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An open letter from feminists who support sex workers

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors, and are not subject to Media Co-op journalistic standards.
Current laws mean that sex workers are often forced to work under dangerous conditions, and unable to ensure their protection by screening potential clients, working indoors, and working with other sex workers. Photo by <a href = "http://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewbain/"> andrewbain</a>, used under a Creative Commons license.
Current laws mean that sex workers are often forced to work under dangerous conditions, and unable to ensure their protection by screening potential clients, working indoors, and working with other sex workers. Photo by andrewbain, used under a Creative Commons license.

As young feminists in Halifax committed to struggling against all forms of oppression, we stand in solidarity with sex workers. We proudly applaud Judge Himel’s ruling to decriminalize sex work, and would like to take this opportunity to comment on the press release sent out by Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle and The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers on Sept. 28, 2010. While we respect the work done by the women’s groups included in this press release, we would like to make it clear that not all feminists were “stupefied” and “angry” upon learning of this ruling. 

We, as feminists, support all people who face systemic oppression. Women, men, and trans people who do sex work face oppression from the police state, the legal system and from those who see their work as immoral, illegal and illegitimate. Sex workers are workers. They may also experience other forms of oppression based on aspects of their identity, including race, sexual identity, gender presentation, class, dis/ability, and so on. In particular, Indigenous sex workers across Canada face extremely high rates of assault and murder. 

The press release states that the decriminalization ruling is counter to work done to end violence against women. However, the atrocious violence committed against sex workers in Canada is common and widespread. Striking down the current law that makes it illegal for sex workers to communicate with and screen potentially dangerous clients in a public space or a relatively safe private space before getting into a car with them decreases the risk of assault against workers. The decriminalization of common bawdy houses allows sex workers to ensure their own safety by working together indoors. Striking down the law prohibiting bawdy houses also means sex workers can report violence to authorities without fear of arrest or eviction. 

While the law against living off the avails of prostitution seems to target people who exploit the labour of sex workers, it also criminalizes sex workers’ non-work related relationships. This law hurts sex workers by stripping away the supportive networks of friends and family. It makes sex workers’ live-in partners, roommates, and even elderly parents susceptible to being charged for living off the avails. Striking down this law acknowledges that sex workers are people with families and loved ones who deserve to live a life free from the fear of arrest. 

Like Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women's Association of Canada, who is quoted in the press release, we recognize the link between misogyny and racism, and the fact that Indigenous  women are overrepresented in sex work and are often victims of violence. However, we do not believe, as Corbiere Lavell states, that the decriminalization of sex work is a negative development and will result in expanded trafficking. 

It is not sex work in itself that is to blame for the shameful amount of violence committed against Indigenous women, but more so, we argue, the racist Canadian government, justice system, and police force. Police in Canada have a long and disgraceful history of failing to investigate the disappearances and murders of Indigenous women, particularly those who do sex work; people who seek to harm women are often well aware of this fact. As well, Indigenous women are grossly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. They are often targeted by racist police, and a higher proportion of Indigenous women than non-Indigenous women are made to serve their federal sentences in prison, rather than being released on bail or under supervision. We support the statement released by the Native Youth Sexual Health Network that this ruling could mean less violence for Indigenous people in Canada, as it promotes the safety of Indigenous sex workers, and would reduce the degree of police interference in Indigenous communities.

The press release states that the ruling “has failed to meet the equality needs of women across Canada” by decriminalizing “men[’s] right to the prostitution of women.” However, many feminists recognize that, while some women, men, trans people and children are trafficked or pushed into sex work against their will, or do survival sex work for lack of other options, there are also those who are able to choose this line of work and who experience agency and independence through their choice. Some women choose sex work because it is one of the sole employment opportunities available to them or one of the only work schedules that fits with their care provider responsibilities to children or other family members. We must continue to fight against the individuals and social forces that force women into sex work, while also recognizing and respecting sex workers’ agency. 

Legal forces that criminalize and endanger sex workers persist, and differ from region to region. In Halifax, arrest and release procedures ban sex workers from returning to certain areas of the city after they have been arrested by police for breaking any of the laws pertaining to sex work. Sex workers are put on boundaries, which means that they are not permitted to cross into parts of the city without breaching release conditions. Often, sex workers live within these boundaries, or need to access support services within these boundaries. These harsh release conditions do not help reduce harm to sex workers, but rather increase the likelihood of their incarceration, and further marginalize sex workers in our community.

Sex workers are sisters, brothers, parents, cousins, neighbours, peers, friends, and partners, and some of them are our sisters, brothers, parents, cousins, peers, neighbours, friends, and partners. They are part of our community, whether we know it or not

We’re calling for an end to anti-sex work rhetoric in our communities. As feminists, we stand in solidarity with sex workers, and we’re calling on other feminists to do the same. Supporting sex workers in your community is not always a popular cause, but it’s an important one.

Here is a short list of ways you can help sex workers in your community:

1. Learn more about Canadian anti-sex worker laws and how they endanger sex workers.

2. Talk to your neighbours, family members, and friends about sex work, about decriminalization, and about sex worker rights.

3. Get involved with and donate to your local sex-worker support organization. In Halifax, you can contact Stepping Stone (find their list of donation needs here. Many cities have organizations that assist sex workers in their communities – find out which organizations do that work in your community and see what kind of support they need.

4. Talk to the neighbourhood association or small business association in your neighbourhood. Tell them that supporting sex workers is important to you, and that you don’t want these organizations speaking out against sex worker rights. Explain that decriminalization allows sex workers to work safely.

5. Write letters to the editor of your local newspapers and local politicians explaining why you support the decriminalization of sex work in your community.

This letter was written collaboratively by members of the Feminist League for Agitation Propaganda. Questions, comments, concerns and support can be sent to flap.halifax@gmail.com


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1167 words

Comments

Thank you

Thank you sisters. Sex workers need feminism as much as feminism needs sex workers.

Support

You rock Kaley!  Your feminism is true feminism and we stand in solidarity with you!

Jill Brenneman

Project Coordinator

Sex Workers Without Borders

Raleigh, NC,  USA

Hi There! This was written

Hi There!

This was written collaboratively by feminists in Halifax who work with the Feminist League for Agitation Propaganda.

Solidarity,

Kaley

I am a feminist and a

I am a feminist and a sexworker and I was incensed when I read the "Women's Groups Outraged" press release. Even thoguh CASAC (canadian association of sex assault centres)  claims to speak for womens groups they don't.  Even E Fry was glad those laws were struck. The Toronto  & Hamilton and Montreal rape crisis centres were not outraged at all. In fact they were pleased by the striking down of these laws endangering sexworkers.  The women's shelters were also happy with the decision.  MOST feminists are happy about this except for the few abolitionist/prohibitionist ones.  It's slavery to them. They are delusional.

I thank you for expressing your (mainstream) feminist position so elequently.

We sex workers need you!

Beautifully written letter! 

Beautifully written letter!  Thank you.

British writer & ex-sexworker support!

I agree with Jill! Well done for writing such a lovely & well thought our article!

Internationally it is important that women who are feminists & believe in the rights of women to make informed choices collaborate to change the worlds attitude to sexworkers & their rights!

Feminism has had a lot of bad press over the last few years, because of the attitudes of a few radicals & many women who once identified themselves as feminists have felt let down by these ideals & even woman-hunted at times!

Its about time now to flush away those extremists & recognise that sexworkers are valid contributors to society & therefore need the same protection as well as a voice within our societies, no matter where they come from!

Thank You

Beautifully written and encouraging - Sex workers need support that often feminist groups are not always willing to give.  This is fantastic.

Disinformation helps no one but exploiters

Jade" writes: "(...) Even thoguh CASAC (canadian association of sex assault centres)  claims to speak for womens groups they don't.  Even E Fry was glad those laws were struck.(...)"

CASAC speaks for its members, not all women's groups. Resolutions are discussed and democratically voted on. The process may be more cumbersome than anonymous slurs on a website, but it *is* generally more representative of a careful look at the issues from women committed to opposing male violence and supporting survivors.

As for the position of the Canadian Association of Elizabth Fry Societies, "Jade" is mistaken here again. They emphatically do NOT support an across-the-board decriminalization that would extend to pimps. brothel-owners and johns. Their May 2008 position can be consulted at www.elizabethfry.ca/resolution/resolution.htm

Finally, it is distressing to see feminists ignore the elements of the Himel decision that will empower municipal authorities to further curtail street prostitution, i.e., harrass the most dispossessed and racialized women. Read articles 473-475 of the decision, at http://www.canlii.org/en/on/onsc/doc/2010/2010onsc4264/2010onsc4264.html. Are we seeing a class war between would-be brothel-owners and pimps who want to bring the business indoors, out of sight but more profitable to them, and street workers themselves who are still being treated by Judge Himel as a "social nuisance" to be curtailed by municipal authorities?

Finally, her decision takes for granted that indoors prostitution is safer for women, which many formerly prostituted women have said is simply not true. See, for instance, http://rmott62.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/out-of-sight-out-of-mind/ and
http://rmott62.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/indoors/
 

"CASAC speaks for its

"CASAC speaks for its members, not all women's groups. Resolutions are discussed and democratically voted on. The process may be more cumbersome than anonymous slurs on a website, but it *is* generally more representative of a careful look at the issues from women committed to opposing male violence and supporting survivors."

I would like to note that the bove letter written by members of FLAP was also arrived at democratically and colectively.

We speak for ourselves, and were interested in forwarding our thoughts about this issue in particular in order to present and maintain dialogue in our community and others.

If you have any concerns and feel like the letter contains "anonymous slurs" please direct them to our email address included above and one of our members will get back to you.

Best,

Kaley

You do not speak for all

You do not speak for all feminists.

You mis-understand the concept of choice in a hyper-capitalist west where everything is a  legitimized commodity and womens bodies and lives are just part of that commercialisation

A mans sexual needs should not out-weigh a womans right to peace of mind, safety and equal life opportunities.

A society that promotes sex work as the best paid or presumed worthwhile work of a woman is misoginistic and your compliance is disturbing and dangerous.

sex workers should not be criminlized. the buyers should.

legitimizing a market in sex  will not liberate the increasing amount of women and girls sold into the slave trade (which includes young underage girls) from developing countries.

to keep women safe we need to look a the situation holistically and make serious attempts to create a world where womens bodies are not commodities. where women do not feel the only contribution made to socety is through sex. that there are better opportunities, resources and jobs for women. That women market their minds not their bodies.

When we say its okay for men to buy us. They will continue to believe they own us.

You are defeatists. You are selling your sisters out via lack of creative thinking. The possibilities of freedom are endless yet buy you buy into market demands and economics in the confused belief you are being liberal and fair. You leave the most vulnerable to suffer because a few people choose - the majority dont they end up prosituted; raped, murdered or both

i'm not an extremist.

i am an idealist.

i crave a world where all women are safe from all tyranny. -where it is safe to say no.

 

You do not speak for all

You do not speak for all feminists.

You mis-understand the concept of choice in a hyper-capitalist west where everything is a  legitimized commodity and womens bodies and lives are just part of that commercialisation

A mans sexual needs should not out-weigh a womans right to peace of mind, safety and equal life opportunities.

A society that promotes sex work as the best paid or presumed worthwhile work of a woman is misoginistic and your compliance is disturbing and dangerous.

sex workers should not be criminlized. the buyers should.

legitimizing a market in sex  will not liberate the increasing amount of women and girls sold into the slave trade (which includes young underage girls) from developing countries.

to keep women safe we need to look a the situation holistically and make serious attempts to create a world where womens bodies are not commodities. where women do not feel the only contribution made to socety is through sex. that there are better opportunities, resources and jobs for women. That women market their minds not their bodies.

When we say its okay for men to buy us. They will continue to believe they own us.

You are defeatists. You are selling your sisters out via lack of creative thinking. The possibilities of freedom are endless yet buy you buy into market demands and economics in the confused belief you are being liberal and fair. You leave the most vulnerable to suffer because a few people choose - the majority dont they end up prosituted; raped, murdered or both

i'm not an extremist.

i am an idealist.

i crave a world where all women are safe from all tyranny. -where it is safe to say no.

 

Traficking

Hi,

We don't claim to speak for all feminists or all women.

I would also note that anti-trafficking laws would not be changed by this ruling.

Thanks,

Kaley

Self-harm

I'm sorry but I will not support this form of self-harm any more than I would support women to stay in a violent relationbship or to cut their self. Selling your body is probably one of the worst forms of self harm that does the most psychological damage. As a woman I object to my body being made into a commodity that can be bought or sold.

Yes some priveleged women may have a choice of whether to sell their body but choice or no choice what you are doing to your body is wrong. you are selling your mind, your body and your soul.  Legalisation also makes it easier for pimps and perverts to exploit women. Every year 2 million underage girls are trafficked into sex slavery and we need to be giving out the message that this is wrong.

I know feminists want to show solidarity with "sex workers". The best way you can do this is by being honest with them that what they are doing is self-harm and not making out that this is actually ok.   If a woman was going through domestic violence many women would also tell you they are happy, that she loves her situation, she would want you to support her to stay there but would you? Or would you tell her that what is happenning to her is wrong and that she is worth more. i'm sorrry but I think women are worth more than to be objects and commodities to be bought and sol. You only have to.

well said!

well said!

contradictory

This article seems to argue FOR the abolition position, while at the same time, slagging abolitionists. It's understandable that women who are presently in prostitution will say, "this is my choice", and try to make it bearable. When people who are not in prostitution offer women in it, only what they ask for, they are abandoning women in prostitution. There is no reason we must settle for this state of affairs. We do not settle for slavery, or incest, or wife beating. Even though sometimes the women and girls victimized by men in this way sometimes say, "I chose it". We understand that they are making their circumstances bearable and we try to get them out anyway.

In arguing that "some women choose it" you say:

"Some women choose sex work because it is one of the sole employment opportunities available to them or one of the only work schedules that fits with their care provider responsibilities to children or other family members."

you know what? That still doesn't sound much like a choice to me. That sounds like economic coercion. What about if there were well-paying jobs, opportunities to get training and education, good accessible child and elder care? I know (because women have told me) that women would NOT consider prostitution. or pornography. or stripping.

Saying that is not being "anti sexworker". You don't have to look very hard to see many many women formerly involved in the sex industry fighting for their own freedom and the freedom of others.

There are not, unfortunately, many men who are fighting for our freedom. Which is why we favour laws that hold the men who buy women and children (as well as some men and transsexuals) responsible. Women do require much better treatment from cops. All women. But part of that is to go after the perpetrators of crimes against us, the men who rape, batter, buy and sell us.

Yes, the police do not respond adequately or with kindness to women in prostitution. Yes, the laws need reform. But decriminalizing the whole works leaves women open to further exploitation.

We can do much better. We don't have to settle for the false choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.

Choices again!

 them. But there was, is & will be many other sexworkers who do do the work because its what they want, despite any `alternatives` thrown their way.

A lot of the attitudes/stigma`s & ignorances veered in the general direction of sexworkers help to lower the self confidences of sexworkers, especially outside the industry, this adds to the `victim` feelings that many can feel.

If they were treated socially with more respect, this could bring out a much healthier & positive situations both in or out of the industry! building on solid foundations like this can only be good for communities!

Many of those who fight for the freedom of sexworkers are, your right, either ex or retired sexworkers. Maybe this is because of the attitudes outlined previously that this is the case!

Also some men as children do not always know how to treat women, they see, they do!

Parents loose touch with their childrens sexuality as they grow & some never have that connection to build upon.

So not until later, when they become sexually active do the problems begin to show. & because of sexual hang-ups of society, any trauma`s are not picked up until too late. Sexworkers are the dumping bin of societies neurosis`s & sexual fears!

Until we start discussing truly sex & emotions more publically & without shame can these types of hurdles be overcome.

As regards the buying & selling of sex.

I beleive that we all have an innate assessment of our values, either physical or mental. These are meted out as & when required throughout our lives. So one doesn`t have to be a sexworker to have `sex for reward`, this can apply to anyone!

The laws are just a reflection of what society thinks. So until societies start respecting sexworkers, the laws are unlikely to change.

The monsters we continue to create & breed are based on this ethos! So it goes around in ever increasing circles!

Which not only endangers sexworkers, but `all` women & children in general!

There is no middle ground between the devil & the deep blue sea..there is only what is right or wrong! The measure of that is obvious!

Vancouver Observer article - exclusive Jody Paterson interview

Linking successful gay activism with sex trade workers’ fight for justice

URL access denied

Go here instead: http://www.salem-news.com/articles/november122010/sex-workers-dw.php#comments

Or: The "Linking successful gay activism with sex trade workers’ fight for justice" article featuring an interview with Jody Paterson is also published here now:

http://www.pacificfreepress.com/news/1/7349-gay-activism-and-sex-workers-fight-for-justice.html

open letter from a former trafficking victim,

I'm Jill Brenneman.  I'm a former sex trafficking victim.   Literally I was a sex slave "paid submissive", although it wasn't me that got paid but the pimp.  For years men paid to inflict pain, humiliation, bondage, physical and sexual violence against me.  They got to do whatever they wanted to do if they price was right.  And they did.  And Bruce the pimp made a lot of money.  I made one escape attempt and it was a setup from the outset by Bruce the pimp to see if I would take the bait.  I took the bait, he and five other men gave me an evening lesson of the price to pay for attempting to get away.  Decades later I still bear the scars from that night.  I could go on this topic for a significant time but that isn't the point.

I was a prisoner in the open.  How many trips to the mall for clothes with the pimp did I get? Many.  How many times did I end up in the ER with an injury separated from the pimp but stuck to the embedded scripts that we roll played over and over.  The ER viewed me as just some strung out girl.  What about the police?  Before I was abducted by the pimp I was without a place to stay.  The police have no sympathy for the homeless.  They have less for prostitutes.  Police officers were often the most brutal clients.  They were never someone to consider as an ally.  Why?  Because of criminalization.

As a prostitute, I was a criminal.  Arrest was something to fear especially arrest and being bailed out by Bruce the pimp.  He nearly killed me for much lower infractions than what he would have done had I been arrested or worse tried to access help from a cop.

While I ended up in prostitution via economic necessity and literal abduction, the answers to helping trafficking victims does not come in criminalizing either the prostitute or the client.  Answers have to come with decriminalization and ending stigmatization of prostitution.  The idea that prostitution can be abolished is inconceivable.  How can it be abolished?  Who knew I was prostitute for Bruce?  Who cared?  Criminalization made escape impossible.  

What I experienced was different from consenting adult sex work.  We can't arrest consenting adults exchanging sex for money to try to find trafficking victims that we are also going to arrest and throw to a legal system that can't be trusted.  We need sex worker rights, we need harm reduction, we need 800 numbers where trafficking victims can call for help and know that they will not be arrested but instead assisted.  Answers have to be real world.  Ones that aren't glamorous like photo op mass arrests of consenting adults.  Answers come in creating avenues to keep people from becoming trafficking victims in the first place.  

Please, look beyond simplistic, sweeping answers, even if well intentioned, they usually do more harm than good.  The answers come in nuanced solutions that aren't glamorous, but ones that work.  

I never got any justice from my three years of torture.  Impossible with the current system. I would have ended up in jail just as quick as the pimp for seeking justice.  I have suffered for decades as a result.  

Open letter from a former trafficking victim,

 

I'm Jill Brenneman.  I'm a former sex trafficking victim.   Literally I was a sex slave "paid submissive", although it wasn't me that got paid but the pimp.  For years men paid to inflict pain, humiliation, bondage, physical and sexual violence against me.  They got to do whatever they wanted to do if they price was right.  And they did.  And Bruce the pimp made a lot of money.  I made one escape attempt and it was a setup from the outset by Bruce the pimp to see if I would take the bait.  I took the bait, he and five other men gave me an evening lesson of the price to pay for attempting to get away.  Decades later I still bear the scars from that night.  I could go on this topic for a significant time but that isn't the point.

I was a prisoner in the open.  How many trips to the mall for clothes with the pimp did I get? Many.  How many times did I end up in the ER with an injury separated from the pimp but stuck to the embedded scripts that we roll played over and over.  The ER viewed me as just some strung out girl.  What about the police?  Before I was abducted by the pimp I was without a place to stay.  The police have no sympathy for the homeless.  They have less for prostitutes.  Police officers were often the most brutal clients.  They were never someone to consider as an ally.  Why?  Because of criminalization.

As a prostitute, I was a criminal.  Arrest was something to fear especially arrest and being bailed out by Bruce the pimp.  He nearly killed me for much lower infractions than what he would have done had I been arrested or worse tried to access help from a cop.

While I ended up in prostitution via economic necessity and literal abduction, the answers to helping trafficking victims does not come in criminalizing either the prostitute or the client.  Answers have to come with decriminalization and ending stigmatization of prostitution.  The idea that prostitution can be abolished is inconceivable.  How can it be abolished?  Who knew I was prostitute for Bruce?  Who cared?  Criminalization made escape impossible.  

What I experienced was different from consenting adult sex work.  We can't arrest consenting adults exchanging sex for money to try to find trafficking victims that we are also going to arrest and throw to a legal system that can't be trusted.  We need sex worker rights, we need harm reduction, we need 800 numbers where trafficking victims can call for help and know that they will not be arrested but instead assisted.  Answers have to be real world.  Ones that aren't glamorous like photo op mass arrests of consenting adults.  Answers come in creating avenues to keep people from becoming trafficking victims in the first place.  

Please, look beyond simplistic, sweeping answers, even if well intentioned, they usually do more harm than good.  The answers come in nuanced solutions that aren't glamorous, but ones that work.  

I never got any justice from my three years of torture.  Impossible with the current system. I would have ended up in jail just as quick as the pimp for seeking justice.  I have suffered for decades as a result.  

Abolitionists, Why are

Abolitionists,

Why are virtually all current sex workers for decriminalization?

Why do we reject the Swedish model?

Many of us have a postitive work experience and remain in the job for many years as a result.  I know many of you can't imagine this. That's your problem.  Don't make it mine.

Most of us do not experience violence.  Our clients are decent often lonely people.  In those cases where there is abuse it is far easier to report it to authorities in a non-criminalized profession.  The striking down of the 3 criminal code provisions will encourage victims to report and they will be seen as victims instead of criminals by police.  That matters.  That changes things. Criminalization has been traumatic.

Those 3 provisions have hurt us by making the job more dangerous.  The judge found that our security was compromised essentially by anti-nuisance provisions. Charging clients for merely being clients continues to criminalize the work and we would be negatively affected by that.

Can you not respect our views?

I like providing these services.  I will continue to do this work.  Let me do it with the same protections that any other worker has.  Don't think that you know better than I do about the choices I make in my own life.  Don't try to rescue me from my own autonomy.

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