#c36 Advice for sex workers: Don’t talk to strangers

In a recent LFpress article entitled, “Escort assault stirs new law debate,” an officer is quoted as saying, “It’s very concerning because escorts, regardless of gender, go to places and meet with people who are not known to them. That in itself is a risk.”  What the officer is referring to is a recent incident involving assaults on escorts who went to a presumed client’s house.[1] When a sex worker goes to a client’s house or hotel room as opposed to hosting calls at her own location (an in-call), this is what is referred to as an out-call.

The problems with out-calls are highlighted by Himel J. in her decision. Himel J.’s decision reads, 

[338] In the report prepared for the House of Commons Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws, Dr. Maticka-Tyndale and her co-authors detailed some risks of conducting legal out-call work: [page428] it is difficult to assess the safety of a destination beforehand, the client may not be alone, exit routes may not be easily identifiable or accessible and prostitutes may be filmed without their knowledge. Some strategies to reduce these risks, such as hiring a driver or bodyguard, or meeting and communicating with a client in a public place beforehand, run afoul of the law.[2] 

The problem with out-calls are again highlighted by Chief Justice McLachlin in the Supreme Court Decision (re: Bedford). At para. 63, the decision reads:

[Himel J.] concluded that indoor work is far less dangerous than street prostitution — a finding that the evidence amply supports.  She also concluded that out-call work is not as safe as in-call work, particularly under the current regime where prostitutes are precluded by virtue of the living on the avails provision from hiring a driver or security guard.  Since the bawdy-house provision makes the safety-enhancing method of in-call prostitution illegal, the application judge concluded that the bawdy-house prohibition materially increased the risk prostitutes face under the present regime.  I agree.[3] 

The thing about the above LFpress quote is that it calls attention to two important issues within the C-36 discussion that are essentially being ignored. First, the LFpress quote highlights the problem with out-calls (they are unsafe as outlined both by Himel J. and McLachlin CJ.). Second, the LFpress quote admits that out-calls are unsafe. Yet, out of the two options to conduct sex work (in-calls versus out-calls) as emphasized above, it ignores the fact (as established in both court decisions previously cited) that out-calls are not as safe as in-calls.

But what if the assaults named in the above LFpress article occurred at an escort’s in-call location? What would a response from a policing agency look like then? Presumably, as opposed to condemning escorts for conducting out-calls, someone may criticize an escort’s decision to host at an in-call location. Instead of saying it is dangerous to go to houses of people that are unknown to escorts, the response may be to say it is risky to invite people unknown to an escort into their place. I must emphasize that replacing the fact that these assaults occurred during an out-call with a hypothetical in-call scenario are just that, a hypothetical. However, I must further emphasize that the message would very much remain the same and this message is that prostitution is inherently violent (as noted in Bill C-36’s preamble) because from this perspective, prostitution is unsafe regardless of location, in-call or out-call (which even goes to the extent of ignoring evidence by anti-prostitution campaigners’ very own gem of a researcher, Melissa Farley, that indoor workers experience less violence than outdoor workers Himel J. @ para. 353). 

The problem with the above LFpress quote and fundamentally, how the Bill will play out in the lives of sex workers reminds me of this very simple phrase we tell children all the time:

Don’t talk to strangers.

The above quote referenced in the LFpress article points to this simple piece of advice in a very indirect manner. The quote tells us that out-calls are bad because sex workers are going to strangers’ houses. So, in other words, sex workers: Don’t go to strangers’ houses. When applied to in-call locations, the advice to sex workers would look like something like this: Don’t allow strangers into your space. 

But what about the rest of the Bill? How would c-36 play out in the lives of sex workers?

Pivot outlines four sections of the Bill in their blog post entitled, “The new sex work legislation explained.” These four sections (as taken from Pivot’s blog) are below and what follows underneath each provision are advice for sex workers within the context of C-36.

Provision 213: “Stopping or impeding traffic and communicating to offer or provide sexual services for consideration” 

That is to say, don’t talk to strangers (even if they innocently ask you for directions). 

Provision 286: Prohibition against the purchase of sexual services: “Commodification of Sexual Activity”
s. 286.1(1): Obtaining Sexual Services for Consideration  
This single aspect of the law is similar to the Nordic model, in that it applies to purchasing or communicating in order to obtain sexual services.

Don’t let strange people offer you something in consideration for a sexual activity (I guess I should close my POF account and not let men buy me drinks or *gasp* go home with someone who I think is cute and is sexually enticing).

Provision 286.2: “Material Benefit from Sexual Services” 
The new provision continues to criminalize those who gain material benefits from sex work. This replaces the “living on the avails” provision that was struck down in Bedford.

So this means, you-the irresponsible sex worker-make certain you don’t give any strangers part of your income (To remind you of a few potential people unknown to you: taxi cab drivers, hotel employees, or the bar tender you tip as you sip your favourite glass of wine after a long day of work). Just don’t, mmkay?

Provision 286.4: Advertising Sexual Services 
The bill proposes to ban any advertising of sexual services

 Most importantly, don’t let strangers contact you and don’t let strangers talk to you.

The goal of C-36 is to “discourage prostitution” by attacking the “demand side” with the ultimate goal to abolish prostitution.[4] Fair enough, some people don’t like prostitution and some people hate prostitution, while others, like many anti-prostitution campaigners and the Conservative government, think it is inherently violent. 

By looking at these provisions more generally, however, the advice to sex workers, as taken from C-36 itself, would be, as stated above, don’t talk to strangers. But can we really embed the advice “don’t talk to strangers” in the lives of sex workers and legislation that ultimately affects their safety and well-being?

The SCC decision already stated that third party violence or the violence of johns does not negate the role of the state in making prostitutes vulnerable to violence.[5] C-36 restricts sex workers’ ability to conduct business in a very limited manner. The only non-criminal way to conduct sex work is by doing out-calls. Yet, as outlined above, the SCC already agreed that out-calls are the least safe option to conduct sex work. The SCC also said that, “Parliament has the power to regulate against nuisances, but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes. (para 136). C-36 also makes it more harmful for sex workers to conduct business by criminalizing other strategies that reduce risks in the lives of sex workers. By only allowing sex work to take place in a very limited scope (out-calls) and criminalizing other strategies that reduce risk, Parliament is regulating sex work at the cost of the health, safety and lives of sex workers. While c-36 assumes that prostitution is inherently violent, it also creates these harmful conditions, which then further legitimizes the message that prostitution is inherently violent.

In the end, C-36 says that sex work is bad because of the “strange people” sex workers let in their lives. So within the context of C-36, the advice to sex workers, in a very general sense, would be, don’t talk to strangers. Can we really tell sex workers, don’t talk to strangers? Why are we so consumed with infantilizing the lives of sex workers by giving them the same advice we give to children regarding the decisions, even if constrained, they make in their lives? Why are sex workers reduced to individuals inept at making their own decisions, even if constrained, in their own lives? 

As I stated elsewhere, if Bill C-36 were to become law tomorrow, sex workers will continue to work. People can think sex work as immoral and harmful. But if Bill C-36 were to become law tomorrow, it will then regulate against sex work at the cost of sex workers’ health, safety and lives, and that is unconscionable. 



[1] I say presumed because individuals who pose as clients to assault sex workers are not clients—they are just that, posers and these are the most dangerous individuals of all. Their intentions are harmful and violent.

[2] http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html

[3] http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do

[4] See Preamble: http://www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=E&Mode=1&DocId=6646338&File=4

[5] http://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/13389/index.do

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