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Treat sex work as work


Treat sex work as work

Support decriminalization, rather than legalization
I was in the green room waiting to go onto the set of Jawbreaker, a talk show hosted by Brad Fraser back around 2002. The topic of the day was sex work. I was working as a professional dominant at the time, and I had just been introduced to the other two guests: one, a young twink webcam model, and the other, Valerie Scott, a noted Canadian sex worker activist. Like any well-meaning, socially conscious individual, I stated that "prostitution should be legalized." Valerie gave me a three-minute speech that quickly straightened me out — it is decriminalization that we are after, not legalization. This might sound like a case of semantics, but as Valerie taught me, it's very important to differentiate between the two terms.

I have always looked at prostitution in the same way I look at computer consulting, tarot card readings or counselling. The client comes to your home office, or you visit them in their home or hotel room, you engage in a service-minded encounter, and you get paid for your time. When tax season comes, you declare your self-employment income, and after expenses and other things are taken into consideration, you send the government their cut or you get a refund. It is totally standard practice. There are tons of people who have self-employment income and for the most part, there is little reason for the government to get involved with the intricacies of whatever their chosen trade or service is. Income is income.

The notion that prostitution should be "legalized" suggests that there is something intrinsically wrong with the exchange of sex for money, that it is a vice that should be controlled by the state. Well-meaning people have often come up to me and made conversation at various events, with statements like, "I support legalization of sex work.... the workers should have mandatory health check-ups of course, and they should be issued licences, but there is nothing wrong with prostitution."

There are problems with the notion that we need a separate government body created to issue licences to hookers, and that the hookers should be forced to be tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). How would the government licence sex workers? What would the criteria be? Would they require blowjob training?

Testing for STIs is also problematic. The straight porn industry learned this in 2004 when a mini-HIV outbreak caused the industry to be shut down for 30 days. Giving clients of sex workers any sort of false sense of security, perhaps in the form of certificates stating that a sex worker has tested negative for STIs, will just encourage the clients to coerce the workers into unsafe sex encounters. You cannot effectively guarantee that someone is free of sexually transmitted infections with even weekly testing, when they are having sex with multiple partners on a daily basis. So let's just forget about this whole notion that sex workers should be forced to be tested, and instead continue to educate people about safer sex practices.

The formal movement towards decriminalizing sex work in Canada involves eliminating three provisions of the Criminal Code: section 210, which forbids the keeping of a bawdy house, section 212 1j which makes living off the avails of prostitution a crime and section 213 1c, which bans communication for the purposes of prostitution. Prostitution itself is legal — I have personally claimed income related to sex work and paid taxes on it. But according to the law, I was running a bawdy house, I communicated for the purposes of prostitution, and my roommate was my pimp and could have been arrested.

There is a constitutional challenge currently underway to fight to remove these three sections of the code, but one person involved has privately expressed doubt to me that they will achieve their goal of full decriminalization without a visionary prime minister or prominent cabinet minister joining the fight. So we might continue living in this period of a fucked up Criminal Code — a period where at least there is discussion going on, and awareness of the issues. Helping to create a normalcy to the fact that sex work is legitimate work is important grass roots action. The University of Toronto organized a massive academic conference in March called Sex for Sale. I spoke at this conference and it was refreshing to see students of all orientations engaged in the process of understanding, debating and supporting the decriminalization movement.

So I'm writing this column to accomplish one small thing — to point out to the average reader that there really is no point in talking about legalizing or licensing prostitutes — rather, we should aim for decriminalization. The sex worker cause parallels the queer cause: freedom to engage in sexual relationships that stray from the norm, recognition that not all relationships survive with a monogamous, two-partner formula, and understanding of negotiated sexual encounters. These are all strong themes from queer history. Even if some of the sections of the Criminal Code take a long time to eliminate, awareness of the issues can help make sex work safer for those involved in it.

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legalize it
If we treat the sex trade like any other profit-making activity, it's only natural that government should consider regulating it.

As Todd points out, many personal service providers like tarot card readers and counsellors are quite unlicensed. However,many other service providers are heavily regulated: lawyers, plumbers, tattoo artists, meat packers... Nobody would ever claim that regulation of the building trade implies a moral judgment that its intrinsically wrong to exchange money for plumbing services!

There are compelling public health reasons to regulate the flesh work of tattoo artists and meat packers: both are vectors of disease transmission. Although I agree that mandatory medical testing of sex trade workers would just create a false sense of security, brothels at least should be licensed to ensure basic hygiene and working conditions. Plus international slave trafficking isn't some mirage. Some are exploited as nannies, so I'm glad we're getting more serious about regulating that industry. Others are exploited in the sex trade. Shouldn't we also regulate that?
Happy ENdings
Check out Happy Endings? a documentary film on Asian massage parlors in Rhode Island were prostitution is decriminalized. It is legal behind closed doors but illegal on the street. The law has been in existence since 1980
They are trying to change the law this year.
Completely Sold
Involving these marginalized women in the criminal justice system does nothing to help them. That is a social welfare issue and cannot be dealt with by the police. The pig farmer could not have killed as many women as he did, the women you actually describe above, if they had some kind of legal protection. They don't. Just another murdered whore. The police don't care and society seems to think they had it coming. Get the criminal justice system out of this dynamic altogether, completely decriminalize prostitution. Then deal, on a level playing field free of superior moralizing, to help these women directly. Many of the sex professionals I speak with, including Valerie Scott who is so right on this one, do not see themselves as anyone's victim. They are only victims of the criminal justice system.
(Sorry....... I'll just finish that thought..................)
...that is a huge discrepancy in power. The sex worker and the client probably don’t see it that way but it’s still an issue. I’m not saying the current situation is perfect but legalization/decriminalization has more implications then what a lot of people realize. Especially when it comes to consent and those living in poverty.
How does that help the Low Track
When it comes to decriminalization or legalization of prostitution one thing we need to keep in mind is that there is a difference between the “high track” and the “low track”. Decriminalization and/or Legalization would be great for people on the “high track”. These people; the escorts, the call girls and call boys have the option to screen their own clients, work in relatively safe conditions and have access to basic necessities like, housing, a drug free existence, food and clothing. Legalization gives them the ability to expand their businesses by allowing them to advertise in the open and free themselves and potential clients from stigma. It’s great for them. But is that going to be the case for the people working the “low track”? A person turning tricks on the street for 40$ doesn’t have the option of screening their clients, they are almost always addicted to drugs, they live in poverty, they are desperate for money. They ARE disenfranchised. A “John” driving down 96th street, whether he realizes it or not, is praying on the desperation and poverty of the person he picks up. That makes the exchange of sex for money, sexual assault. The men, women, trans-people and children working the street on the “low track” are not there by choice, they are there because they are desperate. That is the issue, because legalization/decriminalization effectively makes the rape of these people permissible or even legal. The issue of consent in a “sex for money transaction” also has implications for the “high track”. Money is a “need”, not a “want”. We need it to buy food, pay rent, buy cloths...ect. When it comes to consent, under Canadian law it’s not enough to say, “I consent to sexual activity right now”. If money is a need then offering money to a prostitute in exchange for sex would be sexual assault, because it’s coercion. If the prostitute doesn't have sex then they don’t get paid and then they can not subsist. One needs the sex in order to eat and the other doesn’t, th
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