More #c36 advice for sex workers

This is a follow-up post to my previous one entitled “Advice for Sex Workers: Don’t talk to strangers.” In that post, I discuss a quote from a policing agency in response to assaults on escorts attending out-calls (where a sex work goes to a client’s house as opposed to hosting calls at a secure location). The quote indirectly suggested that the reason sex work is risky because sex workers are going to strangers’ houses. But what the quote inadvertently does, however, is that is agrees that out-calls are risky and out of the two options available to sex workers, out-calls versus in-calls, it is the risker of the two.

In the Bedford decision, Chief Justice wrote that third party violence or violence of johns does not negate the role of the state in making prostitutes vulnerable to violence. Within the context of Bill C-36, the only non-criminal way to do sex work would be criminalized and sex workers would be forced to make riskier and more harmful decisions about how they operate. In other words, the inherent risk of going to outcalls does not negate the state’s role in making sex workers vulnerable to that risk.

With the above stated, advice for sex workers within the context of C-36 would be (broadly speaking), “Don’t talk to strangers.” Section by section?

The bawdy house section? Don’t go to strangers’ homes and don’t invite strangers into your place.

The communication section? Don’t talk to strangers and don’t let strangers talk to you. 

The advertising section? Don’t let strangers contact you and (again) don’t let strangers talk to you.

The purchasing of sexual services provisions? Don’t let strangers give you money… basically.

While all this seems like good advice for sex workers (#sarcasm) to avoid risky or harmful situations, this isn’t the only advice that would come out of the Bill.

From MacKay’s presentation at the JUST meetings about prostitution, we are introduced to the government’s position on prostitution. It can be summed up as the following:

  • Prostitution is an underground activity
  • Prostitution is inherently violent
  • Prostitution and human trafficking are intricately connected
  • Prostitution is associated with organized crime[1]

MacKay also admits that there are no statistics given the underground and elusive nature of prostitution. So we aren’t really sure what he knows about prostitution if there are no statistics and if it is so elusive and hidden.[2] But that’s beside the point.

From other sources, we are told that other sex work-related situations (working in a massage parlour and working in an agency) or other types of sex work (like stripping or more generally anyone in the adult entertainment industry which is pretty fuckin broad) are also connected to human trafficking.[3] The RCMP characteristics of human trafficking victims present a theme and more concisely, this theme can be phrased as, “Don’t trust friends or boyfriends.” This isn’t the first time that I have discussed findings about human trafficking from the RCMP.

But this isn’t about the RCMP’s reports. This post is about this theme of focusing on friends/boyfriends of those who work within the sex trade.

Based on reports from the RCMP, it can be concluded that the RCMP views all sources of sex work as sources of human trafficking—stripping, agency work, parlour work, independent work. This is troublesome and rightfully so because it assumes that even people that a sex worker may trust faces risk of criminalization. Yes, some friends/boyfriends are not good people but should we assume that all sex workers’ friends/boyfriends (and others close in their lives) are a threat to their safety and well-being?

In the RCMP link cited above, the following are some additional characteristics that point to friends/boyfriends of those who work in the sex trade:

  • In defining sexual exploitation (as a form of human trafficking), the RCMP writes, “Most or all of the money is controlled by their pimp/boyfriend/trafficker.”
  • The RCMP further highlights that potential victims are recruited through potential (pretend) boyfriends.
  • These potential/pretend boyfriends then are able to recruit their victims because of our “hyper-sexualized” society where similar messages are disseminated to potential victims through television commercials, the internet (namely, social media), music videos and music lyrics!
  • Sooooo…don’t let your children watch television, use the internet or watch music videos or listen to music because….TRAFFICKERS! [4]

Additionally, the RCMP tells us (as taken directly from their site) that:

  • Many traffickers prey on victims who are looking for the promise of a better life, a job opportunity or a romantic relationship.
  • [Victims may] not know they are being victimized because they have a relationship with their trafficker – it could be their boyfriend or friend;
  • [Victims may] not appear to need assistance because they have a place to live, food to eat, nice clothes, medical care and even a “paying job”;[5]

If there is no distinction between different kinds of sex work (that is to say, all forms of sex work are exploitative), then it follows that there is no distinction between sex work and human trafficking. However, these statements, especially ones from MacKay, that prostitution and human trafficking are intricately connected fail to take into consideration other kinds of human trafficking. Although the RCMP distinguishes between different kinds of human trafficking, it still attempts to link all forms of sex work as sexual exploitation by literally naming all forms of sex work as being connected to human trafficking.

So what would the advice from the RCMP look like for sex workers? Don’t trust your friends or your boyfriends (let alone trusting anyone in your life).

Even though this may seem outlandish and out there, the theme of boyfriends/friends (even spouses) becoming potential pimps is embedded within the narrative surrounding Bill C-36 and also human trafficking narratives in general.

Together, this post and my previous post, the advice for sex workers would be summarized as: Don’t talk to anyone (Don’t talk to strangers and don’t talk to people you may trust).

So you got that—irresponsible sex worker—you don’t talk to anyone, mmkay?

These narratives, that sex work is inherently violent because of johns (strangers) and pimps (boyfriends/friends), call attention to an issue regarding Bill C-36, which isn’t really being acknowledged. This issue is the further isolation and alienation of sex workers from society. The isolation and alienation of sex workers from society happens directly through the criminalization of sex work—sex workers are pushed further to the periphery because of false assumptions about sex work. Such assumptions include sex work is bad for society and bad for children which completely ignores the fact that many sex workers are mothers/fathers and are a part of society themselves, as persons, too. They are your neighbours, your friends, or even your family. These false assumptions are so embedded within these discussions Mr. Dechert even went as far to suggest that sex workers are lurking around playgrounds awaiting to approach their next client (Source). Really, Dechert? As the following quote demonstrates, it is hard to believe that sex workers can be literally found almost everywhere (schools, parks, playgrounds, daycares) but at the same time are “hard to reach” because of the underground nature of the trade? Remember, MacKay?

Source: Melissa Gira Grant

Source: Melissa Gira Grant

Dechert then suggested that Bill C-36 was giving the power back to sex workers (See image below). In fact, it does the exact opposite because it still criminalizes working outdoors; it still criminalizes working indoors; it still criminalizes strategies that reduce risks (ie-screening); and it still criminalizes sharing of resources among sex workers.


Source: Open Parliament

Dechert blatantly states that he does not want to make sex work any easier for sex workers (See image below). Dechert even states he isn’t even sure prostitution can be eliminated. I mean, isn’t that the entire goal of the Bill (again, see image below)? 

Source: Open Parliament

Source: Open Parliament

Yet, how Bill C-36 intends to make sex work more difficult for sex workers does so at the risk of criminalizing sex workers’ safety strategies. While Dechert and others who support the Bill claim to be only attacking the “demand” side, Bill C-36 also attacks the supply side (if we were to apply the demand/supply logic to these statements) by making it more difficult (essentially more risky and more harmful) for sex workers. Bill C-36 then makes sex work more difficult at the risk of sex workers’ health, safety and lives, which is a complete contradiction to Bedford.

I will also add that the decriminalization of sex work is never about making sex work easier for any one (client, pimp, trafficker or sex worker). The goal of decriminalization is for the safety and security of sex workers! In addition to all of this, sex workers, whether they are indoor or outdoor workers, will be severely limited in their ability to screen clients because clients will be less inclined to give screening information wherein screening, especially for outdoor sex workers, was a key to reducing risk and increasing safety—the heart of the Bedford decision. Like I said, Bill C-36 is making sex work more difficult at the cost of sex workers’ health, safety and lives.

Dechert is right about one thing: Sex work is not like any other business[6] because it will still be criminalized and the government itself will still benefit from the income of sex workers.[7] Certainly, however, sex work is nothing like using or selling heroin, where Dechert continuously makes reference to in his statements regarding Bill C-36 (Source)

In the end, Bill C-36 will increase sex workers’ risk to violence by alienating and isolating sex workers further from society through increased marginalization and vulnerability. The message is that Bill C-36 will help the victims but it does so by creating victims, which seek to legitimize the belief that prostitution is inherently violent. Bill C-36 also tells sex workers not to risk communicating with anyone (don’t talk to strangers) and to avoid having close relationships with others in their personal lives because those personal relationships risk being criminalized too (don’t trust your friends/boyfriends). Even though Dechert and others try to suggest that Bill C-36 distinguishes from those sex workers who freely choose to engage in sex work and from those who are victims, the government and others fail to distinguish the two from each other as they define all prostitution as inherently violent (Source). 

Again, the SCC said that third party violence and violence of johns does not negate the role in making sex workers’ vulnerable. Bill C-36 does exactly just that: it makes sex workers vulnerable to violence through further alienation and isolation.

[1] See previous post for citations

[2] See previous post for citations





[7] CRA has a special industry code for sex workers to use when filing their taxes which ultimately goes to benefit the government (who is exploiting who now!)

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