We All Scream for Happy Endings
Posted by Jenny / blogTO / June 28, 2008 

When I went to New York a few years back, my then-boyfriend and I went for a romantic Valentine's Day massage at a midtown spa. Aside from misplacing our reservation, the rubdown was pretty good - so good in fact, that both masseuses pulled down our underwear and began vigorously kneading our doughy bums. I distinctly remember looking over at him and mouthing, "What the fuck?"

I was anticipating the two women to tell us to turn over and whisper, "Would you like me to finish you off?" But sadly, it was a tease. That was the end of it.

Closer to home, although the market may be small, surely there must be places where a chick can get her own version of a rub-and-tug, perhaps a "rub-and-lick?"

I posted an ad on Craigslist's casual encounters and got about 20 responses in about five mins. However, the number of private business locations seemed to be few and far in between.

One person recommended a spa on Dixie Rd., south of the 401. "They have a lot of girls there. Give them a call and see." "My girlfriend used to get a female happy ending at a spa on Royal York, which has very nice massage attendants."

Another responder suggested visiting places that offer Tantric massage. "They can be very sensual. The point of Tantric massage is to keep you right on the edge, although slipping over can probably be easily done."

As for private house call services, there were tons.

"I'm a trained masseur who doesn't do it for a living any longer, but I do provide a massage with a happy ending. I'm an attractive professional man in my 40s who is too busy and looks for chill opportunities. I find giving massages relaxing and delightful. I'm 420 friendly, located midtown, single and respectful. I've been trained in a number of techniques (Swedish or traditional, deep tissue, trigger point, shiatsu) as well as Tantric practices, which I have both studied and trained."

"(Another massage therapist) taught me the techniques that worked and now I perform massages as a hobby in the downtown location. If you are interested in a man providing the massage, write me back and I can explain further details. I usually charge $25/half hour, and recommend a 1 hour or 90 minute session to ensure pure relaxation. If you are looking for a female therapist I am sure the above can help."

"My name is Gen. I am a very experienced Masseur. Swedish, aroma, and Tantric. I am a bisexual women, and do Take on serious clients who need a special touch. I have a great professional looking place, with a lovely set up. Are you seeking half, or 1hr? Maybe more? Name your budget."

"I'm looking for a female who wants to receive and experience a private/discreet safe and clean session of professional soothing body massage that also includes sensual erotic massage. Basically it's about you being completely relaxed, and getting pampered with body rub and arousing massage with sexual satisfaction."

"I know exactly what you are feeling all the massage parlours in the city and none catering to females. A few years back i tried to open one up but was unsuccessful as it seems there weren't enough female clientele willing to be seen walking in and out of such a place. So I can offer you private serves if you are interested. My rates are simple..Payment based on satisfaction. Rate would be $20/min you decided how satisfied you were and pick the rate! Let me know. I'm not a RMT but have worked in a rehabilitation clinic."

Sex Professionals of Canada spokesperson Valerie Scott agrees that the market for female happy endings is tight.

"Men are more socialized to buy sex," Scott explains. "Women don't tend to buy sex that often even with more disposable income. Let's face it - it's not difficult for women to find sex, there's so much free stuff around. You'll notice the same ads in NOW Magazine that cater to women don't stay around very long because there's not a market for them, so if you're looking to start that as a business, don't quit your day job."

From a women's perspective, Nina, who responded to my ad asking for help, said she met her masseuse through his Craigslist posting.

"The happy ending I got was an extended massage downtown followed by some mouth service," she said. "He took his post off I believe because he was getting too many guys lol...and he was looking for women. I didn't get charged because its a fair exchange...I thought I came out ahead but hey to each his own. He is located in the heart of downtown."

Myself, I love massages. No two things relax me more than massages and cumming. So why not put the two together? After one of those, you could probably sleep for a century (depending on how good it was.) I would be willing to pay for it to, treating it like any service.

Still, I wasn't sure if such massages were legal because the city does license some businesses listed as "holistic massages." But Scott said clarified that while there is a grey area with manual release (i.e. handjobs). A judge in Newmarket in Sep., 2007, declared manual and bodyrubs legal, but in Toronto, "it can be dicey." But for sure, oral and intercourse is illegal under the bawdy house laws.

"It wasn't an Ontario Supreme Court decision," Scott said. "It's very rare that (police) bust bodyrubs, but what happens is because they're licensed, the zoning people come in dinging them with fines for hours or fire code, all kinds of things."

So if you're a chick looking for your own happy ending, post an ad on Craigslist and you'll get quite a few responses from both guys and girls. Also visit some nail spas - Scott says you can get a nice French manicure with a side of orgasm.


Unifying against the organ donor ban ANALYSIS 
Sex workers, prisoners & drug users also affected

But you'd never know about these prohibited groups from the flood of mainstream-media headlines. "Sexually active gay men no longer allowed to donate organs," said CBC.ca when the story broke on Jan 7 and most queer press coverage has barely mentioned other affected communities.

Conversations among gay men have been characterized by anger and a sense of righteous indignation over a policy most consider problematic. But sometimes the discussions have a subtle subtext: "Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I automatically have AIDS. I'm not like the irresponsible gay men who get HIV. And why am I being lumped in with whores, druggies and junkies?"

University of Toronto student Lawrence Lucas started an online petition supporting the right of sexually active gay men to donate organs. Endorsed by Egale Canada and promoted via social networking site Facebook, the petition has garnered more than 3,000 signatures. Many signatories decry any association between gay men and others targeted by the policy.

"Just because I'm a sexually active gay male does not mean that I have HIV or live a high-risk lifestyle. Ninety percent of us are educated and normal," commented Clayton from Edmonton. "I don't understand how they can put IV drug users in the same sentence with gay men. This is offensive," wrote Nicholas from Anjou.

What does it mean when gay men distance ourselves from drug users or sex professionals? How does the response reflect the changing social status of gay men or attitudes toward people with HIV? And why is no one asking what the other affected groups have to say about the ban?

Twenty-five years ago gay men were just as stigmatized as other groups the media and medical establishments deemed high risk. In the post-Will and Grace era gay men have successfully fought for greater social acceptance, while others still lag behind.

Amy Lebovitch, a sex worker and member of Sex Professionals of Canada, is not surprised the media have focused exclusively on gay men. "They've made greater progress on human rights," she says. "Sex workers have a long way to go in terms of getting basic respect from everyone else."

Lebovitch says it's ironic sex workers are targeted by the ban. "Because of the nature of our work we're more conscious than most people about sexual safety and health. We get tested and provide education to our clients."

She thinks the policy will increase sex-work stigma. "If sex workers can't donate organs, this reinforces the misguided idea there's something wrong with us."

Connor McCollum of the Prisoners' HIV/AIDS Support/Action Network says prisoners are in fact at greater risk of contracting HIV because of the unsafe conditions in which they're forced to live.

"Correctional services deny people access to harm-reduction materials — needle exchange, safer-tattooing equipment. Even the things they're supposed to supply — condoms, lube, dental dams, bleach — they don't."

But that doesn't justify the outright ban, he says. Prisoners are aware of the new restrictions and upset about them, says McCollum. "People in prison with Hepatitis C need liver transplants — but other prisoners are forbidden to share a portion of their liver with a friend in need because of the Health Canada policy."

Few queer advocates have spoken out about prison issues in the context of fighting the ban, though. "The gay mainstream is more acceptable to the status quo" than more-stigmatized groups, says McCollum. "Some queers see elements of our own community as unsavory.

"It's a panic response — not wanting to be lumped in with sex workers or prisoners, even though many of them are queer," he says. "The irony is that gay men are fighting against the stereotype that HIV is only a gay disease, but want to separate themselves from people in their own community who are seen as diseased."

The urge some queer men feel to disassociate themselves from men with HIV might lead to greater stigma in the wake of the organ ban. "Some negative gay men believe those who have HIV deserve it," says Murray Jose, executive director of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation. "Internalized homophobia, other discrimination in the gay community, such as racism — all those things impact our tendencies to judge others.

"For example their own feelings of discomfort around being able to enjoy sex freely may lead some to perceive that people with HIV have more sex than they do, imagining the amount of sex led to their infection."

People with HIV/AIDS have their own organ transplant issues, Jose says. "Many people who've been on meds for a long time, their organs start to shut down.

"Long-term survivors experience kidney failure, cardiac arrest, heart disease, liver disorders — and face barriers left, right and centre from the healthcare establishment. Oftentimes they are denied transplants, told, 'It's not worth it, you're going to die anyway.'"

It's common for surgeons to refuse to give transplants to people with HIV, he says.

"There's no clear policy on where we fit into priorities for organ transplants and by eliminating gay men and other communities when there's already an organ shortage it's even more unlikely people with HIV who need organs will get them. It's a vicious circle."

Jose calls for a unified approach involving all affected communities. "Let's look at this issue holistically," he says.

Viruses, ethics & organs: a timeline

Shawn Syms / Xtra.ca / Tuesday, March 25, 2008

August 1986
Two US men acquire HIV after receiving organs from an auto-crash victim. The donor had tested antibody-negative.

June 1995
Baseball legend Mickey Mantle stirs ethical controversy when he receives a liver transplant after cirrhosis brought on by alcoholism, as well as Hepatitis C infection.

December 1995
AIDS treatment activist Jeff Getty receives a successful baboon bone marrow transplant. He dies 11 years later of heart failure at age 49.

December 1998
Alan Hext becomes the first person with HIV to receive a liver transplant, followed several years later by outspoken AIDS activist Larry Kramer.

September 2005
California enacts a law to prevent insurance companies from denying funding to people with HIV seeking transplants.

February 2007
Italian doctors transplant kidneys and a liver from a woman who later turned out to be HIV-positive after her medical records were marked incorrectly.

November 2007
Media reports that four patients in Chicago acquired HIV and Hepatitis C from organs harvested from a gay man. One says she wasn't made aware of the risk, sues the hospital.

January 2008
Health Canada admits to a policy implemented the month before that "excludes from consideration" the organs of men who've had sex with men in the past five years, current inmates or anyone who spent more the three days of the past year incarcerated, anyone who has done sex work in the past five years, and all nonmedical IV drug users.

Sources: CBC, CNN, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Reuters, Poz Magazine


Ryerson University and its neighbours

March 24th, 2008    

As submitted to The Ryersonian newspaper

By: Jeffrey MacNeil, Margarita Awe, Tess McPhie, Titus Lo, Virginia Lang

Ryerson University, located in the heart of downtown Toronto is the home to many students for eight months of the year. For many students this begins in September when they unload their luggage, say goodbye to their parents, and move into residence. During this time, the many individuals who call Jarvis and Gerrard their workplace are asked by the Police to leave the area temporarily. As the school year continues each student becomes familiar with what is referred to as “Hooker Harvey’s”, the place of business for local prostitutes or sex workers. Prostitution is one of the oldest professions and individuals from every walk of life can end up in this field of work. For some, they were nannies who came here to work but with no papers to return home, stay here and work as sex workers. For others, they are refugees who dance in clubs and walk the streets to survive. Sex workers are thought to be homeless, uneducated, and drug abusers however, this is not always the case as they can be students living and learning with us. Throughout the school year the students of Ryerson interact with sex workers at a distance, by calling them names and throwing rocks at them. However, what students are unaware of is that these prostitutes may be sitting beside them in a lecture or teaching a tutorial. Valerie Scott, the Executive Director of the Sex Professional of Canada (SPOC) and sex worker states that “some of her co-workers are Ryerson University students who take advantage of the flexible hours and good paycheck.” In addition, Amy Lebovitch, a spokesperson for SPOC, prostitute, and past student states that “everyone assumes we are uneducated.” A past part-time journalism instructor of Ryerson University, Gerald Hannon, was fired once his other profession, a sex worker was revealed.        

STIs, drugs, and jail are not the only the issues faced by sex workers. Violence is presumed ‘part of the job’ but in fact, it is their most important health issue as confirmed by Valerie Scott and Rhonda Collis, a Community Development Worker from Peel Public Health. Each individual has the right to be free of daily rape, abuse, and murder including sex workers. SPOC states that the reason for the high incidence of violence is because of the current laws in place. Currently, prostitution in Canada is legal however, a sex worker can be criminally charged with activities associated with the profession. SPOC is challenging the Canadian Criminal Code to remove three laws: (1) bawdy houses (a.k.a. brothels), (2) living off the profits of prostitution (“the pimping law”), and (3) communication for the purpose of prostitution. Since these laws have been instated, Scott states that “there has been hundreds of sex workers either confirmed murdered or missing in Canada. That's an astronomical amount of women gone missing and this is really a direct result of the law.” A well known example is that of Robert Pickton, a British Columbia farmer who murdered twenty-six sex workers in the Vancouver area. Scott commented on the Pickton case as “it must be remembered that this horrific story is not an isolated phenomena.” Violence occurs for these women on a daily basis. “Women are forced to work alone — not in pairs, not in threes, alone — so no one knows what kind of car they're getting into … they are alone with someone and no one knows where they are. As a result of this, the body count is rising” states Scott.

In addition, when violence does occur, sex workers may be reluctant to report it to the police or seek medical care because they fear being charged and arrested. In particular, seeking help can be even more challenging for those sex workers who are illegally living in the country because they fear deportation. Shame or embarrassment can also play a role in preventing sex workers from finding the help that they need, especially for students and undocumented workers such as refugees. Coming to a new country is an isolating experience in and of itself with no family or friends and a new language and culture to learn. However, with a profession that is already isolated by society, accessing care and support is that much more difficult. Scott commented that once she disclosed her profession to a doctor at a downtown hospital, she noticed an immediate change in the way that he spoke to her and treated her. Another example is when a local sex worker reported a violent act from a client to the Toronto Police, in which the officer responded by saying “isn’t that part of your job?” The negative view of prostitution keeps the cycle of violence in motion as these individuals to turn to.

As Ryerson is located in the heart of downtown Toronto prostitution affects students, teachers, and our community. Abuse does not just occur between a sex worker and their client. It occurs when students throw rocks at them and yell vulgar comments. It reaches to emotional and verbal abuse that can occur when teachers or students bad mouth the profession. As Ryerson is a diverse community we strive to be inclusive by religion and sexual orientation, why should this not include this line of work? The student who cracks a joke about ‘working the corner’ could be offending a professor of fellow student. A professor could also insult a student while commenting on the profession in a negative way during a lecture. As a society, inside and outside of Ryerson, we need to open to eyes and minds to the profession of prostitution. Next time you find yourself at Hooker Harvey’s hopefully you will remember that prostitution is much more than just sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll!


Eight ways to revolutionize the sex industry
ACTIVISM / While homos have made huge gains, sex workers have been left out in the cold

Julia Garro / Xtra / Thursday, January 03, 2008

Regulation of sex has been at the heart of many queer struggles. From the decriminalization of gay sex to age of consent laws to policing of bathhouses we've fought for the right to fuck who we want, when we want and where we want. At various points in the sexual liberation movement sex workers were seen as natural allies to queers, folks who were also fighting against moralizing conservatives who tried to tell them what they were and weren't allowed to do with their bodies. But while homos have made huge gains in the last few decades sex workers have been left out in the cold.

"Where sex work is today in Canada reminds me of where gay and lesbian rights were here in Canada circa 1965 when it was illegal to be gay or lesbian," says Valerie Scott, executive director of Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

"If a person was gaybashed in 1965 they weren't going to go to the police. They weren't going to risk trying to take someone to court for it. If someone was denied employment or housing there was nothing they could do. If they were ostracized by their families there were no supports in place.

"People did form relationships but they lived together very carefully and in constant fear of being found out. That's where sex workers are today."

Although prostitution is not illegal in Canada many sex workers don't report crimes against them for fear of being charged under laws that criminalize the business of prostitution, some of the same laws that have been used in the past to target gay bathhouses.

So what will it take to get sex workers to a place where they are no longer the targets of violence, discrimination and contempt, but rather workers offering a valued service? Here are eight ways activists are working to promote the rights of sex workers and what you can do to help.

RETHINK SEX

What separates sex work from other types of work is morality.

"We pay for everything else," says Toronto sex work activist Wendy Babcock. "We pay for people to talk to us, we pay for people to touch us, like massage therapists, but as soon as you get to this one area it's illegal. It's so ridiculous. Add sex and it's exploitation and abuse."

"Everyone knows that sex is a commodity but people can't seem to admit it," says Scott, adding that accepting prostitution won't lead to the collapse of society any more than legalizing same-sex marriage did. "Nothing bad will happen to civilization, to society. Lightning bolts won't strike the sidewalk, earthquakes won't happen. We won't have a plague of locusts.

"Commercial sex will do nothing to erode love. It'll do nothing to erode any kind of relationship. It hasn't since the dawn of humanity and it won't if we just admit that sex is a commodity."

And before we queers get too smug it isn't just straight prudes who get squeamish about sex work.

"Queers are more likely to question dominant norms around sexuality," says Chanelle Gallant, sex work activist and former manager of sex shop Good for Her, "but queers often give lip service to sex workers and that support basically ends at the bedroom. People are willing to politically support sex work but they may be uncomfortable when it comes to dating or sleeping with someone who's a sex worker."

"I don't think the majority of mainstream gay guys look fondly on sex work," says former sex worker and Goodhandy's coowner Todd Klinck. "These are guys who openly or with some sense of shame go to bathhouses regularly and do all sorts of sexual things that mainstream society would frown upon but I still think they'd look down on sex workers. There's a weird double standard about it and I think it's just basic socialization. It's just that they haven't thought about it yet."

Action: Think about your own attitudes toward sex work.

STRIKE THE LAWS

Having sex for money in Canada isn't illegal, nor is paying someone for sex. Yet there are laws that make it near impossible to engage in sex work both safely and legally (see sidebar).

"The thing that would have the biggest effect on sex work in Canada probably would be a change in the laws," says sex worker and Pink Triangle Press board member Gerald Hannon. "Attitudes are important but they would follow if we as a community decided to change the laws."

"Sex workers are caught in these terrible contradictions as a result of these laws," says NDP MP Libby Davies. "It's just such a hypocritical situation and it creates a very dangerous situation.... You can't be above board. You're always at risk of facing persecution and violence.

"It's society's denial that sex work exists and that we have these archaic laws that don't work. Not only do they not work, they're harmful."

So how do we repeal the laws? Like changing the laws around queer rights there are two options: the government or the courts. There are currently two constitutional challenges of the sex work laws working their way through the courts. As for changing the laws through an act of parliament there's not a lot of optimism.

"People realize the status quo is a complete failure and are looking for a different approach," says Davies, "but you won't get many elected representatives who want to take this on. It's not seen as the most electable issue."

Action: Make sure MPs in your riding know that you want to see the laws repealed. Donate to organizations challenging the sex work laws (SPOC in Ontario; Sex Workers United Against Violence in BC).

TREAT SEX WORK AS WORK

While sex workers' organizations across the country are campaigning to see sex work decriminalized, some states have gone the route of legalization instead. Legalizing sex work means instituting regulations that treat prostitution as a vice, as opposed to decriminalization which treats it like work.

"Legalization views prostitution as a vice that needs to be heavily contained and controlled," says Scott, adding that under legalization systems sex workers are registered, subject to exorbitant licensing fees, vice taxes and mandatory health checks and may be told where, when and how to work.

"You ask yourself who in their right mind would work under those circumstances?" asks Scott.

Under decriminalization sex workers are allowed all the labour-related rights and freedoms as any other worker. At present only New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia have decriminalized sex work.

"A decriminalization position emphasizes the labour rights, health and safety rights, and human rights of sex workers," says York sociology professor Deborah Brock who has published extensively on sex work. "It recognizes their ability to implement standards for the self-regulation of their trade, including forming professional associations governed by codes of conduct, rights and responsibilities, and to form or join trade unions so that they may collectively bargain the conditions under which they are prepared to work."

In other words it takes the stigma out of sex work.

"If I declare $200 because I consulted with a hair salon owner about how she should develop her website I didn't have to give that kind of detail to the government, it's just $200 income. I'm a self-employed person," says Klinck. "If someone paid me $200 to beat them it's the same thing."

There are many other employment-related issues that present problems for sex workers, including paying taxes and writing resumés.

"We should be able to pay taxes, to be able to put money into retirement funds without having to hide it," says SPOC's Amy Lebovitch. "To be able to get benefits, to be able to organize a union if that's what people would like."

Action: Support the decriminalization of sex work over legalization.

STOP POLICING SEX WORK

With the current court challenges expected to take at least four years to wend their ways through the legal system it's up to local police forces to stop laying sex work-related charges in the interim.

"People can appeal to the police boards because they do have discretion," says Tamara O'Doherty, a member of First, a BC-based feminist organization created to support the decriminalization of sex work.

In Vancouver, where the public is still reeling from the realization that at least one serial killer had been murdering sex workers unchallenged for so long, there are several initiatives underway to keep sex workers safe _ initiatives that include selective policing.

"Vancouver is setting up a safe house that would be run by sex workers themselves," says Davies, comparing the project to marijuana compassion clubs or Vancouver's safe injection site where "police know it's there but don't rush in and shut it down because they see it as preferable. That's a way to get around laws as they are now."

The would-be safe house, or cooperative brothel, is a project of Vancouver's Prostitutes Alternatives Counselling and Education Society.

"What we have to do is go to the federal government and apply for amnesty from the Criminal Code," says Susan Davis, a spokesperson for the society, adding that a member of parliament will need to bring the bill forward.

Vancouver is in a unique situation. "We've just had a trial here, we've got the Olympics coming," says Davis. "There's a lot of pressure for gentrification of the downtown east side." But she adds that cooperative brothels could work all over the country.

"This isn't a localized problem," she says. "It just seems like Vancouver is the place where they try new things. I'm in contact with sex workers across the country and the situation is no better."

There is also a push in Vancouver for a moratorium on charges related to the communicating law, which makes it illegal for sex workers or their clients to discuss a transaction in public.

"Obviously the RCMP isn't going to jump on board with that but local agencies might be able to," says O'Doherty.

Action: Demand that your local police stop laying charges for sex-work related infractions or any other morality-based crimes.

WORKING ON IT.

{Sex work activists Valerie Scott, Keisha Scott, Chanelle Gallant and Wendy Babcock. (Paula Wilson) }

END VIOLENCE AGAINST SEX WORKERS

Like queers who pick up strangers for sex, prostitutes are often blamed for the violence that is perpetrated against them. This is compounded by the fact that sex workers can be charged if they report having been assaulted or robbed while engaging in prostitution.

"Right now with a woman working alone out of her apartment if she gets a bad client she's terrified to report that to the police for fear that she's the one that will be arrested and charged with keeping a common bawdy house," says Scott.

"No other woman has to worry about being charged for reporting a rape," says Babcock.

But in Toronto there is a way for sex workers to report crimes against them without being charged. Since January 2007 the special victims section within the sex crimes unit has worked exclusively on assaults against sex workers.

"There's the belief that if you call the cops we're going to do you for bawdy-house [charges]," says Det Wendy Leaver of the special victims section. "That's not our mandate."

The section has its own 24-hour number as well as an anonymous bad date hotline, which has seen nine convictions so far.

"I think the courts in Toronto and the judges that we deal with so far do not seem to differentiate that the person is a sex worker," says Leaver. "That seems to have no effect on the decisions as maybe you'd think that it would and that maybe it has in the past."

Weaver says investigating crimes against sex workers stops them from being quite so marginalized.

"People say, 'Why bother? They're putting themselves in harm's way,'" says Leaver. "I say don't be ridiculous. They're selling a service. They're not selling their bodies. My idea is that sexual assault is not an occupational health and safety hazarard. It isn't. It's a violent crime punishable by law.

"If we could get police services across this country to give more man power and resources and education, to invest and dedicate to these services against assault against sex workers we wouldn't have to devote so much to homicide."

Action: Report crimes against sex workers. If you're a sex worker and not in an emergency situation call the special victims section at (416) 456-7259 (Toronto). The section's anonymous bad date line is at (416) 808-0000. (Toronto)

OFFER OUTS

Many people, men and women, choose to become sex workers. Others fall into it out of necessity or are forced into it. Not everyone recognizes the difference.

"I would say the conflation of sex work with human trafficking or sex trafficking is a huge barrier to talks around supporting sex workers," says Keisha Scott, administrative coordinator at Maggie's, a community service project for sex workers in Toronto. "I've found many times in different talks what happens is the conversation moves into the area of human trafficking or child prostitution which takes away from what we're talking about which is adult sex workers, those who are in the trade consensually."

Helping those who want to get out of sex work without stigmatizing those who want to stay means offering nonjudgmental support services and employment programs.

"There are women in this business that are not here willingly and I think that retraining programs help with finding other meaningful employment, meaningful underlined, should be in place," says Valerie Scott. "It shouldn't be about what an abused and morally bankrupt person you are. If you want to work in another line of work it should be, 'Let's help you train for that other line of work.'"

"The fact that they're getting into it not out of choice is bad enough," says Klinck. "Doing any job that you really don't want to do is not good. But when you have the weight of society saying it's illegal and you're dirty and awful and depraved and you're going to get diseases and die it adds to people's lack of self-worth and that's really not going to help people."

In addition to programs to get unwilling workers out of the sex trade it's necessary to provide services to stop people from getting there in the first place.

"Until poverty is eradicated we're always going to have this situation arising," says Davis. "As a society our decision is whether we choose to allow people to die or work with dignity and safety."

"I really think the government needs to step up and take care of these kids if they really want to reduce child prostitution," says Babcock. "People used to come up to me when I was 15 and say, 'You've got to get out of prostitution,' and I'd say, 'Well, are you gonna take care of me? Are you gonna provide me with shelter?'

"Prostitution is not the issue. The issue is what got these kids on the street in the first case. These things often get overlooked."

Action: Demand that politicians implement nonjudgmental employment programs and support antipoverty initiatives in general.

COME OUT AS A SEX WORKER

Although street sex work is the most visible the majority of sex work takes place indoors, out of the public eye.

"People have to realize that right now there probably is a brothel on their block they just don't know it," says Valerie Scott. "Practically every street in Toronto has at least one woman or every apartment building has one woman working alone out of her apartment discreetly."

Sex workers are everywhere and chances are you know a sex worker, whether you realize it or not.

"I'd like to see sex work come out of the closet," says Babcock. "For people to be able to say, 'I'm a sex worker,' and not be ashamed of it. I'd like people to be able to say it and it not be such a big deal or have it looked down upon."

"I think sex workers coming out is necessary," says Klinck. "The mass media stuff and the sitcoms puts it on an understandable social context but once you have mothers saying, 'Yes, my daughter's an escort' or 'My daughter's a prostitute' that's a lot more grassroots and that'll affect other people."

"I think it would go a long way also to educating people in general," says Valerie Scott. "[Coming out as a sex worker] is something that a lot of people could and should do but I think they're terrified. There's the fear of losing their family, being ostracized. It takes a lot of guts to do it.

"Anyone that wants to, if they want to be able to talk circles around the arguments that their families want to throw at them, give SPOC a call and we'll help you."

Action: Think about what you can do to make it easier for the sex workers in your life to come out to you. If you're a sex worker, consider coming out to friends and family.

PAY FOR SEX

It's impossible to value sex work without letting go of assumptions and judgments about people who pay for sex.

"Some of it has to do with ego," says Klinck. "The sort of thing where guys say, 'Well, I wouldn't have to pay for it,' so they've got that attitude that those who pay for it are doing it because they have no choice, because they're undesirable, whereas that's not always the case."

People pay for sex for many reasons and under many circumstances. For some it's an easy outlet, one that, like the bathhouses, allows for sex without strings attached. For others it's a way to satisfy sexual desires that they might be hesitant to explore with a partner or where their partner just isn't interested.

"Everyone's got their own value on sex and their own needs for sex and a lot of times long-term partners aren't going to be in synch," says Klinck. "It's probably more rare for them to be in synch in a long-term relationship.

"Seeing sex workers could be seen as therapeutic in those cases. Wives and husbands will support each other for seeing massage therapists or for seeing a chiropractor but they will ignore the benefits they might get from seeing a sex worker."

While there are problem clients who try to take advantage of sex workers' marginalization, anecdotally they are the minority.

"Ninety nine point nine percent of clients are good men," says Valerie Scott. "These guys don't come from a shuttle from Mars every night and leave before sunrise. They're your fathers, they're your brothers, your physician, the guy that owns the grocery store.

They are everyone and they're fine people and they shouldn't be stigmatized for buying sex."

Recognizing the clients as part of the solution to the stigma against sex work is key to change.

"If we had people saying, 'I feel I have a right to purchase sexual services,' my God that would help because lord knows thousands of them are doing it," says Gallant. "It would be lovely to see clients participating in the decriminalization movement. It would be so thrilling."

Action: Pay for sex and become involved with the decriminalization movement as a client.

***

Julia Garro is a former sex worker and Xtra's associate editor.


SEX PROFESSIONALS OF CANADA
Toronto-based political and social group for sex workers and allies.
Spoc.ca

MAGGIE'S
Toronto's community support project for sex workers.
Maggiestoronto.ca

FIRST
A national BC-based feminist coalition to support decriminalization.
First.vcn.bc.ca

LEGAL LIMBO

Julia Garro / Xtra / Thursday, January 03, 2008

Although it isn't illegal to sell sex for money in Canada sections 210 to 213 of the Criminal Code make it damn near impossible to practice sex work both safely and legally.

The bawdy-house provisions make it a criminal offence for anyone to own or operate a common bawdy-house or to be found in a common bawdy-house (section 210) or knowingly transport another person to a common bawdy house (section 210). Although a bawdy house is usually interpreted to mean a place where prostitution takes place bathhouses and their patrons have been charged under the bawdy-house laws as recently as 2002. The effect of these laws is to make it illegal to work in a regular location and with other sex workers as well as to employ security or drivers to ensure their safety.

Section 212 targets pimps by making it illegal to influence another person to become a sex worker or to force them to work. Part 1j of this law makes it illegal for anyone to live off the avails of a sex worker which puts anyone in the regular company of a sex worker, like a roommate or romantic partner, at risk of criminal charges.

The communicating provision (section 213) makes it a crime for anyone, sex workers or clients, to publicly discuss an exchange of sex for money in a public place. According to Statistics Canada 93 percent of prostitution convictions were on communicating charges. To avoid charges sex workers often work in secluded areas or meet clients in private places at a detriment to their personal safety.