Sex work is real work

Here is my ignitelondon.ca talk that I gave a couple of weeks ago. Video hasn’t been posted yet so decided to share the word copy of it 🙂 Enjoy!

Let’s talk about sex. Erin Konsmo, the artist who let me borrow her pictures today, suggested this title after I was not sure how to introduce the topic: Sex work is real work.

Currently I am at Western studying Criminology. I have a strong interest in issues relating to Aboriginal women (being one myself). I moved to London in 2006, went to Fanshawe in 2008 and graduated in 2010 from the Law Clerk program. Now, here I am today.

With the topic, I am here to help deconstruct the stigma that sex workers face and discuss the decriminalization of this trade. Deconstruct and decriminalization: the double Ds of sex work.

On September 28, 2010, Superior Court of Justice’s Himel ruled that Canada’s current prostitution laws violate the Charter of Rights and Freedom and should be struck down. Justice Himel decision stated that the current laws forced “prostitutes to choose between their liberty interest and their right to security of the person.”

This means that prostitutes, also known as sex workers, have to decide between their freedom or right to security as persons because of the current sections within the criminal code of Canada.

So what is a sex worker you ask? Carol Leigh coined this term in 1978 at a conference to remove the negative connotations associated with other labels. She defines sex worker as someone who works in the sex industry, and who actually provides sexual services as opposed to the management and staff of such industry.

Sex workers are diverse group. You have all probably come across a sex worker or knew a sex worker in your life but did not know it.

This stigmatization that sex workers face has become normalized within Western society. Stigma is defined as an attribute that reduces an individual from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discredited one; they are usually considered deviant, shameful; and thus, are avoided by those outside the stigmatized group.

The whore stigma, as pointed out by Gail Pheterson, is one of the most powerful tools for the social control of women. Two French sex worker activists,

Maitresee Nikita and Thierry Schaffauser, coined the term whorephobia which may be defined simply as the fear of sex workers. Those who exercise violence against sex workers see themselves as doing a service to humanity, and sometimes those who read about these violent acts in the media agree with the whorephobes.

This type of social control continues to normalize this type of hate and violence faced by sex workers.

An article released by FIRST (Feminists advocating for rights and equality for sex workers) in February 2011, pointed out the fact that $10 million dollars was allocated for missing and murdered women but not a single dollar was allocated to sex worker safety needs. It is with this knowledge that we must be reminded that Robert Pickton targeted sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown East side,

Further, according to a report conducted by Chris Bruckert and Frederique Chabot in collaboration with POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate and Resist), there are many intersecting marginalizations that continue to oppress and leave specific groups at a greater disadvantage. One of these groups are Aboriginal people. This report, dated December 2, 2010, highlights that Aboriginal people experience poverty at a much higher rate than any other group within Canada, and that the over-policing of this same group is well-documented. Aboriginal sex workers, as part of an already disadvantage group, may face discrimination for being Aboriginal and for being a sex worker.

The report also highlighted that issue of poverty is a significant variable at the middle of these intersects. However, it must be noted that not all Aboriginal people who live in poverty are sex workers and not all Aboriginal people, especially women, who enter the criminal justice system are sex workers.

As the report states, “sex workers are not poor because they are sex workers; they are poor people who are sex workers.”

High poverty rates, high unemployment rates, and well-documented cases of over-policing, decriminalizing sex work becomes important especially for significantly marginalized groups, like Aboriginal women.

Further, entry into the criminal justice system and facing a criminal record for simply being part of an occupational group can be detrimental to one’s freedom to make choices.

Individuals who work in the sex trade are social agents capable of making choices. Criminalizing their work limits their freedom to choose.

We must remember that sex workers do not ask to be victimized or criminalized as outcasts to society. They ask to be treated as equal and as persons with rights just like every other Canadian, including you and me.

When we commit to the same ideological values of whorephobes and contribute to the social stigma faced by sex workers, we commit to the alienation and isolation of this occupational group. Deconstructing the social stigma and addressing the issue of whorephobia is important for individuals and institutions within our society to properly address the issue of violence, victimization, and criminalization of sex workers.

I hope I was able to arouse some new ways of thinking with the double Ds of sex work. Remember, sex work is real work. Thank you to these organizations for the articles they written and reports they produced. My name is Naomi Sayers and I am from the Garden River First Nation

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