[TW] For violence against Indigenous sex workers.
Until the discussion around missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls begins to include the lives and realities of Indigenous sex workers, I will not be participating in any social media campaign because of whorephobia, stigmatization and criminalization.
Yes, I advocate for the decriminalization of sex work and yes, I am outspoken about this. But I will not be participating because of the personal attacks against me as an Indigenous woman and as a former sex worker.
Some of these personal attacks include having my indigeneity questioned and suggesting that I cause harm in the lives of Indigenous women. The criminalization of sex work causes more harms in the lives of sex workers, especially Indigenous sex workers. You can check out this report by Pivot Legal Society that indicate how the criminalization of sex work increases violence against sex workers. I have also been blamed for specifically causing Indigenous women and girls to go missing and murdered. Following this, I have also been blamed for supporting or causing colonization or colonialism. Um, supporting the criminalization of Indigenous peoples’ lives is supporting colonialism (and all of its beautiful institutions #sarcasm).
So what does this all have to do with whorephobia, stigmatization and criminalization of sex work?
Let’s begin by defining whorephobia.
Whorephobia is the fear or hate of sex work(ers) (Source).
People literally believe that sex work(ers) cause harm to children, families, marriages, schools and society as a whole (as per the JUST meetings in the Canada). Those who believe that sex work(ers) causes these harms to these individuals and institutions also believe that the harm and violence they experience as a part of whorephobia is their own fault (“they engaged in a risky activity and to avoid this risk they should not engage in this risky activity” as per the AG’s argument at all levels of court in Ontario and then at the Supreme Court of Canada). People who also believe that sex work(ers) cause these harms also believe that whorephobes are doing a favour to society, “Just cleaning up the neighbourhood” (which is a good thing for communities and society). These arguments can be paralleled with the fight for marriage equality (people actually believed gay marriage would harm children, families, marriages, schools and society as whole).
This whorephobia is then legitimized through criminalization (including the most recent Bill C-36). This criminalization contributes to the stigmatization of sex workers. This stigmatization then affects other areas of sex workers’ lives. Sex workers, through the legitimization of whorephobia via criminalization which then contributes to stigmatization, face threat of arrest (even for non-sex work related offences), losing their children, losing other forms of employment (or not being obtain other forms of employment), losing out on educational opportunities, not being able to travel/cross border. Just to name a few.
The decriminalization of sex work won’t cause all harms to end tomorrow. But it is a step in preventing the harms listed above. Decriminalization of sex work tells society that sex workers are capable of deserving the same protection as others regardless of how they earn their income. When we criminalize sex work(ers), they are viewed as either the victim or an offender within the eyes of the criminal justice system. However, both labels still inform police perspectives about sex work(ers): they are engaging in a harmful activity and society needs to be protected from sex work(ers) as opposed to sex work(ers) deserving protection. Anybody remember Pickton? But do you recall John Martin Crawford? Crawford was a serial killer who preyed specifically on Indigenous women. He also sexually assaulted an Indigenous sex worker and it is assumed while under police watch. Yet after the sex worker went to the police for help, she was arrested instead. Sex workers are viewed as not deserving of protection and within the context of the criminal justice system, they are seen as simply a means to an end–the criminalization of their lives and income is to protect communities and protect society. The decriminalization of sex work is one of the many necessary steps to both destigmatize sex work and delegitimize whorephobia. The decriminalization of sex work tells society that sex workers are persons too.*
Being out as a supporter of sex workers’ rights and out as a former sex worker, I know that I am not included in the mainstream discussion surrounding #MMIW because of this whorephobia. As others have tried to tell me, I am the cause of MMIW and I support colonialism.
Until the discussion around #MMIW begins to include Indigenous sex workers, I fear that only more Indigenous persons, including women/girls, trans persons or two spirited folks, will continue to go missing and murdered and as for those who are in the sex trade, society will continue to not care because… they deserved what they got.
So I won’t be participating until the lives and realities of Indigenous sex workers are included in the #MMIW discussions.
*There is the argument within the C-36 debate that it will protect women and girls by not arresting them. However, Bill C-36 does not condone the selling of sexual services. When a specific behaviour is not allowed or accepted, then it may be viewed in a criminal manner (in other words, Bill C-36 still views prostitution as a criminal activity). Bill C-36 then operates on the assumption that it will offer protection of sex workers through the decriminalization of sellers and criminalization of buyers/managers. But the assumption that sex work is “bad” will inform policing and societal perceptions about sex work: sex workers shouldn’t be engaging in the activity in the first place. Any response to the Bedford decision should be centered in the lives and realities of sex workers: sex workers, especially Indigenous sex workers, are deserving of protection regardless of the choices they make and the lives they live.