[Trigger Warning: Violence]
Today was a hard day. I had a day full of classes (okay, not exactly full day of classes more like ended at 2pm and then I had to stick around for a couple of meetings). It was a busy day, nevertheless.
Aside from classes and these meetings, the Department of Justice also released their Bill entitled The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. You can find a direct link in the link provided here but I suggest reading the provided link here first. It is a much easier read.
This Bill works off the premise that it will protect the alleged victims from the alleged pimps, johns, and the big bad traffickers. It also assumes that consensual sex between adults is inherently violent and degrading. It adopts the “End Demand” approach to prostitution as opposed to the harm reduction model (ie/ reducing harms and making it safer for sex workers).
I was thinking today about what this means for sex workers and their families and friends. The Bill doesn’t just target the pimps, johns, and traffickers. It also points to further alienation and isolation from support networks for sex workers (which is really fuckin horrible because the industry was previously alienating and isolating under the old legal regime). I noticed a lot of commentary on this Bill and some interesting analogies on twitter especially from non-sex workers. It got me thinking about another analogy… Why Bill-C36 is like working at MacDonald’s (if purchasing burgers were criminal).
I have never worked at MacDonald’s but that’s okay because many non-sex workers who come up with their own analogies never done sex work either (and I say many because some non-sex workers might have been sex workers in their life at one point). So not having experiencing working in fast food doesn’t negate this analogy because I ate their burgers before too! That’s just like having sex and automatically becoming an expert on sex work!
First things first, the burger that MacDonald’s is selling, the act of buying it is criminalized (amongst many other behaviours associated with selling the burger—like where they can sell it, and how or who they can advertise to sell it). The whole objective of criminalizing the purchasing of burgers is to “end demand” of burgers. Stop your degrading burger cravings from happening again!
Note: Above burger is not an actual real MacDonald’s burger.
The first way MacDonald’s is like sex work is that not everyone wants to do it. Still, some people have to do it whether they like it or not—they still need to eat. And heck, I hear you get 50% off burgers at McDicks if you work there! Though that part isn’t like sex work because they still have to pay for their burgers at McDicks at full price.
But what if buying burgers at MacDonald’s was criminalized? And I don’t extend this analogy to all products being sold at McDee’s because sometimes people just want a big juicy burger to satisfy their cravings. In the sex trade industry, with this new Bill, it appears that it will just be targeting full service sex workers or sex workers that only advertise sexual services that are criminalized (not all sex work is criminal, like exotic dancing). This is an important point to make because not all sex workers offer the same services and not all services involve sexual services (like oral or full service). So you can equate prostitutes (and I use that term purely as a legal term) to workers at MacDonald’s—BUT only the workers that make the big, juicy burgers (you know, sometimes with all the extra toppings… mmmmm).
So you are craving a MacDonald’s burger, what do you do? On one hand, well, you go out looking for a MacDonald’s. The MacDonald’s doesn’t come looking for you—well okay maybe except those stupid television commercials and flyers that the postman delivers. Except now, the networks that air those commercials and the postmen that are being paid to deliver those flyers, yeah, they are now criminalized too! They are advertising those big juicy burgers and enticing you to buy those burgers! Bad, bad bad! We must stop that so that you stop craving those burgers! *poof* ALL MACDONALD’S ADVERTISEMENTS ON THE TUBE AND IN THE MAIL GONE!
But you know what, you still want that burger…
You then get into your car, knowing that there is a MacDonald’s out there somewhere that is selling that burger. Except now, the one thing about MacDonald’s is that they are never in residential areas (sometimes in smaller cities, no where near a school or a church). Within the context of this Bill, it would be criminal if you found a MacDonald’s in any of those areas (near a school or church) and purchased that burger to help quench your cravings. So instead, what you have to do is drive to the outskirts of town (let’s say) just to get that burger.
On the other hand, sometimes, people don’t crave burgers from MacDonald’s. Some people buy MacDonald’s just because they see it! The Big “M”! Nom nom nom nom nom! And sometimes people buy MacDonald’s just because they are about to drive by one. “Wait, turn! I want some McDee’s!” The availability of it all—the big “M,” the juicy burger… *drool* And actually, research by John Lowman indicates that the industry is not driven by the demand of burgers, it is driven by the supply of the burgers. No really though, John Lowman, a criminologist, has found that the clients of sex workers are not driven by their demand but the supply (or the availability) of services. So whether it is a craving, people are still going to be selling burgers at MacDonald’s and whether it is criminal to sell burgers at MacDonald’s near a school or a church, people are still going to be selling burgers somewhere. And people want to buy burgers for all sorts of different reasons—because they are craving the burger or they see the “M!” for example. And I mean, the fries and the drink that you want to buy that come with the cheeseburger meal, that’s okay to purchase. You just can’t buy those damn burgers!
You drive up into MacDonald’s and you know that the burger you so strongly want to eat (no pun intended), people are going to look down on you for eating it because the policy that says eating it (again no pun intended) is inherently violent and degraded to the person selling it. DON’T EAT MY BURGER THAT I AM SELLING YOU BIG BAD PERSON! Lol
Yet, the person selling the burger knows all of this—they know that the burger they are selling is a criminalized act. In fact, they know that working for their employer, MacDonald’s, and those pictures of the burgers all over the place…that’s criminal too! They know that they shouldn’t have children in the building and they know that anyone under 18 shouldn’t be working there and that anyone who is under 18 (or is believed to be 18) shouldn’t be even near another employee that is under the age of 18 years (that’s criminal too). So, only adults are able to work at MacDonald’s now. You then have to get rid of all the playgrounds and no more Happy Meals! And that darn fuckin burger, you still want it.
You walk into MacDonald’s and you notice that there are no advertisements for burgers—you see fries, salads, chicken nuggets, pop, muffins. But no fuckin burgers! So you quietly ask the employee taking your order, “Do you have any burgers for sale?” The employee doesn’t really know who you are but the employee knows that if they spend too much time talking to you trying to determine if you actually want just a burger or are some sort of predator that is asking for burger but want the whole fuckin menu without paying for it, they could cause some unwanted attention from the Burger Police. And nobody likes the Burger Police. The employee really doesn’t have any time to negotiate how serious your burger cravings are… the burger is sold anyways without even determining a firm price of the burger. The employee brings the order to you, and then tells you the price of your burger. You are upset! You did not expect to pay that much for that burger and now you want your money back. All. Of. It! You threaten the employee that if you don’t give back the money you paid for your entire order (not just the burger), that something terrible will happen to either the employee or at the place of business (MacDonald’s). The employee, out of fear that you will do something terribly bad, gives you back your entire monies that you paid for your order. That, or you just beat the employee and take the money too. Because you know that, with her working for her employer, her employer isn’t supposed to be selling those burgers and that she could lose her job if anybody found out.
After you leave, her employer is upset that you stole money or that you threatened the employee in order to have your money returned to you (even after you ate the burger). So then, her employer forces her to work longer hours and for less than minimum wage. And all of this: working longer hours and being paid less than minimum wage, it is violation of employment and labour codes/rights.
But that’s where this analogy ends.
For people who work at MacDonald’s, they do have access to rights, like the right to be paid minimum wage (because we all know if MacDonald’s could pay their employees less, they probably would), and these employees have recourse if they experience rights violations. Sex workers, when their work is criminalized (either the selling or purchasing of their services), they do not have any recourse for anything—violence, assault, sexual assault, etc. That’s why the decriminalization of sex work is important—it creates access to other rights that other non-sex work individuals have access too like labour and human rights.
I choose MacDonald’s because, in our society, it is a stigmatized job. The argument that the antis always bring up is, “Nobody dreams of becoming a prostitute!” And when I was growing up, I heard similar arguments for MacDonald’s (nobody wants to work at MacDonalds!). But you know what, some people do work at MacDonald’s whether they like it or not. The difference is that they can file complaints to address rights violations. Sex workers can’t … and that is because of criminalization. This will be the case under Bill C-36. It won’t help with accessing services, like health care, any better either. And if you are thinking this analogy is ludicrous, good job! That’s the Bill for you: it’s so ludicrous that it’s downright unbelievable!
Anyways, my final point is this: Instead of having everyone suddenly claiming to be a sex work expert, let’s just all sit back and let actual sex workers be the real experts on the issue. Just because you had sex once, doesn’t make you a sex work expert 😉
Lowman, John, and Chris Atchison. 2006. Men who buy sex: A survey in the greater vancouver regional district*. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 43, (3) (08): 281-296, http://search.proquest.com/docview/234926978?accountid=15115 (accessed June 4, 2014).
Although I recognize various gender identities work in the trade, I use the pronouns she/her because this Bill was aimed at “protecting vulnerable women and girls.”