Sex Work

Bill #C36, #sexwork, and #lawschool

Last week was a really hard week for me. I am away at a pre-law program designed for Indigenous students and to help them excel in law school. You can read more about that program here. 

Coincidentally, I also received my first assignment last week and boy was it a slap in the face (no biggie, I took it as a learning opportunity). But it wasn’t this assignment that made last week hard though many thought it was. What made it difficult was the Department of Justice introducing Bill C-36, which is in response to the Bedford v. Canada decision (I also wrote about it here).

On Tuesday, which was the night before the Bill was to be introduced, I spent trying to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for what was to come tomorrow—the Bill. I was definitely on edge and felt really isolated and alone not being able to talk about what was about to happen.

That’s the thing with sex work activism and being out as a former or current sex worker, it can definitely feel very alienating and isolating (even if you are out as a former sex worker). One must take into consideration how others will perceive them: will I be judged for my choices? Will I be further stigmatized? Will I have someone to talk about what is going on in my life without being judged? Just to name a few…

Tuesday came and went. I knew I could expect the worst because of the government’s previous statements to the media: prostitution is inherently dangerous and prostitution is violence against women. Yet after the Bill was released on Wednesday afternoon, I didn’t expect to be it even worse than I had imagined. I spent the day in and out of the bathroom getting sick and also crying. That night I went out for some wine (alone—not the brightest thing to do but I didn’t know what else to do…I also have a hard time reaching out for help). That night I also cried after I returned from home. I just wanted to scream, “These are people’s lives you are messing with!” Like actual real people who will be forced to put themselves into the pathway of danger if this Bill is enacted! People like my friends and their families…

Today, while I was out walking and getting some of the things I needed for next week, I started to think of another sex work activist, Wendy Babcock. She was also a law student. However, she committed suicide in her third year of law school. An article commemorating her memory (and also talking about how students rallied together to remember her) reads,

Halfway through her second year at Osgoode Hall Law School, she was struggling with money, housing, her health, and loneliness…“I don’t belong here,” she told me over lunch at the graduate students lounge that day. “They come from really nice upbringings and I come from the gutter. They’re not engaged in the same issues as I am.”[1]

I definitely don’t feel out of place in this program as I am sitting aside other Indigenous law students. But after last week, I definitely felt alone and isolated. I even met with the director of the program and I admitted that I don’t feel like I belong here–it was because of the fact I was a former sex worker and I wasn’t sure who I could talk to about this Bill. So when I re-reading these articles, I noticed I shared Wendy’s feelings—loneliness and not belonging. I didn’t know how to say to the director though, “Yeah I don’t feel like I belong here, as a (out) former sex worker, and because of this Bill that came out today and this Bill is worse than I ever imagined.” There really isn’t much of a sex work community in this city either. However, after talking to my sex work friend on the phone today, I was a little bit relieved. The response elsewhere in Canada to the Bill has been positive (or on the side of sex workers) and people are beginning to realize the realities of sex workers’ lives and how laws affect their livelihood and safety.

I thought, what was going through Wendy’s mind during her final year. Did she feel alone? Did she feel isolated? Did she feel alienated? Then I thought, “If this is what law school was like for her, do I have to look forward to something similar?” Then I was reminded of my best friend’s words to me on the day I said that I wanted to give up on my undergraduate degree at Western, “If you give up or drop out, I will slap you.” She would have slapped me, literally (lol). I miss her dearly. She was also a sex worker who committed suicide. In a previous post I shared a note from my personal journal. That entry read, “I had a dream I was going to U of Ottawa.” In the rest of the original entry which I didn’t post to my blog, it reads, “But there were a lot of obstacles and it was really hard to finally get there.” If this is just one of those obstacles, then I (hopefully) will be able to overcome what else is to emerge.

Rest in Power Wendy and Michelle



#EndDemand: Why Bill #C36 is like working at MacDonald’s (if purchasing burgers were criminal)

[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! Not an actual real MacDonald's Burger

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.[1] 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.[2] 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 😉


[1]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, (accessed June 4, 2014).

[2]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.”

On #SexWork and #Empowerment: But what does it all mean?

I am writing this post because I see something missing from the discussion of sex work, and more specifically, how sex work can be empowering for women, especially women in Western society. What I see missing in these discussions on sex work and empowerment is the lack of the definition of empowerment or what it means to be empowered when one is engaging in sex work.

This post isn’t about whether or not sex work is valid work. As a former sex worker, I acknowledge that sex work is work and should be considered as such. I also acknowledge that sex work is not inherently exploitative—exploitative situations are a different class of experiences and should not be considered sex work. Although exploitative situations may appear in the context of sex work, these are not inherent to sex work itself. These exploitative situations are usually inherent to the criminal regulation of the trade.

In her article entitled, “I Don’t Want Your Pity: Sex Work and Labor Politics,”[1] Belle Knox writes, “The argument that people should only work in jobs that they enjoy or find empowering comes from a place of privilege.” I agree—being able to both work in employment that is empowering and enjoyable is a form of privilege and it is also a privilege to be able to argue that one must work in jobs that are both empowering and enjoyable. Ms. Knox articulates this point rather clearly. I do not disagree with her on this point. Following this point, though, she concludes that yes, her work as a sex worker does happen to be both rewarding and empowering. In another article critiquing Ms. Knox’s argument that porn is empowering, the author argues that porn is not empowering and that porn is degrading.[2] The author attempts to argue that Ms. Knox is a teen and that she does not know what she is doing. She also attempts to argue that Ms. Knox will regret this decision in coming out at the ripe age of 18, because you know, we all regret the decisions we made when we were 18. I am, however, not here to argue whether Belle Knox’s experiences in sex work are both empowering or rewarding.

In both of these articles, neither of them takes time to define empowerment or what empowerment means in the context of sex work. In writing this post, I hope that I can contribute to this discussion on empowerment and sex work— What does empowerment mean within the context of gender equality? What does it mean to be empowered as a sex worker? And why are we focused so much on sex work as a form of empowerment to achieve gender equality (ie should we be directing our attention elsewhere or asking different questions about sex work)?

In support of Belle Knox coming out as a sex worker at 18 years old, I also started sex work at the age of 18 years old. But I was not attending a prestigious university. I was still in high school. It was literally the weekend after my 18th birthday that I began escorting. I know, scandalous. Not really, all my peers at the time were either having sex or experimenting with sexual acts—for free. At the time, I wasn’t even thinking about empowerment or reward. Like Knox, I wanted to be “trading the smallest amount of my time for the maximum profit, on my schedule.” Before I began escorting, I was working two minimum wage jobs—one job that wasn’t particularly enjoying having to accommodate my school schedule and a second work schedule. Hey! I had to pay rent, bills, and for groceries somehow, right?

Three years earlier, I also was in a major car accident where I sustained a major brain injury (an ABI to be specific). I went from earning high 80s to earning high 60s. There is nothing wrong with earning high 60s, but I wanted to go onto university and I knew then that high 60s did not get one accepted into university. Following this accident, my doctor told me that because of my recently acquired brain injury that I would most likely graduate in four or five years instead of the two I was expected to graduate at normally (So I was expected to graduate at the age of approximately 22 instead of 19). Struggling with learning how to live with a newly acquired brain injury, I had to learn and adapt to studying with a learning disability (why the reduction in my overall average—my doctor told me to expect this so this wasn’t um, you know, unexpected). Working two minimum wage jobs was tiring along side going to school full time and it was major pressure on my goal to complete schooling at a rate less than what my doctor had predicted. So I had to work hard. I also had to learn to adapt to living with a brain injury–my friends changed and my life changed drastically.

One of the things that I had trouble with was communicating my disability with my employers at my retail and waitressing job. I was left with little room to study to maintain my high grades because of my brain injury–I had to study longer hours and I had to change my study habits (no more direct memorization). Then during the fall, I decided I needed to find a type of employment that was more better and more accommodating if I wanted to achieve all of what I dreamed of accomplishing before my car accident: graduate on the honor roll and go to university. Thus, I enter the world of escorting. Was I naïve? No. I knew what the hell I was doing. Did I regret it? Not one bit—I got to where I needed to be (albeit a bit more slower than expected, but hey, life happens). Was I empowered? What the hell does it even mean to be empowered to do sex work?

This idea that sex work is or isn’t empowering is complicated by the fact that we can rarely find a universal definition of empowerment which is applicable to all situations and contexts at all times. I mean, sex work could be empowering, but it also cannot be empowering—what do we do then? This is where I want to go with this post.

To begin, we have to examine the concept of empowerment. Both women who authored the above articles mentioned are white, cis, and reside in a Western/developed country. One recognizes her privilege. The other not so much. As such, the concept of empowerment in relation to sex work must be viewed through this lens. This is a point I also want to discuss.

Jawad Syed in “Reconstructing gender empowerment,” argues that “gender research continues to be dominated by Eurocentric paradigms” which is also true for the discussion on empowerment and sex work. In his article, Syed seeks to argue “the dominant (Eurocentric) notion of women’s empowerment does not adequately take into account the diverse and complex nature of gender relations in various socio-political contexts.” Citing Mohanty, Syed also posits that employing a dominant notion of women’s empowerment to all women, everywhere, in all contexts, robs non-Western women from their historical and political agency” (283). Within his article, Syed cites the following definition for empowerment, “an interactive process through which less powerful people experience personal and social change, enabling them to achieve influence over the organizations and institutions which affect their lives and the communities in which they live” (284). Specifically pointing to the use of the word power in this definition, Syed highlights that power relates to the ability to make choices. Thus, Syed writes, “empowerment refers to the process which by those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire such ability” (284). The tool to measure gender empowerment is also critiqued by Syed as being inadequate because of its capitalist, elite, and secular biases, just to name a few. This tool will not be critiqued any further. Rather, I will call attention to some of the issues with the dominant definition and conceptualization of gender empowerment raised by Syed.

First, Syed argues that the usual perspective regarding empowerment, which is adopted by Western feminists, assumes that access to paid work is crucial to economic independence and empowerment. Syed points out that access to paid work by itself does not result in empowerment. Second, this sole focus on access to paid work ignores socio-economic aspects of women’s lives, which “has not completely alleviated their disempowerment in societies and organizations” (286). Third and final, Syed highlights the fact that the dominant conceptualization of empowerment also homogenizes “women” and argues for a more holistic approach to conceptualizing empowerment which includes adopting a relational framework (including macro, meso, and micro levels) for gender empowerment.

If the definition of empowerment is “an interactive process through which less powerful people experience personal and social change, enabling them to achieve influence over the organizations and institutions which affect their lives and the communities in which they live,” then the result of gender empowerment will translate to the transfer of power from the powerful to the powerless (which results in personal and social change, etc). Within the context of sex work, especially in Canada, this is not the case due to criminal regulation. The power remains in the hands of the powerful—the creators of legislation and the enforcers of legislation. If we focus exclusively on paid work as being crucial to economic independence and empowerment, then potentially sex work might be empowering. I say potentially since many sex workers are also employed in other industries. But like Syed points out, the sole focus on paid employment ignores the soci-economic aspects of women’s lives which does not address disempowerment elsewhere in their lives (whether individually, institutionally, or systemically). This point is particularly emphasized when it is acknowledged that many sex workers are lower class and/or women of colour.[3] For women from marginalized positions in society, they experience many negative assumptions, which are informed by negative social and institutional stereotypes, about who they are as a person. Syed writes:

“A person is prone to experience the positions of disadvantage under the influence of negative social/institutional stereotypes. However, she exercises her unique agency to respond to various macro-level and meso-level factors to negotiate and improve her power. Her individual experiences and perspectives are dynamic, continuously shaped by the multiple identities she holds, such as based on her religion, gender, or family role. Indeed, neither women nor men are homogeneous social categories; they are shaped and influenced by the issues related to class, age, race, ethnicity and sexual preference (Charmes & Wieringa, 2003: 420). Therefore, contextualised understanding of dynamic and complex inter-sectionalities is instrumental to tackle gender empowerment in a society.”

Simply, the concept of empowerment must be context specific and we must not attempt to apply the concept of empowerment universally to all women in all situations, everywhere. This contextualization of empowerment, as noted earlier, adopts a holistic framework.

Within this framework, Syed identifies three relational levels that must be considered in the conceptualization of empowerment: the micro-level, the meso-level, and the macro-level. The micro-level is defined as recognizing women’s multiple identities (and thus, recognizing intersectionality) (p. 291). This level also includes adding value to women’s agency (ability to make choices for their own well-being) and autonomy (addressing issues of power and inequality in other realms) (p. 291). The meso-level relates to organizations and institutions within a particular society, and assigning value to policies within these organizations and institutions that affect women. For instance, Syed lists legal compliance such as the legal compliance with legislation and anti-discrimination laws within an organization as a measurement of empowerment. The macro-level includes legal empowerment (assigning value to provision of equal opportunity in national legislation and its effective enforcement); Political empowerment (assigning value to women’s participation in political structures); Economic empowerment (assigning value to women’s participation in religious structures and decision making); and finally, social empowerment which seeks to address social stereotypes (slut/whore shaming/stigma). All of this information is on page 291 of Syed’s article.

With respect to sex work and the discussion of empowerment, this contextualization of empowerment becomes important. We must refrain, like in the two articles mentioned above, from employing the concept of empowerment without defining what we mean by empowerment. Syed’s inclusion of various levels of empowerment is crucial to this discussion. It is important because once we include the micro, meso, and macro-levels of empowerment, the idea that sex work is empowering falls short. This isn’t because, for some, sex work is exploitative or degrading—I noted at the beginning that although exploitative situations may appear in the context of sex work, these are not inherent to sex work itself. These exploitative situations are usually inherent to the criminal regulation of the trade itself which is a result of the disempowerment of sex workers.

If sex workers are excluded from making decisions about their own lives due to criminal regulation, then sex work is not empowering. If sex workers are excluded from accessing the same labour and employment rights afforded to other industries, then sex work is not empowering. If sex workers are excluded from legal, political, economic, and social spheres, then sex work is not empowering. Sex work is not disempowering because it is degrading or abusive. It is disempowering because of the fact that sex workers are excluded from making decisions about their own lives due to the criminal regulation of their employment (especially within Canada). When sex work is criminalized, it prevents sex workers from making choices without the threat or fear of arrest (Note: this threat or fear of arrest isn’t dissolved through the Nordic model as some feminists argues since criminalization of sex workers occurs in many ways especially sex workers who are racialized or indigenized or who come from a lower income bracket).

For sex workers, empowerment does not rest solely on the ability to be paid for their services. Empowerment, for sex workers, means being included in the discussions and the decisions that (in)directly affect their lives and livelihood, including discussions on the criminalization and decriminalization of the sex trade.

So should we be really focused on whether sex work is empowering or not? But what does it really mean to be empowered as a sex worker or through sex work?

As a partial answer, we should direct our attention to whether or not sex workers, as persons who have the right to live with dignity, security, and safety, are able to access the same rights as non-sex workers instead. We should also work to address the social stereotypes about sex workers. These stereotypes about sex workers not only affect sex workers lives but also non-sex workers lives—everyone benefits when we reveal these assumptions about sex workers or sex in general. Because let’s face it, mainstream society does not have healthy ideas about sex or sexual health.

One example that the rest of the world can look to as championing the empowerment of sex workers is the Songachi Project in India, which adopted a multi-prong approach to addressing HIV prevention. A part of this project was their empowerment method and messaging. The Songachi Empowerment Methods and Messages are “Sex Work is valid work” and “sex workers deserve to protect themselves.” Relating to their multi-prong approach, the project’s approach included “defining HIV and STIs as occupational health hazards; articulating human rights of sex workers, providing access to condoms and resources for treating STDs, creating a sense of community and political awareness” which ultimately resulted in economic, political, and occupational power for sex workers in Calcutta. A part of this project included employing peer leaders, who were sex workers from chosen communities, to “build skills and confidence in providing education and to foster empowerment and advocacy for local sex workers” (4-5). Empowerment activities within the project included “sustained engagement with local sex workers; showing an interest sex workers’ health and well-being and that of their children; nurturing group solidarity among sex workers; and raising consciousness about sex workers’ rights” (p. 5). For sex workers in India, empowerment then translated to harm reduction and safer sex practices which included collective bargaining with structures of power (effectiveness of interventions), as well as self organizing.[4]

UNAIDs agrees through their best practices on safer sex that “modifications in the way sex work is organized must be encouraged and, in some cases this may be supported by policy enforcement” UNAIDs continues by stating that “possible approaches to building such support include enlisting sex establishment owners and managers to protect their workers’ health and physical safety, working with police to reduce harassment, and promoting self-esteem and workplace solidarity among sex workers.” Thus, changes in sex work organizing as a means to access rights and achieve empowerment can be achieved through the decriminalization of sex work.[5]

In closing, I will share this quote by members of the Network of Sex Work Projects:

“Ultimately, the sex workers’ rights movement seeks resources to enable sex workers to participate in civil society and in decision-making that concerns them. However, as long as commercial sex is seen as degrading and workers as tainted, efforts to improve their working conditions and lives will not succeed. Until this attitude begins to change nothing else will.”[6]

Through the relational framework of gender empowerment, sex work only becomes empowering once sex workers are included in decisions that directly affect their lives, including their dignity, safety, security, and well-being—something that isn’t accomplished through the criminalization of the sex trade. The time is now to include sex workers in the discussion and debate on sex work as a means to achieve gender empowerment.

Oh and to the point made by Docketerman, as a former sex worker, I can say that we don’t give two fucks what frat boys think of us and as for employers? I wouldn’t want to work for someone who discriminates against a class of people based on whatever fucked up false assumptions they have about sex work(ers).

Citation for Syed’s article:

Syed, J. (2010). “Reconstructing gender empowerment.” Women’s Studies International Forum (33), pp. 283-294.







[6] ibid.

2014 #AllOurSisters: #HumanTrafficking & #SexWork: The REAL truth. #LdnOnt

Well, look at what we have here, another conference in London ON. But it is not just any conference (you know the typical boring conference). No, it is the 2014 All Our Sisters Forum. I am kind of sad I am missing this conference, as my friend told me about it earlier this year. I almost submitted a proposal to present but it did not fit into my schedule.

Last week, I was asked to help promote it (for free—meaning unpaid labour). When I was approached, I already knew what was going to be asked of me. So I started researching the event prior to even receiving the email with the details on this event.

The All Our Sisters Forum website can be accessed here. On their site, it states the following:

Together, through our national network and events, we focus on safe, sustainable housing for women coast to coast.  Through dialogue, research, events and lived experience, we promote security of housing and safe communities for all women in Canada.

The reason this conference caught my eye was due to the fact that it advertised as addressing topics including, “safe housing, violence, human trafficking, addiction, sex work, poverty and other issues related to homelessness among women.” (Source). This event has been on my radar for a while now. So when I was asked to help promote this event it was mentioned because my blog posts and tweets related to the topic of sex work.

Learning to help out issues, events, or other such stuff has been a battle for me. I have to be conscientious of time and energy—if I offer to do anything for free, it is because I want to and it is because I see that what I am being asked to do will have some real benefit to others. Yet, when I was looking over the topics to be discussed relating to sex work at this event, there was only one presentation that mentioned sex work (and talking about the grey area between sex work and human trafficking—no, there is no grey area because sex work isn’t trafficking) and then I noticed another presentation that mentioned human trafficking. My heart dropped to the bottom of my stomach. The name listed on the presentation was the name of the same woman who was interview by the London Free Press and dragged my best friend’s suicide through the dirt for her own anti-sex work agenda. You can read that article here. Specifically, the article reads:

“The hardest part is losing them,” she said, referencing a girl who hung herself three months ago. “Her stage name was Alex, but I want to say her real name out loud – it’s Michelle – because she was a real person,” said Stacey.”

There were two things my best friend taught me when I first arrived at the club we worked at, “Trust no one” and “Mind your own business” (I wrote this in my personal journal dated October 21, 2007).

“Stacey” is lying in this article about my best friend’s suicide and her claim to help her. I am extremely angry with the politicization of my best friend’s suicide to fulfill an anti-sex work agenda. Did she not consider what type of effects this would have on my friend’s family or friends? This is in print media. What if my friend’s son starts searching for answers about his mother? Does anyone have any respect for the dead anymore? My friend wasn’t lying when she said everyone always talked about her…even after her death.

When I used to write about my best friend, I never used to talk about her working as a dancer in the industry. In fact, I kept that very private. However, when I read this article and “Stacy” is quoted as saying both her real name/stage name, I knew I had to step in and let the truth be known. The real truth. I frequently read about the anti-human traffickers and anti-sex workers creating lies and falsifying stories to their benefit (such as in this example of a well-known anti-human trafficking activist). You can even google “human trafficking lies” and a shit load of links will appear discussing the myths and lies that the anti-human traffickers tell to help garner support for their cause (or access the millions of dollars being poured into anti-human trafficking efforts). But, I didn’t think it could ever happen to me or so close to home.

So how do I know she is lying?

Well for one, she gets the date wrong of my best friend’s suicide.

Two, she said she tried to help her and save her. My best friend hated her because well… she hated her (I worked with her and my friend at the same club). Her claim that she tried to help my best friend also suggests there is human trafficking at the club she worked at–there was none. Another lie.

And the circuit she talks about in the article I quoted above, I’ve worked the same circuit–I have never seen human trafficking occurring on this circuit. Sure I’ve seen movement from one club to another but not human trafficking. I mean, aren’t adults allowed to determine when and where they can work, sex work or not?

Finally, she was not allowed anywhere near the club. In fact, she was fired and told not to come back to the premises (as told to me from a DJ who used to work at the club and who I worked with while she worked there). This is also proven by the fact that she did not work at the club for a long time (yeah, I stopped working there in 2010 and still have friends who work there that I visited with until I moved in April 2014—and yes, I will probably, meaning very likely, visit again in the future lol).

I stand by my word: yes, she is a liar.

I really wish I could have attended this conference and in particular, “Stacey’s” presentation–just like how she attended the past only two sex work related events in London ON including the one I spoke earlier this year, where she left immediately after my presentation (probably because she recognized me and if she brought up the same old “But I was trafficked” line like she did at the 2012 sex work event, I would have called her out on her lies). She spoke on opening day and it is entertaining that the presentations for that day are under the heading, “Connecting to ‘the edge’: Speaking Truth.” “Stacey” obviously didn’t mind her own business and on the advice of my best friend, clearly, you can’t trust her.

RIP Michelle/Alex.

Related post: Caught in human trafficking lies

“Bedford marks a victory in the struggle against colonialism and colonial structures for Indigenous sex workers. When we begin to understand the history of Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, and the policing of Indigenous bodies and identities, we understand how the construction of these identities and bodies serve to sustain colonialism and all its tools. The criminalization of the sex trade is the criminalization of certain bodies and identities, because we all know that it isn’t white men who get arrested for prostitution related crimes on a daily basis. In the end, decriminalization of the trade is decolonization of the trade, and thus the Bedford v. Canada decision is a step toward decolonization.”

Read more at “Prostitution Laws: Protecting Canada’s Crackers Since 1867”

#SexWork & #BedfordSCC My responses to the Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada

Below are my responses to the Federal Department of Justice’s Public Consultation on Prostitution-Related Offences in Canada. This questionnaire was released on February 17, 2014 and will be open for comments until March 17, 2014. You can submit your own comments directly here. I have included my responses in this post so that others can reply in a timely manner and also encourage others to respond to this consultation. Please reply to the questionnaire with your responses (do not copy and paste my answers) to ensure your answers are distinct. If you have any questions, please comment below. If you require additional sources to support your answers (if you choose to respond), let me know and I can get those to you ASAP! Also, South Western Ontario Sex Workers (a volunteer run organization based in London) is encouraging others to copy your responses and send it to your Member of Parliament (to find your MP, please visit this link: They also encourage you to share your responses with SWOSWers by filling out this form or by emailing them directly at swoswers [at] gmail [dot] com, and to also share this call to action with supporters and allies.~In solidarity

1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.

The purchasing of sexual services from an adult should not be a criminal offence and there should be no exceptions. Evidence shows that when the criminalization of purchasing sexual services occurs that this increases the risks and harms to sex workers, especially those sex workers who are already marginalized (like Indigenous sex workers). These increased risks and harms will ultimately be in contradiction to the Bedford decision and in contradiction with the human rights and labour rights of sex workers to work safely and autonomously.
2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
The selling of sexual services by an adult should not be a criminal offence and there should be no exceptions. Criminalizing the selling of sexual services would be in contradiction to the Bedford decision and in contradiction to sex workers’ right to work safely and autonomously. Criminalizing the selling of sexual services also prevents sex workers from accessing health services and social services without fear of judgment or fear of arrest. When sex workers live in constant fear of arrest, their standard of living of declines. Additionally, sex workers will be unable to claim taxes and access social benefits since their source of income is criminalized.
3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.
There should be no criminal laws that target prostitution. Non-criminal offences that target prostitution or attempt to regulate the trade should be developed in consultation with sex workers. Further, any non-criminal offences that target or attempt to regulate the trade should not obstruct the labour rights and human rights of sex workers themselves. Canada should employ already existing criminal offences to address cases of abuse, violence, or coercion and to be in line with the Bedford decision.
4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
There should be no criminal offences for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult. Sex work is work and this is reaffirmed by the Bedford decision. When third parties are criminalized, this further isolate sex workers and criminalizes important working and personal relationships. When third parties are criminalized, this also limits sex workers from working together for safety. When the ability to work safely and autonomously is impeded, this is in complete contradiction to the Bedford decision. Also, by definition, a person under Canadian law includes corporations. Thus, sex workers’ incomes contribute to the economy in a myriad of ways.
5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision?
I wholly support the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the three laws as unconstitutional (and ultimately, harmful) and I support the decriminalization of the trade, or the New Zealand model, like mentioned in the discussion paper above. I would like to see a “made-in-Canada” New Zealand model. Evidence shows where sex work is decriminalized, sex workers receive accurate, up-to-date, and non-judgmental health and social services. The Government’s response should be in consultation with sex workers themselves and support the rights of sex workers to work with safety, security, and dignity with access to occupational, health, and safety standards.
6. Are you are writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role:
I am individual who supports the rights of sex workers to work with safety, security, and dignity.

#BedfordSCC Public Consultation on Prostitution Laws in Canada

The Government of Canada is seeking input from the public regarding the SCC Bedford v. Canada decision (you can read about that here). This consultation process is open from February 17, 2014 until March 17, 2014.

The link includes a short discussion paper (albeit a biased position) along with several questions (HERE).

Chris Bruckert, of POWER, states, “This is a really skewed document…you read it and right away you see which way the government wants to go with the legislation.” (Source)

These questions include:

1. Do you think that purchasing sexual services from an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
2. Do you think that selling sexual services by an adult should be a criminal offence? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
3. If you support allowing the sale or purchase of sexual services, what limitations should there be, if any, on where or how this can be conducted? Please explain.
4. Do you think that it should be a criminal offence for a person to benefit economically from the prostitution of an adult? Should there be any exceptions? Please explain.
5. Are there any other comments you wish to offer to inform the Government’s response to the Bedford decision?
6. Are you are writing on behalf of an organization? If so, please identify the organization and your title or role. Take some time to read this blog by PIVOT.

The #NordicModel and the CPC approach to #BedfordSCC

Awww isn’t this sweet, the cons want to help the hookers… no wait, they want to help women because hookers are a different class of people altogether in their eyes. But for real, this is how the Othering of sex workers that their bed buddy, Sun News, contributes to the violence and whorephobia that they experience. Is it really all that hard to refer to sex workers as sex workers and not prostitutes, prostituted women, or hookers? I get the right to self determination as some sex workers refer to themselves as hookers or prostitutes but only to reclaim the word and sometimes to refer to the history and legality of the word (Source). For real though, sex workers, is it all that hard?

Also, the cons attempts to address the SCC decision is a step in the wrong direction. If you weren’t angered after reading this article, entitled “Conservatives set to replace prostitution laws to help sex workers,” then you probably missed the gaps in their argument to criminalize the buyers or adopt the Nordic Model.

Let’s be honest, the cons aren’t helping sex workers by implementing the Nordic Model. In fact, much of the successes associated with this model have been refuted as myths. A talk that was given Mary Len-Skillbrei (Associate Professor at University of Olso) and Charlotta Holmstrom (Assistant professor at Malmo University) outlines the myths of the Nordic Model. Refuting this model as a myth is based on their research since the nineties and a large comparative study in 2007-2008 in which they “examined how Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden approach prostitution through criminal justice and welfare policies, and reviewed the evidence for how these policies impact Nordic prostitution markets and the people who work in them” (Source).  They found that there were too many differences for there to be a “Shared Nordic Model” which suggests that referring to multiple countries to apply a model to one country is bound to be rife with difficulties. They also found that the success that is similarly praised by the Conservatives and the abolitionists (the antis) “is far more fraught than popular support would suggest” (Source). Even when the antis assume that this will help victims or prevent trafficking, this model actually “produce negative outcomes for people in prostitution” (Source). In fact, it has been cited that policies such as these produce an offshoot of bylaws, regulations, and other policies that negatively affect those involved in the trade. This article actually makes it very clear that when the antis say they only want to help and save women and young girls in the trade, the opposite happens. The authors state, that the other policies that arise because of this model “assume that the women who sell sex are to be punished and blamed for prostitution” (Source). As outlined by the authors, what is even more revealing of the model is how it treats migrant workers.

What is not commonly known when people cite the Nordic Model is the way it treats migrant women. Sweden even has an act that is entitled “Aliens Act” (oh how nice!) that prevents migrant women from selling sex. The authors state the problem with this concisely:

This reveals the limits of the rhetoric of female victimisation, with clients framed as perpetrators: if the seller is foreign, she is to blame, and can be punished with deportation. (Source)

Just exactly how is this model and its subsequent policies supposed to protect those that are “trafficked” if they are being deported? Helloooooo violence!

Then in Norway, the individuals *ahem* the victims that the model is meant to protect actually produce more negative and harmful effects on their lives. The whole basis of decriminalization is to highlight the contradictions with criminalization. The antis attempt to argue that the decriminalization will lead to more victimization and exploitation of those in trade, when in fact, the victimization and exploitation happens due to the Canada’s ambiguous nature of their quasi-criminal state of the trade. As such, the antis then support the criminalization of the buyers (which is essentially the Nordic Model in its simplest terms). However, what the antis fail to acknowledge is that the Nordic Model contributes to increased policing, neighbor and border controls which “stigmatize them and make them more vulnerable” (Source). This the same outcome of Canada’s ambiguous, quasi-criminal laws that police the trade which is supported by numerous reports/documents that are very recently published. For example, in this document entitled “10 reasons to fight decriminalization” outlines how criminalization “fosters violence” of not only women in the trade but also men and trans sex workers. What does that say about us as a society when we ignore a whole class of people and their lived experiences in the trade all in the sake of a moral crusade to police sex and sexual identities? Exactly. Exchanging one criminal law for another criminal law is exactly the same thing as what it was before: CRIMINALIZATION!

Finally, the authors of the article cited throughout this post actually highlight that the most often cited report by the antis describing its success only looks at women who are in contact with social workers and police. So this is not an accurate representation of the effects of the model and clearly suggests that the only way the effects are measured are due to contact with the police. Do you see the contradictions with that argument? No. Then let me spell it out for you: the only way one can receive help and the way in it is measured is the contact that one has with increased policing. Yeahno. Not ideal for migrant, racialized, or indigenized sex workers. In reality, the antis argument for the Nordic Model to protect victims and trafficking victims does the exact opposite.

So when Public Safety Minister Blaney says “the government will find another way to help women because prostitution turns people ‘into real modern slaves.’” What he really means is that the conservatives just wish to further subjugate women to people who are incapable of making the choices for themselves or having agency, similar to the abolitionists approach to the decriminalization/criminalization debate. Also, if all prostitution is slavery, then what does that mean? Conflating prostitution with slavery actually ignores the lived experiences of those who are in experience slavery and ignores the history of the slave trade. While yes some women were sexualized and raped during their lives as slaves, this does not mean that they were prostitutes, and saying that they were/are does an injustice to the key issues: the safety and security of individuals.

And no, Minister Blaney, this is not what many cases of prostitution is all about. What is harmful for women is subjugating them to beings that are incapable of making choices about their lives and their livelihood, and preventing them the safety and security affording to other citizens in Canada. Prostitution doesn’t turn women into human trafficking victims because prostitution isn’t trafficking. Even though prostitution isn’t actually defined in the Criminal Code, it has been defined by case law. This definition includes three main elements: the provision of sexual services, the essentially indiscriminate nature of the act, and the necessity for some form of payment (Source). Yup, the definition of prostitution does not include anything in relation to the definition of human trafficking. While the human trafficking definition refers to prostitution or sexual services, it fails to differentiate itself (human trafficking vs. prostitution) which is problematic in and of itself. These problems are demonstrated when one is actually charged with trafficking in Canada. As it goes, the fact is that human trafficking charges in Canada tend to be reduced to other charges because it doesn’t meet the threshold for trafficking elements. What does this exactly mean? Do we need more strict laws? No. What it means is that by conflating trafficking with prostitution just means that it does nothing for the safety and security of individuals that occupy either side of the argument. Also, by ignoring the voices of sex workers in the trade contributes to the problem that you, Mr. Blaney, are trying to prevent: removing their own identity. It says that sex workers don’t exist and don’t matter in this discussion. When, in reality, they matter because they are the real experts on the trade. Further using sensationalistic words and phrases, or the most extreme cases (like those who are addicted to drugs and also engage in sex work) is problematic, and also despicable.

Ugh. Despicable, Mr. Blaney.

So when the conservatives and the abolitionists argue that they are fighting for gender equality by criminalizing the trade or getting rid of prostitution, what they really mean is they are fighting for gender equality for a particular type of women, and that they are anti-human rights and anti-immigration.

#BedfordSCC My thoughts

Today was such an important day for the sex work community. If you didn’t know what happened today with respect to Canada’s anti-prostitution laws, then I feel really bad for you. You missed out on history making!

Earlier today (approximately 9:45am) the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) delivered their decision relating to what the media and others refer to as the “Bedford Case” or more correctly, Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott. You can read the entire decision or you can read this succinct piece by PIVOT. I recommend the PIVOT article if you only have a few moments but if you have some time, read or glance over the entire decision.

The specific sections in the Criminal Code of Canada that were challenged included Section 210, 212(1)(i), and 213(1)(c). Section 210 is commonly referred to as the bawdy-house law and it states that it is criminal for anyone to “own, operate, or even be in a bawdy house.” Section 212(1)(i) is sometime referred to as the living on the avails law and it states that it is criminal for someone to benefit from the sexual labour of another. Section 213(1)(c) is referred to as the communication law in layman terms and it stresses that communicating with anyone for the purposes of prostitution in a public place is criminal.

All three laws were struck down as unconstitutional. This is a big win for the sex work community because this isn’t the first time they fought against these laws. Many thought that the case would be decided the same way it had be in the 90s. While others thought that the SCC would reaffirm the Ontario Court of Appeal decision which stated that section 210 and 212 were unconstitutional but section 213 was attaining its legislative objective (albeit in a grossly disproportionate manner). This is a big win because it says that sex work and sex workers matter. It says that sex work and sex workers are persons in the community and their safety and security is just as important as non-sex workers. Because, surprise! Sex workers are people too! This decision also was unanimous meaning 9-0 (and there are 9 SCC Justices) agreed. Tres fuckin cool!

It was a whirlwind of feelings for me. Also, a lot of people have been sharing my blog post entitled “Exploration on Indigenous Lands and Exploitation of Indigenous Bodies.” Take some time to read that too! But I talk about it briefly below.

In this blog post, I talk about the history of the common bawdy house laws (and how our prostitution laws came to be). What is unfamiliar to people who know very little about sex work or Canada’s anti-prostitution laws is that the original laws were first enacted under the Indian Act. Does this mean that Indigenous women and girls were overly sexual beings? Not necessarily. I mean, we did have sex and we were sexual. However, the social construction of the prostitute can be traced back to colonialism. This is not to say that we should get rid of prostitution because this, for some people, this is their livelihood. But hellooooo, we should get rid of colonialism!

To expand on this a bit…certain relations were encouraged for economic, political, and social reasons, namely relations between settlers and Indigenous women (Mawani, 2001). However, as more white people, including white women, arrived in Canada, relations with Indigenous women were no longer seen as desirable. In fact, Indigenous women were seen as a threat to whiteness (or more correctly, a threat to Canada). Then with the Confederation of Canada, the Indian Act was enacted. Following the enactment of the Indian Act, there were several sections relating to prostitution that were included (Boyer, 2009). One of these sections include the bawdy house section. The original bawdy-house law only targeted Indigenous homes or wigwams, and by the very definition of wigwams, it assumed wigwams were disorderly (Boyer, 2009). These sections only targeted Indigenous people as a group. Further, by the very definition of prostitute in this legislation, it assumed all Indigenous women were prostitutes (Mawani, 2001). Then, by 1892, the Criminal Code of Canada was enacted, and all sections pertaining to prostitution were removed from the Indian Act and placed in the Criminal Code of Canada (CCC)(Boyer, 2009). By moving the prostitution sections from the Indian Act to the CCC, it facilitated the transition of prostitution as socially unacceptable to both criminally and socially wrong. The transition of prostitution to being criminal wrong also reduced the status of those who engaged in the trade even further.

When we begin to look into the history of these laws and how they came to be, we can begin to understand how they truly affect the social and the bodies within the social. We live in a colonial state, and the goal of the colonial state is to get rid of the Indian Problem. Indigenous bodies were only useful insofar they did not interfere with the colonial agenda: to dominate and control Indigenous lands. Once these bodies began to interfere with the colonial agenda, not only do Indigenous lands have to be dominated and controlled, but now the bodies must be dominated and controlled. What is the way to dominate and control Indigenous bodies? Just take a look at the stats for missing and murdered Indigenous women or the increasing numbers of Indigenous peoples in prison. And let me be clear here, constructing Indigenous people as a threat to Canada has not changed. Just take a look at the aggressive policing tactics when it comes to economic exploitation of their lands. Elsipogtog anyone?

So what do I think of Bedford? I am ecstatic! It is a fight against the colonial state and they lost. Some people are crying out against this decision because they assume it will lead to more exploitation, like human trafficking. Human trafficking isn’t sex work and sex work isn’t human trafficking. Also, some argue that prostitution is inherently violent because all prostitution is rape. No. All prostitution  is not rape because all rapes are not prostitution. Besides, that trivializes actual real rapes. Yes, victimization happens but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t help for those who need it. There are tons of organizations dedicated to helping victims–let their work continue but let’s not place others in more risk to experience violence because others believe that sex work is inherently violent (because it’s not) or degrading (also…because it’s not). Much of the exploitation or violence that occurs is because of the social construction of the prostitute as a social problem, a social evil. So, let’s a have a discussion about whorephobia while we are it! We need to make sure that we don’t take steps backwards by silencing those that will be affected most by these laws if and when the government steps in to write new laws that will affect the trade, the sex workers and the sex work community. Nothing without the sex work community!

References (not included in post links)

Mawani, R. (2001). “The ‘Savage Indian’ and the ‘Foreign Plague’: Mapping Racial Categories and Legal Geographies of Race in British Columbia, 1871-1925.” (PhD thesis). Retrieved from

Boyer, Y. (2009). “First Nations Women’s Contributions to Culture and Community through Canadian Law.” In G. G. Valaskakis, M. Dion Stout & E. Guimond (Eds.), Restoring the Balance: First Nations Women, Community, and Culture (69-96). Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba Press.

Social Spaces and #SexWork: An Essay



One of the dominant images within the discussion around sex work includes the street-based sex worker as being a highly victimized and exploited individual, which is most often a young girl or younger-aged woman (POWER, 2012). While street-based sex workers account for the majority of those mentioned within these dominant discourses, like mainstream media, they only constitute 5-20% of the total sex work population (POWER, 2012). Despite this, street-based sex workers are consistently over-policed, as 95% of the charges pertaining to Canada’s anti-prostitution laws are applied almost exclusively to this occupation group (O’Doherty, 2011). This law is commonly referred to as the communication law, or solicitation for the purposes of prostitution (Edmonton Police, n.d.). If anyone communicates with a street-based sex worker to exchange sexual services for money or other objects, in a public place, then they are committing a criminal act (Edmonton Police, n.d.). The charges that are laid against street-based sex workers fall largely under the communication law in the Criminal Code of Canada (O’Doherty, 2011). It is this same law that is described as being applied in a “grossly disproportionate” manner (Doherty, Rosenberg, and Feldman JJ.A, 2012, para. 40). But still, this law accomplishes its legislative objective of “curtail[ing] street solicitation and the social nuisance it creates” (Doherty et al. 2012,  para. 38). The construction of the sex worker as a nuisance within legal discourses serves to reinforce hegemonic discourses of what is considered a legitimate occupation. From the above it is clear that through the policing of social spaces, street-based sex workers are not welcome

In his discussion of public space, Herbert J. Gans argues that public space is predominantly used for recreational purposes and that it may have some political advantages to usefulness (Gans, 2002, p. 333). In the context of public space, one might argue that street-based sex workers might create an unsafe space for younger children within these recreational spaces, making sex workers incompatible with said space. However, street-based sex workers (and their customers) are often discreet when it comes to advertising their services to avoid being persecuted and further stigmatized (November, 2012). Street-based sex workers occupy a uniquely, highly political place within these spaces, which often contributes to their increased visibility and vulnerability. This paper will argue for the decriminalization of the sex trade within Canada as means to include street-based sex workers as persons in social spaces to reduce their visibility and vulnerability. By suppressing or stigmatizing, visibility is increased and if they, lawmakers, want to achieve conformity or have these workers fit better into these spaces they should not politically disenfranchise them and instead provide them with the personhood to do so. When the binary is created between persons/non-persons in space then the problems relating to Gieryn’s question below become more acute.

Thomas F. Gieryn (2002) proposes the following question, “how do geographic locations, material forms, and the cultural conjuring of them intersect with social practices and structures, norms and values, power and inequality, difference and distinction?” (p. 468). By utilizing a Marxist theoretical perspective, I will discuss how street-based sex workers are excluded from the social as a form of social control in social space. First, I will discuss the history of prostitution in relation to the social. Then, I will show how institutional policies and practices dominate and control these spaces. Finally, I will conclude with a discussion on the importance of decriminalization of the sex trade as a human rights issue.



There is a time and a place for everything. Exactly what does this statement mean, and what does it entail for the discussion of social spaces? In The Condition of Postmodernity, David Harvey (1989) writes, “the common sense notion that ‘there is a time and place for everything’ gets carried into a set of prescriptions that replicate the social order by assigning social meanings to space and time” (p. 214). This statement implies that social space is policed and that the meanings ascribed to social space depend on the context. However, who has the power to ascribe social meanings to spaces, and whom benefits from this power to define these meanings attached to spaces needs to be examined, especially within the context of the sex trade.

There exist three paradigms within the academic discussion of the sex trade, the empowerment paradigm, the oppression paradigm and the polymorphous paradigm (Weitzer, 2012). The empowerment paradigm can be described as a model that views sex work as any other economic transaction and that “there is nothing inherent in sex work that would prevent it from being organized for mutual gain to all parties” (Weitzer, 2012: 7). Sex work is a term that was created in the 1970s by sex worker and sex work activist, Carol Leigh (Sayers, 2012). Leigh coined this term to remove the negative connotations that are attached to the use of the term, prostitution (Sayers, 2012). A sex worker is defined as someone who provides sexual services as opposed to the management of individuals in the trade (Sayers, 2012). The negative connotations associated with the term, prostitute, are emphasized within hegemonic discourses. Agustin (2007) writes, “belittling ideas about people who sell sex are perpetuated through police discrimination, media stereotypes, gender inequality, poverty, xenophobia, and state policies on sex and migration” (p. 191). But the question presents itself, how did these discourses become hegemonic to begin with? A further examination below will identify that these hegemonic discourses, as part of the social, serve to produce and reproduce the production of social spaces.

The second paradigm reference when discussing the sex trade is the oppression paradigm. While some people confuse the oppression paradigm with religious efforts, like those of the Salvation Army, to abolish the trade, it is significantly different. The oppression paradigm assumes that sex work is an “expression of patriarchal gender relations and male domination” (Weitzer, 2012, p. 10). This paradigm ignores the fact that there are many identities within the trade including males and gender non-conforming identities (transsexuals). This paradigm also ignores the fact that both men and women can be clients to sex workers.

The third and final paradigm, which will be useful for the discussion of social spaces, is the polymorphous paradigm. This paradigm differs from the previous mentioned paradigms because it is aware of the complex structural conditions shaping the sex trade, which exists along a range of agency and subordination (Weitzer, 2012).  The polymorphous paradigm discusses sex work in relation to the various occupational arrangements (independent, agency, indoor/outdoor, etc.), the association with power relations, and participants’ own experiences as sex workers (Weitzer, 2012).

Acknowledging these structural relations is crucial in the discussion of the sex trade since different racial, ethnic, gendered, and sexual identities are policed in different ways within social spaces. The polymorphous paradigm also does not prioritize agency or subordination over the other; it adopts the view that either agency or subordination can be present in the lives of sex workers at any particular moment. This particular paradigm is also cognizant of the policy implications that have negative effects on the trade and those that have positive results (Weitzer, 2012). Given my lived experiences within the trade, I align with the polymorphous paradigm within a Marxist theoretical perspective in acknowledging that polices have both negative and positive outcomes on this occupation group. As such, I will be utilizing this paradigm in arguing that social space sustains these complex structural conditions and power relations that exist within it.



            Hegemonic discourses serve a purpose in both producing and maintaining social spaces. Space can be seen as a container of social power. Foucault recognizes that space is a “metaphor for a site or container of power” (Harvey, 1989, p. 213). This locus of power is shaped through these hegemonic discourses, especially those that are formed within the media and through various institutions. The statement that Harvey repeats in his discussion of space and time, that there is a time and place for everything, implies that this policing of social space determines the structural conditions that occur in particular spaces, which are governed to reproduce accordingly. Harvey (1989) writes, “the common sense rules are certainly used to achieve and replicate particular distributions of social power (between classes, between women and men)” (p. 227). In relation to the social construction of the prostitute, these hegemonic discourses play a significant role. These discourses suggest that there is a time and a place for everything, especially for sex and sexual identities.

            The social can be defined as the ways in which “social problems, social reform, and social welfare are formulated and managed” (Agustin, 2007, p. 96). However, the social problem of the prostitute was not always prominent in society, as it exists today and as described earlier. The ‘social problem’ of the prostitute can be traced back to the change in social structures and the rise of the industrial era, specifically the rise of capitalism. Before the social construction of women as prostitutes in various societies occurred, it has been documented that the vagrancy laws dominated and controlled surplus populations, including the poor, unemployed (namely migrant or racialized) women, within capitalistic societies. In Poor Laws, A Historiography of Vagrancy Laws in Australia, Julie Kimber (2013) argues that vagrancy laws “can be found in almost all states that rely on the buying and selling of labour” (p. 538). It was through vagrancy laws that the social construction of poor, unemployed women as needing social control began to formulate.

These vagrancy laws were also directed at free labour, and they were used to construct a social order. (Kimber, 2013). The British colonies adopted these same laws as a method of social control over Indigenous populations (Kimber, 2013). In addition to the above, these laws were extremely vague and women were excessively prosecuted for being a public nuisance (Kimber, 2013). These laws, due to their vagueness, were also used to punish deviant sexualities (Kimber, 2013). The fact that women, who were described as being poor and unemployed, were heavily prosecuted through these laws, finds a parallel in the description of street-based sex workers as both poor and unemployed. Yet, describing street-based sex workers as unemployed reinforces the hegemonic discourse that sex work is an illegitimate occupation or is not considered employment at all. Space in this sense sustains a package of meanings, producing and reproducing those meanings, and where certain meanings matter more. Additionally, the fact that both vagrancy laws, and sex work laws, were geared toward creating a new social order and also reducing nuisance suggest that they were created as a form of social control. Again, due to the lack of definition for these laws, vagrancy laws were predominantly and disproportionately applied to those who were seen as poor and unemployed, which mostly included women.

With the rise of capitalism came the creation of private property, and the distinction between the private and the public sphere began to become more prominent. With the creation of the public and private spheres, the organization of social space also shifted. This shift can also be seen as a reorganization of social power. Harvey (1989) writes, “if space is always a containing of social power, then the reorganization of space is always a reorganization of the framework which social power is expressed” (p. 255). This reorganization of the framework through which social power is expressed is demonstrated with the construction of the prostitute as an identity that had to be policed. The construction of the prostitute in the social also occurred at the same time the relations of production, the family, began to emerge alongside the concept of privacy (Agustin, 2007). Before the construction of the prostitute as a social problem occurred, the prostitute was seen as an individual who was “a free-born independent woman and the law protected her economic position” (Agustin, 2007, p. 99). However, as the bourgeoisie were gaining status and power, the nuclear family began to play a prominent role in maintaining and regulating the social, in both private and public spheres.

The nuclear family, within the social, represented privacy, home, domesticity, or more eloquently “a particular way of life” (Agustin, 2007, p. 102). With the rise of the importance of the nuclear family within the social, the social order also began to change. Both order and the concept of privacy were expressed through the organization of the nuclear family (Agustin, 2007). As this conjugality became relevant for the social, it also became more vital to control those who did not adopt this way of life (Agustin, 2007).

The common sense statement, there is a time and place for everything, becomes more important in discussing the social. This notion of common sense, in reference to those that disobeyed the social order, suggests that they lacked sensibleness and judgement. If they did not have a place, then they must be policed. Hence, the more the structure of the nuclear family was normalized, and the more that some individuals did not have a place in this institution, the more they had to be policed. The social construction of the prostitute as being a social problem soon followed. Agustin (2007) argues that women who defied the values of the nuclear family and the notion of privacy symbolized social disorder. They were people “without proper places in a domestic structure” (Agustin, 2007, p. 104). In citing Lefebvre’s production of space, Harvey suggests there exists a permanent tension between the appropriation of space for individuals and the domination of space. With respect to the social, this tension must be negotiated and this negotiation occurs through the politics of space.




            For Harvey (1989), space is a fact of the natural. In other words, space is malleable; it can be exploited, dominated, and controlled: the essence of capitalism. Since space is a fact of the natural, the ordering of space “became an integral part of the modernizing project” (Harvey, 1989 p. 249). With this modernizing project, institutions, in addition to the nuclear family, were also constructed. With the rise of private and public property within the social, there was also the creation of police and prison. These prisons, as highlighted earlier, housed those described as vagrants. However, legislation was soon enacted to specifically target women as a form of social control. In London, UK, the Vagrancy Act of 1822 was enacted and listed prostitutes as those who could be arrested (Agustin, 2007). In Canada, the Indian Act was enacted in 1867 and various sections relating to prostitution were added which allowed the policing of Indigenous sexualities in the private sphere (under common bawdy house law) to occur (Sayers, 2013). The social construction of the prostitute produced the need to create these institutions and these pieces of legislation. The legislation legitimized the need for these institutions and the institutions produced the need for legislation. In other words, the institutions and legislation became hegemonic. Thus, the construction of the prostitute in the social is then seen as a desire to produce certain types of spaces by policing certain identities within those spaces.

Harvey, in response to Lefebvre’s conceptualization of the production of space, presents another dilemma. He states that the production of space is “a political and economic phenomenon” (p. 255). The political and economic phenomenon tied to the production of space is a result of capitalism, and its social relations that helped sustain its modes of productions. These social relations gave rise to the politics of space, including the social and power relations. Harvey (1989) writes, “There can be no politics of space independent of social relations. The latter give the former their social content and meaning” (p. 257). When certain types of social relations are privileged over others, and certain identities are excluded from the social, then it implies that there exist power relations within the social. These power relations then reproduce the social in a certain manner that produces certain types of spaces. However, for Lefebvre, social space is a social relation, a relation of property. Lefebvre (2009a) writes, “Space is permeated with social relations; it is not only supported by social relations, but it is also producing and produced by social relations” (p. 186). The social soon was supported by the creation of the private and public spheres, along with the normalization of the nuclear family within these spheres. With the rise of the social problem of the prostitute, the antithesis of the nuclear family, the prostitute had to be policed. The prostitute, and others as surplus populations within capitalistic societies, legitimized the need for institutions and their corresponding policies. The politics of space is supported by the politics of these social relations.  

For Lefebvre (2009b), he argues that space has a history, and that this history is “linked to that of modes of production” (p. 217). He further argues that a mode of production, like capitalism, is only “affirmed if it has given rise to a space” (Lefebvre, 2009b, p. 217). Capitalism, as a mode of production, gave rise to a specific space to be dominated and controlled. Capitalism, giving rise to space, sought to produce and reproduce certain types of social relations. As these social relations were produced and reproduced, they sought to normalize specific institutions. Lefebvre (2009b) also sees space as a political instrument, where the state uses space to ensure that it controls spaces, and its hierarchies.  For the state, controlling and dominating of space is reinforced through its institutions, police, prison, and the nuclear family. Lefebvre (2009b) writes, “The fact that, once we seek to define it, each institution refers back to something else, does not mean that these institutions have no autonomous existence. On the contrary. Each administration fights to preserve in being, to affirm, and perfect itself and to gain more reality” (p. 220). These institutions, police, prisons, and nuclear families, always refer to back to something, namely the state, and the state refer back to the control of the social, namely its space.


            With the above in mind, the statement, ‘there is a time and place for everything’, is more than just common sense. Statements such as this one repeatedly mentioned by Harvey serve to reinforce social and power relations. These statements also suggest that the spaces and the social need to be policed, along with identities that do not fit, in relation to both time and place. With the rise of the nuclear family as a type of social relation and space as a social relation, the state uses these social relations to ensure that it controls spaces and its hierarchies, with the prostituted women at the bottom of the hierarchy. The prostituted woman is seen as someone who is victimized, exploited, and does not enter into the trade any sort of agency (Farley, 2004). The social created the social problem of the prostitute to control surplus populations in capitalistic societies in order to police the social spaces it created. When the social position of the prostitute was reduced from one that was respected to one that needed to be criminalized, Agustin (2007) highlights that the social “invented not only its objects but the necessity to do something about them, and thereby its own need to exist” (p. 107). Similar to the state and with each administration, the construction of the prostitute as a social problem by lawmakers fought to preserve its reduced position, to affirm itself and give it more reality.


            Today, as described in the introduction, street-based sex workers only make up 5-20% of the total sex worker population. Unfortunately, they also account for 95% of the charges laid under, what is commonly referred to as, the communication law. This communication law has a legislative objective to restrict the street-based sex work as a social nuisance, much like the vagrants of in earlier centuries. Much of the public responses to street-based sex work has been further stigmatizing and can be characterised as “Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) responses. Some of the responses have reproduced the hegemonic discourses that street-based sex work is not a legitimate form of employment. The stigmatization that street-based sex workers experience is due to these hegemonic discourses, and common sense statements like, ‘there is a time and a place for everything’. Hence, the hegemonic discourses sanction the violence that street-based sex workers experience. These discourses say that what they are doing is illicit, and the violence that they experience, sometimes including death, is part of their own fault. In other words, they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and what they were doing, they should not have been doing in the first place. However, through suppressing or stigmatizing this occupational group, visibility and vulnerability is increased. Even in Canada, if one works indoors, the only non-criminal way for a sex worker to conduct business is to go the residence of the client, which increases his/her risk to experience violence (POWER, 2012). If a particular region would like to achieve more conformity or have these workers fit better into these spaces, their safety and livelihood should not be politically disenfranchised; rather, spaces should be deconstructed to provide them the personhood to work safely and autonomously. When the binary is created between persons/non-persons in space then the problems relating to Gieryn’s question become more critical.


            When a discussion of the decriminalization of sex work occurs, these hegemonic discourses and NIMBY responses tend to dominate. Yet, in relation to Gieryn’s question, “how do geographic locations, material forms, and the cultural conjuring of them intersect with social practices and structures, norms and values, power and inequality, difference and distinction?”, these responses serve to produce and reproduce the social spaces as political spaces. When social spaces are reproduced as political spaces, the power relations that dominate and control these spaces suggest that only certain social practices and structures, and specific norms and values matter. Then, these social practices and structures, and norms and values imply that only certain types of identities and beings matter. Thus, there is a call for a decriminalization of the trade, both indoors and outdoors to reduce the stigmatization that sex workers, especially street-based sex workers, experience.

            The decriminalization of the sex trade is a type of social reform. From being socially controlled, the street-based sex worker moves from being supressed and stigmatized to socially accepted. The decriminalization of the trade means that all criminal acts that exist in the criminal code relating to the sex trade are removed. With this, many people are concerned that there will be an increase in sex workers and thus, an increase in exploitation of women and girls. However, most exploitation occurs within the context of institutional violence (POWER, 2012; Pheterson, 1989). Further, the criminality of the trade has not prevented women and girls from entering sex work. Suddenly decriminalizing the trade will not miraculously entice all women and girls to resort to sex work as a form of employment. Also, due to the stigmatization that street-based sex workers experience, many also experience violence from individuals who prey on them due to their reduced status in social spaces. For instance, Robert Pickton targeted street-based sex workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Oppal, 2012). The inquiry that resulted from Robert Pickton’s murders even called for an analysis into the effects of criminalization of the trade (Oppal, 2012). Another argument against the decriminalization of the sex trade is that it will increase the instances of human trafficking, or sexual slavery. However, this argument completely ignores the fact that human trafficking normally involves domestic wage labour and that slavery is a form of wageless labour. While sex work is consensual sex between two adults, human trafficking does not involve consent. Conflating one human rights issue with another issue does an injustice to both issues. Is there a time and place for everything? There is a time and place for street-based sex workers to experience the safety and security that others enjoy in social spaces. That time and place is here and now.


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