Columnists

Joyce Arthur
How prostitution abolitionists substitute ideologies for facts

| March 2, 2012

The following is part two of my critique of the prostitution abolitionist viewpoint as contained in the Factum of the Intervenor Women's Coalition, which was submitted in May 2011 by a coalition of seven abolitionist groups (the "intervenors") in the appeal of the 2010 Bedford prostitution case. Part 1 of my critique rebutted the intervenors' promotion of the "Nordic model" of legislation for Canada.

In their Factum to the appeal court, the intervenors are very fond of repeating certain phrases and ideas as if they are the gospel truth when they are nothing more than unsupported ideology. Numerous examples of ideological assertions masquerading as facts appear in their Factum -- even some in their "Statement of Facts" section (Part II, pages 4-9). For example, Fact #8 reads:

The sexual exploitation, coercion, and violence that define prostitution are practices committed overwhelmingly by men against their social and economic subordinates, women and children. (p. 4)

The view that prostitution is "defined" by exploitation, coercion, and violence is purely subjective, and was soundly repudiated in the Himel case by a wide range of testimony from sex workers, academic experts, and police. The court found that the laws against prostitution prevented workers from taking certain safety measures, which means that the laws contribute to making it unsafe. Even so, most sex work is still conducted consensually, safely, and civilly. Therefore, violence, coercion, and exploitation are not intrinsic properties of prostitution -- they occur under certain conditions that can be improved or fixed, such as by working indoors with others, taking the time to screen clients, or hiring a driver.

According to Fact #14:

Contrary to the analysis of the court below [the Himel decision], indoor prostitution is not safe or healthy for women. Prostituted women routinely face acts of physical and sexual violence in all locations from johns and pimps. (p. 6)

Not only have the intervenors substituted their own ideological view in place of the court's reasoned analysis, they've also misstated the court's findings. Neither the judge nor any witness ever claimed that indoor prostitution is "safe or healthy" for women -- only safer than working the streets. Based on the evidence presented, the judge concluded (emphasis added): "I accept that there are ways of conducting prostitution that may reduce the risk of violence towards prostitutes, and that the impugned provisions make many of these 'safety-enhancing' methods or techniques illegal. The two factors that appear to impact the level of violence against prostitutes are the location or venue in which the prostitution occurs and individual working conditions of the prostitute. With respect to s. 210, the evidence suggests that working in-call is the safest way to sell sex; yet, prostitutes who attempt to increase their level of safety by working in-call face criminal sanction." (Paras 360, 361)

Fact #15 states:

Contrary to the analysis of the court below, physical and sexual violence are not the only relevant harms of prostitution. Prostitution itself is harmful to women. Women in prostitution in all locations endure verbal abuse and humiliation, loss of their children to adoption or state care, physical pain from repeated intercourse, mental trauma, health problems, and homelessness. (p. 7)

The harms described can happen in a variety of contexts and circumstances and are not intrinsic to prostitution. According to this abolitionist "fact" however, it is prostitution that should be blamed and abolished, not the prostitution laws that lead to the arrest of sex workers and loss of their children to state care, not the criminalized working conditions that limit their choices in clients or services provided, not the poverty or abuse that causes their health problems and homelessness, and not the misogyny and whore stigma that sanctions the verbal abuse and humiliation against them. Further, the intervenors mistake the sometimes horrific court testimony as a description of sex work in general, when in fact sex workers were focusing on specific examples of harms to illustrate how the criminal laws endanger them.

The intervenors also committed this error back in Fact #12:

Contrary to the analysis of the court below, there is no clear distinction between pimps, agency/brothel owners, driver/bodyguards or others who live off the income of prostituted women. Women testified about agency owners and drivers who raped prostituted women, got them hooked on drugs, or offered them up to groups of other men. Women testified that these men rarely provided protection from johns. (p. 6)

This disingenuous point can only be made by ignoring the entire context of the case. An extremely diverse range of experiences occurs in sex work, both positive and negative, but of course the focus of the Himel case was on negative experiences. The whole point of bringing the case was to show how the laws put workers into unsafe conditions with little recourse. So if an agency owner rapes one of his workers, it's probably because he knows the prostitution laws (and associated stigma and shame) will allow him to get away with it. The intervenors also cannot admit that many of those "profiting" from the sex industry are actually helping to keep women safe and care about their well-being. The sex industry employs countless regular, good-hearted people, which makes the intervenors' characterization of everyone as exploitative "pimps" who "live off the income of prostituted women" an insulting libel.

Incidentally, the abolitionist myth that "prostituted women" are all passive victims of violent predators and pimps leads to an almost-hilarious contradiction when it confronts the realities of sex workers' lives. The capitalist sex industry that abolitionists hate so much is primarily run by women, and the people who profit the most from the sex industry are sex workers themselves. Many of those that employ or contract sex workers are women, who in turn often used to sell sexual services themselves. Further, sex workers often help each other out by referring clients, setting up dates for each other, and generally looking out for each other. Under abolitionist ideology then, sex workers are simultaneously the abused exploited victims of evil pimps, and the abusive exploitative evil pimps themselves. Obviously, this contradiction indicates a fundamental flaw in abolitionist ideology.

In their Legal Argument (Part IV), the intervenors are not above mixing their ideology with over-the-top hyperbole and fantastical distortions of the Court's decision:

The analysis of the court below is erroneously premised on the assumptions that (i) prostitution itself is not a practice that is typically coercive, unequal and harmful; (ii) both prostitution and male violence against women are inevitable rather than practices of sex inequality; and (iii) responsibility for resisting men's violence rests with women themselves, by effectively diverting it on to less privileged women in other locations. (p. 15)

The Court made none of these "assumptions." It made a finding, based on evidence and expert testimony, that prostitution is often unsafe but can be made safer (like any job that carries risk), and that the criminal laws force workers to work under unsafe conditions. The word "inevitable" occurs nowhere in the decision, although Justice Himel did state: "This evidence tends to support the notion that prostitution is an intractable social problem," which has a different meaning. The third "assumption" that the Court is accused of making is completely unrelated to anything in the decision. Is it some kind of bizarre caricature of the pro-decriminalization position? A clarified version appears a bit later in the Factum:

The finding of the court below that the security of women in street prostitution is violated by the communicating law because it decreases the time women have to "screen" johns for violence should be rejected. This conclusion revives the long-discredited notion that women can and should be responsible for preventing male violence. Any man can be violent and women cannot predict when a man will turn violent. The notion that security of the person is dependent on the possibility of a few more seconds to check for visible weapons or the odor of alcohol is illusory. (p. 16)

Although no one is actually responsible for preventing the violence of others (except for police officers), every one of us takes steps to ensure our own safety every day. This common-sense behaviour is not limited to men, as if women are incapable and need to be protected like children. Further, workers in general do not bear full responsibility for their safety on the job (unless of course their work is criminalized!) Workplaces and jobs are protected by labour laws, occupational health and safety codes, management's responsibilities to their workers, insurance, and so on. Self-employed persons can take advantage of many of these protections too. Finally, the claim that sex workers will not be safer if they have more time to negotiate a transaction is a completely unsupported assertion that flies in the face of all the evidence, including the testimony of sex workers -- the ones that abolitionists refuse to believe or listen to because their knowledge and experiences don't conform to abolitionist ideology.

Here's how the intervenors rebut the three imaginary "assumptions" (above) that the Court never made:

The Coalition submits that these assumptions are wrong and, as a result, Himel J. erred in the connections she drew between the impugned laws and the violence women face. Decriminalizing men's purchase and sale of women's bodies does nothing to disrupt or combat male violence against women. Instead, it removes one means for the state to interfere with that violence. (p. 15)

The intervenors never provide a shred of evidence to show that the Court erred in connecting the laws to the violence. They simply ignore the voluminous evidence presented in court that led to the judge's finding. The ideological assertion they put in its place here doesn't even make sense. When additional safety measures are implemented in a workplace, it's reasonable to expect improvements in safety. Not only would decriminalization enable a sex worker to enhance her safety using various methods that are currently illegal, it would allow her to seek police help, without fear of arrest, if she does experience a violent client. This in turn should help discourage clients from abusing workers because their risk of arrest has increased. So in reality, decriminalization would remove several obstacles to greater safety, exactly contrary to what the intervenors assert.

Later in the Factum (Part IV, Legal Argument), the intervenors misstate the Court's decision so they can sneak in yet more ideology as fact:

While the court below noted the "power imbalance" in prostitution, it failed to identify by and against whom that power is exercised. In social and political terms, prostitution is at once a consequence, a manifestation and a practice of the sexual subordination of women to men in an economically and politically unequal society. In legal terms, prostitution is a consequence, manifestation and practice of sex discrimination compounded by discrimination on the basis of age, Aboriginality, class, race and/or nationality. (p. 12)

Justice Himel did not note the "power imbalance" in prostitution, she merely cited an abolitionist witness to that effect -- Dr. Richard Poulin (para 351). Himel had to disregard Poulin's testimony because it was unsupported by evidence and amounted to "advocacy." This did not stop the intervenors from presenting the "power imbalance" as a fact, because it allowed them to strap a big load of ideology on top of it.

The Overview of the Factum states:

The buying and selling of women's bodies in prostitution is a global practice of sexual exploitation and male violence against women that normalizes the subordination of women in a sexualized form. It exploits and compounds the systemic inequality of women based on sex, race, poverty, age, immigration status, disability and Aboriginality. (p. 1-2)

It's not the act of buying sex that "exploits and compounds" systemic inequality, it's the social attitudes to prostitution, the laws around it, and way those laws force sex workers into unsafe situations. Further, our society is still fundamentally patriarchal and unequal, and the way that prostitution occurs is just one example of many aspects of our culture that "exploit and compound" inequality. It doesn't follow that prostitution itself should be abolished, any more than cashier jobs should be abolished because they're low-paid and dominated by women. The answer is to improve working conditions and reform laws to ensure fair and just work opportunities for all. But throughout their Factum, the intervenors make numerous statements linking various social ills and crimes (such as trafficking) with prostitution itself, as if this somehow supports their argument. They never acknowledge the evidence that such harms emanate from or are exacerbated by the criminal laws, as well as existing social inequities.

The intervenors' use of ideology instead of facts throughout their Factum, and their unwillingness to acknowledge evidence against their position, does not predict success for the abolitionist position in upcoming court cases. Sex workers and their allies who support the decriminalization of prostitution should take heart from the Himel decision because it has already rejected such ideology in favour of evidence. Unless higher courts are dominated by conservative ideologues, we should expect prostitution to be decriminalized across Canada within the next few years, based on the clear and compelling evidence that the laws endanger sex workers.

Joyce Arthur is a founding member of FIRST, a national feminist sex worker advocacy organization based in Vancouver that lobbies for the decriminalization of prostitution in Canada. She works as a technical writer and pro-choice activist.

Comments

What is a 'prostitution abolitionist' and who describes themselves thus? Prostitution is not going to end. The selling of sex is never going to stop. But let's not equate working as a cashier with selling time to men during which they insert their penis into women's bodies. Let's not ever make the laws such that some women who cannot get other kinds of work will be encouraged, legally, or perseuaded, or forced into prostitution. This topic - and the efforts of women to decriminalize it, cannot be rationalized. The world is a not a rational place but is filled with contradictions, especially where sex is concerned. Unfortunately, or should that be fortunately, prostitution has to stay exactly where it is. If anyone wants to introduce more health benefits, fine. But don't make this act of male penetration (and whatever else) into what might be an unwilling participant, legal.
Do you know that anyone who contributes towards easier access of sex for men will problaby do better in this world? You say, "the abolitionist myth that 'prostituted women' are all passive victims of violent predators and pimps leads to an almost-hilarious contradiction when it confronts the realities of sex workers' lives. I don't know what that is either - "abolitionist myth." I do know that women who have little or nothing are more likely to be the ones who get men coming on to them as though it is their right, as though all women have to contribute something "worthwhile" to the world, and as they see it, sex is it if they have no other means of support, or no one in their lives. Know why women seek out the best possible marriage partner they can - it's because all women must have a man in their lives, if not one, then share many with other women. What a choice! Circumstances play a great part in how one's life will turn out. But sex is always part of it. So, "almost hilarious contractions" is it? Not for everyone.

thankyou joyce for continuing to fight the mis information campaigns of the abolitionists. the complete disgregard abolitionists have for the facts is the biggest contributing factor to the on going degradation of the safety of sex workers in canada.

people listen, people believe them, policy is written based on these mis representations...

we have to move forward based on the facts and reality of working in the sex industry. i for one need no rescue and have not experienced any violence in years. yes it happens, no one is saying it doesn't. but how is criminalizing people in the sex industry going to help that? it's not. only with sound planning and implementation of industry wide standards will we see improvement in the working conditions of sex workers.

I doubt very much that policy is written based solely on what you call "misrepresentations," Susan. Unless we know your circumstances, how can we come to understand why you haven't experienced violence while on the job. If you have women siding with you, as protection, perhaps that's what it takes. You're asking the wrong Q when you say, "how is criminalizing people in the sex industry going to help that?" There really isn't an alternative solution to this problem, without putting all female children potentially at risk. I'm sure most people don't want to see prostitutes arrested, but there just isn't another way for police to keep the peace. Prostitution simply cannot be legitimized in the way that you want, without it leading to all sorts of problems within society for other women, especially women who live in poverty. The problem is, you are only thinking of yourselves, not other women and young girl children learning about the world.

perhaps if you read the reports we wrote on the experiences of 100's of sex workers and didn't subscribe to the idea that sex workers are either victims or greedy gold diggers you could see past your morality based arguements.

i live in total poverty, why is it that it's always the assumption that we are making boat loads of money and that we're so self centered that we are blind to the fate of our sisters in the sex industry?

i have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to the fight for equality, equal access to support services and police protection and improved safety and stability for sex working people in this country.

i have worked for 25 years in an industry with no labour standards or even protection of law. i have been in prison, worked on the street, survived 4 overdoses and numerous assaults and attempts on my life.

who are you? you clearly have not bothered to tkae the time to listen to sex workers from all over canada and to hear that we DO have altneratives, there is a better way to protect us. give us our equality and decriminalize us now.

the only path is to implement occupational health and safety programs and to work towards unweaving the tangled web of mainstream systems biases, not one of which does not affect our lives, and to give sex working people the same rights as every other canadian citizen enjoy.

i am not some lone profiteering exploitative self centered prostitute with only an eye for cash and other people's husbands. i resent the implcation as well. you don't know me.

www.wccsip.ca

www.bccec.wordpress.com

www.tradesecretsguide.blogspot.com read this occupational health and safety training and tell me if you think it will encourage people to enter the sex industry? information about abusive pimps and what happens when you are the victim of an assault and the way the police may treat you is hardly normalizing or encouraging anyone. or how about the extensive lists of health risks? sounds glamourous.

 

Is it a question of morality when a person says they would rather their daughter did not become a prostitute? I consider myself fairly open-minded but I still wouldn't want that occupation for my daughter. But if she went into it, it wouldn't make any difference to our relationship, I'm sure. People have different beliefs and ways of perceiving the world and of acting in it, and it can become a problem when different interests collide, as they do over the decriminalization of prostitution. People might like to say "live and let live" as their way of dealing with difference, which is fine unless someone's toes get stepped on. You can do what you like, as long as it doesn't affect me or mine, or society (just because I am interested in how society goes). But what you are asking for - decriminalization, and the right to negoitate legally, does affect me, or could. and it would affect society, as I mentioned in one of my other posts. You can't talk about sex work as though it is the same as being a cashier, or a firefighter, or a gardener. It - sex - is an act of intimacy, or at least is often considered to be by many people. If not an act of emotional intimacy, then at least it is an act of physical intimacy. Where does one person's individual personal sense of privacy start? Some people don't like to be touched on the arm. But I think there's more who would object to having to let a stranger engage in sexual intercourse with them. I don't see it as being about morality when a person wants the right not to have to argue that they don't want their privacy interfered with on this level. It's bad enough when landlord or maintenance man decides to enter your home without asking first. But one can let that slide. So if prostitution loses its 'criminal" edge, I should think it would make many men more willing to see how far they can take it - and not with the rich and powerful or women with husbands. It will be with the most vulnerable in society. Just because it's your choice doesn't mean that all women want to subjected to the behaviours that will crop up if it is decriminalized. This is my blog: http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/ . I have written quite a bit about sexual politics and other forms of social inequality, not so much on prostitution per se.

That was an interesting read. I haven't looked into the subject much, but I'm inclined to listen to actual sex workers when it comes to decriminalization and what not. It effects them directly, so they would know what's best, wouldn't they?

thanks canada apple;

sue, your privelged upbringing and higher education, your international migrations and lack of experience with poverty, being racialized or marginalized doesn't allow you to understnad the choices made by people who do face those experiences.

it is easy to say sex work is bad, abolish prostitution for the betterment of society because you will not be affected. you comment that you would not want your daughter or grand daughter to engage in sex work. the point is that you will not be there when your child makes a decision about sex work...would you not rather they could make that decision in safety? or would you be willing to see your child go missing? go to prison?be found murdered?fed to the pigs? be cast out of society because of your ideals?

how would that help them? it wouldn't. my parents and the other parents of sex workers feel the same way you do. no one imagines their child becoming a sex worker or dumpster diver or drug dealer, toiletter scrubber, or grave digger...

but it happens, its a fact. continuing to complicate the situation by basing policy on biased and discriminatory ideals rather than fact will cost people, women their lives. are you prepared to own your ideals even if it means the murder of women, and children ...or their incarcaration and humiliation?

there are laws to protect people from assault, slavery, abuse, extortion, debt servitude and labour laws to guarantee safe working conditions. there is the international charter of human rights guarnteeing us equal access to justice and safety.

or is it your belief that only those deemed "good" or "moral" are human and deserving of rights? sex workers were only classifed as human beings in vancouver in 1973. is this the approach you prefer?

we need rights and decriminalization in order to take control of our collective destinies and safety and what we don't need is people trying to impose their tired old ethics at the expense of our lives and safety.it's been 100 years of prohibition, it's over. the social experiment failed miserably, people are dead.

can we please move on and try something new?

I'm not so secure financially that I don't have to worry about things like that in my own life. I'm living on the edge, so to speak, not from month to month, but wondering how long I can last. All my resources went towards my education (at midlife), leaving me with nothing when there was no career to follow. I hadn't realized that the right relationships, with men and/or women, and conforming (not writing about what I do), were all essential to being accepted and rewarded for all my hard work. Susan, it seems you haven't read anything of mine or you might have realized that. Here's my life story, for additional info: http://samcpherson.homestead.com/StoryofMyLife.html . So, yes, I do understand the experience of being marginalized and in poverty. And one thing I noticed, in case I didn't make that clear, was the first thing that happens is that men start to close in, figuring it's only a matter of time until you submit sexually, in order to survive. That's an odd remark about motherhood that you make. Perhaps becoming a prostitute was a one-time decision for you, but I spent much of my time when married making sure my children had every opportunity available, to pursue their interests and learn new ones. It worked for my daughter, who followed our family's interest in swimming to her life's work. My ideals helped that happen. I know life isn't always that straightforward, but my ideals certainly didn't do her harm. As far as my views about sex are concerned, that's up to her what she does. It's you , Susan, who is putting on this subject the condemnation of religion and saying that is my moral compass too, which it isn't. There can be a kind of 'morality,' if you insist on using that term, that doesn't include the notions of sin or God. I've already said to you that our world is not as rational a place as you would like to think it is. this isn't only about you having your rights. It's also about the rights of others to live in peace, without having to put up with men who start to think even more strongly about their apparent right to have sex with any woman they like. And there are men like that. If you can address some of these concerns it might do your cause more good than simply demanding the decriminalization of prostitution and the right to negotiate freely with your customers. I don't want to be subjected to men who think that, because the law has changed, that they have the right to offer money to any woman who is vulnerable and isolated, for sex. You have to say how you are going to control men who take this as a new freedom in their lives. I don't want to see young women sent to the local brothel by the job agency because there is no other work avaiable for her. I haven't actually noticed that laws protect me from illegal and harmful behaviours I have been subjected to. But I have seen women siding with men who do them, and men not wanting to cause offence towards the source of their joy. This is as much about sex as it is about prostitution, the work. I know feminists are fond of saying men and women are equal or should be, and some will work with you towards getting what you want, but their lives aren't going to be affected. Furthermore, when it comes to sexual desires and physical needs, they're not the same at all. I would want to know that world won't be a worse place for the vulnerable if decriminalization were to take place.

have you read anything we've written ...or the sex worker rights forum here? we have written plenty and people are listening. you seem to be a bit behind the times if you think sex workers aren't speking out.

about your daughter you say "it is up to her what she does" but what if that included sex work? no one is saying people should be forced to do sex work as an alternative to social assistance or that the government should force women into sex work. that is not decriminalization.

as it stands no one can be "forced to work" at any profession, even by the government. why would sex work be any different? why would the government force people into sex work when it does not force people into any other profession? your fears there are unfounded.

however, beauty bias does come into play when now for people trying to access finacial support and are told to become escorts or exotic dancers because they are pretty. some people are denied finacial support because they are a sex worker, whether they want to exit or not.

so how does continuing to criminalize us help with that? it doesn't. it means that anything people do to us is accepteable, we are criminals and get what we deserve.

decriminalization has NOT produced the effect you are describing in any of the countries where it has taken place. in fact the opposite. you are basing your position on moral panic, mis information and a lack of knowledge of the facts. the "vulnerable" are the ones criminalized. the workers on the street bare the brunt of police enforcement actions and as brothels and show lounges are closed due to criminalization, more and more workers are forced onto the street. more and more workers die also. we can see that in the mortality rate of vancouver sex workers escalating over a number decades as a result of uniformed actions taken against our industry. please read the history of sex work thread in the sex worker rights forum.

take a little time to educate yourself on the facts, your position has no backbone in reality. do you care about sex worker safety or not?

Hey, lady, we all do sex work (or have done). It's what women were born to do! Didn't you know that? Some people are just more open about what they get in return - money, careers, a home with hubby! Most women wouldn't say that about themselves, as it is a norm in society. We are simply raised to be that way. Some are quite knowing and use their feminine wiles in practical ways to get what they want. It's not the govt who does the persuading, when it comes to what kind of work a person will do. The clerks at the job centre, or the personnel office at the place of work gets to choose who will get accepted and who will not. So anything done to poor people is acceptable - as you seem to already know - unless they are actually doing sex work, then they have worth. No, I have not seen any facts on how decrimilaization has affected other countries. I don't know how easy it would be to get hold of. I just know what men are like now, and it doesn't take too much effort to see how decriminalizing the negotiation of sex will lead to all sorts of social 'misunderstandings'. Having already been a victim of similar kinds of misunderstandings, where intentions or behaviour were misunderstood, and in situations where such behaviour was regulated against, I can only surmise that it will get worse, if there is no fear of reprisal among men for their bad behaviour. I have always heard about prostitutes struggles for healthcare, etc, but that also is something many other women and men are not getting in this society. Yes, I'm sure your work is dangerous to your safety. Men can be like that. You may experience more of that, because of your job, but many women have also experienced violence, at the hands of stronger men or men who control them. I don't see that the ones doing work that is criminalized are the more vulnerable. It's because it is sex work, and men who find themselves in need of sex, or wanting to punish someone for what some other woman has done to them will seek out the most vulnerable - the one isolated, or lacking money, homeless, or without a man in her life.

the men who purchase sex are not "bad men" nor are all men prone to violence....this seems like you are unwilling to step outside of your comfort zone and actually look up the facts.

why can't men be vulnerable? why do we as a society assume all men are only out for themselves and self gratification? a man whose penis has been amputated to prevent the spread of cancer is vulnerable and in need of care. he is not a "bad" person nor is his lonliess "bad behaviour". he is suffering. why does he not deserve to be comforted and if a sex worker chooses to do so, why should she not comfort him? how is this "bad"?

can you imagine if suddenly being a nurse was illegal? how easy would it be for nurses to work if they were deemed criminals? or how about milk? what if milk was sudeenly illegal and milk producers had to operate in dark isolated areas risking their lives to sell their wares?

i mean criminalizing alcohol didn't "harm" anyone did it? or criminalizing drugs? or abortion? how can you be so blind to the impacts of being deemed criminal and the impact of being the victim of police violence during raids?

you have created a seperate set of rules for sex workers. that is discrimination and is illegal under the international charter of human rights.

please at least have the respect enough if not for us but yourself to actually read up on this a bit and discover perhaps where you may have yourself discriminated against sex workers and ways in which you could better embrace government of canada policies governing research and understand which "facts ' you are being mislead with.

those rules are in place for a reason... to inform canadians about the ethics and reliability of the research findings they are considering. try to understnad from our perspective, being a criminal is a huge barrier as is a criminal record. how is arresting women helping them?

these laws are completely ineffective, its time to protect people not punish them and to try something new.

But we were talking about the men who made your life less secure - the ones who commit acts of violence? I know from doing research on sexual harassment that not all men who do this are nasty men either - many are husbands and fathers and otherwise good, hardworking, intelligent men. Oh right - nurses. This entire issue has nothing to sex, is that what you're saying. However, speaking of nurses, read Dutch man sees it his right to have nurses serve his sexual needs: http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/2010/03/dutch-man-sees-it-his-right-to-... . I hope you see my point of view. I do realize that prostitutes are hard done by. So are people in the lower classes picked on more than they deserve. After all, it isn't ALL sex workers who get arrested, is it. eg Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the prostitutes he was involved with. He was so important he didn't even have to admit they were. But sex work is still not the same as being a cashier, much as you would like the Human Rights Commission to say it is. It's pointless for me to simply repeat what I've already said, but that's about it - selling sexual intercourse is not the same as any other job. No discrimination doesn't apply in the case of prostitution because it's about sex. It's a sensitive topic and we simply cannot have an act of sex for money made legal because of the implications this would have for society. Don't worry about the criminal record. Everyone knows it's unfair and if it's used against you it's because they don't like the colour of your hair or your views on football. Perhaps some lawkeepers want to punish you - just as some of your clients do. But working within the law, if it were changed, won't keep you much safer. The men who would have abused you will have to find other ways of dealing with their frustrations; instead, going after other vulnerable and isolated women. Decriminalizing prostitution isn't going to make the abusive men go away completely. It might make you into an ordinary citizen, just like everyone else, but that won't keep you safe. Susan, what I can do, with your permission, is publish this discussion we've had on my blog, leaving out Canada Apple's comment, and including a link to the original article on rabble.ca by Joyce Arthur. It's another outlet for people to read your views, and mine.

won't make it "much safer"....based on what research or other countries expeireinces? it will make it safer and the sex workers used by dominque strauss-kahn are not immune. in the US, i watched on "sex slaves in detriot" last night, they arrest women to "rescue" girls. i also commincate with US workers through the social justice work i do...they arrested 100 women in 1 episode, showed their faced, filmed them naked, broadcast it on television....total humiliation, in my opinion it's violence when police to these kinds of degrading things. they were all indoor workers in highend hotels. the sting was police in the hotel baiting the workers. in the end the had "leads" on 3 pimps and 5 "girls" no arrests in that area but had comprimised the safety, confidentiality and dignity of over 100 women.... arresting them all in the name of "rescue".

just becuase you don't hear about sex workers being charged doesn't mean it doesn't happen. thst show was on back to back to back last night....how many women were comprimised throughout the 3 episodes...?

and sure, if you would like to repost this to your blog, i am good with that.

also, my customers are not "otherwise good men, husbands, etc" they are good men period. their lonliness and vulnerability does not make them "bad".

my point about other labor markets is that why is working in sex work different? is it because of a victorian set of morals that only allow sex in the marriage bed for the purpose of procreation? why is it so hard to imagine that people need intimacy and that not everyone can find that intimacy through what society deems as acceptable channels ie marriage.

what about a man who cannot find a wife? like a younge man i knew as a client who was completely infirmed, involuntary seizures, physically immobile, barely able to speak...he was dying. he would have never experienced intimacy if not for me. given the health benefits for him and its affect on his emotional health and my choice to be there for him, why is that "bad"? its not like he can go to a community event and mingle with potential mates...? or does he not deserve to feel the most basic and beautiful of human experiences before he dies...

people seem to miss the social context of sex work and reduce what we do to penises penetrating vagina's. it could not be further from the truth. i live by saint paul's haspital for a reason and have comforted many men during life changing moments like being diagnosed with prostate cancer...the fear of loosing all sexual feeling, ability....terrifying for them.

we are not homewreckers looking to corrupt or steal otherwise good husbands. happily married men do not need my services.

here's an example of a married client i met at a hotel. i arrived and he immediately began to shake. i thought maybe i wasn't his type and asked him if he was ok explaining i could leave and it would not be a problem. he said no please come in. we went to the bedroom, it was a suit, and i began to undress. he burst into tears. i hugged him and asked him what was wrong... he explained that he had not had sex in 17 years and had never seen someone who looked like me except in a magazine. he explained further that he was married but that his wife, who he loved deeply, had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse. he did not want to ask her for sex or impose on her.

we did not have sex, we held each other and he cried and we talked. where does something like this fit into your neat little mould of all men having power over women and all sex consumers being bad... he was lonely...in crisis...he's not a bad person for that

no one benefits when we try to paint a group with one brush, these guys are not the boogey men they are made out to be. please try to see beyond the dominque strauss kahn stereo type of client, they are not the majority.

It's not your sex work that I object to, as long as it's your choice and as long as decrimializing it doesn't affect vulnerable women and young girls in society. I keep saying that but you're not listening. There will be effects on society if it happens. How could there not be? You're determined to paint me as under the influence of God and sex-as-sin. But it's society I am concerned about, not God. Yes, I have heard from reading about it that prostitutes do other things too, and not just have sex. That's fine. It's the sex that's problematic, if it's decriminalized, not making money by talking to acquaintances about their problems. Sure, you perform a service for society. It's not me who objects to that. I'm just saying it can't be decriminalized because the act of sex still has some significance in society - physically, emotionally, and for some, spiritually. My point in mentioning "otherwise good men, husbands, etc" in reference to sexual harassment (comparing to prostitution), was that even happily married men will overstep the boundaries, whether through S-H or having sex with a prostitute, or consensual sex with a friend outside marriage. Do you really think they're going to tell you they're happily married, that they just want to know what it's like with someone else, or many others? Same with sexual harassment. Some men, going through midlife, might just feel like demonstrating their sexual prowess. Power goes to the head, as might have been the case with Strauss Kahn. Or Tiger Woods. Or Bill Clinton. But it wasn't Strauss Kahn I was talking about. It was the prostitutes he was set up with. Not a chance that they would be arrested, not like the women you have mentioned in your post! I can probably put most of this on my blog, up to when I mentioned it to you. but you have to stop implying that I am an abolitionist, or otherwise against what you do, for yourself. It's other women I am concerned about.

you are wrong about the highend workers, they are arrested, all the time. i am not saying you are a religious zealot. you are the one consistently saying sex consumers are bad , prostitution is bad, yes, they all tell me whether they are married or not, who am i going to tell? they are anonymus to me so i pose no threat, they can be completely open and honest with me which they are, i know that maybe hard for you to believe.

so all the other women but me are your concern. unfortunantely that has been our problem all along. our safety comrpimised to "save" other women. illegal under the international charter of human rights.

i do not have to stop saying anything to you, you can post this or not.

you continue to make assertions like the highend workers will never be arrested without any proof or facts to base them on. in vancouver i work with the vpd on a number of levels and can tell you that NO workers on street are arrested here any more, not for 3 years. raids against highend  or indoor workers continue however. completely opposite to your assertion.

why do the police think its ok to raid and disrupt consentual sex workers? to 'rescue" the so called trafficking victims...how many trafficking victims were discovered .....0 how many women's safety disrupted? 100's......because highend workers are greedy gold diggers and get what they deserve.

also, i don't believe that criminalizing sexuality is a good idea at all. homosexuality was criminalized, what did that do? it allowed police and main stream systems to do whatever they wanted to homosexual people including arrest, humiliation, violence, murder.... a woman's choices about who she has sex with and under what circumstances is none of the government's business.

the last thing we need is a mostly male government regulating where, when and under what circumstances a woman allows people access to her vagina.

did decriminalization of homosexuality help homosexuals? yes, the battle continues but at least they fight for their rights without fear of arrest.

did it have ramifications for society?yes. did 1000's of children become homosexual? no.

i am not calling you a religious person or an abolitionist but if you are against decrim and want to continue to watch members of my community die and go missing, you are not helping us at all and perhaps what you represent is maintaining the staus quo in spite of the missing and murdered. we'll call that the who cares if you die, these laws must stay approach.

you cannot care about one group of women over another.you cannot comprimise the rights of one group of women, to "protect" another. it's illegal under the charter.

if you are going to post this on your blog, you should post it all or not at all. you don't get to pick and choose from my responses.

If you, or someone else, would respond to the issues I raised, then it would make it worthwhile to have this on my blog. You continually act as though I am the enemy. But I am not an abolitionist, in terms of wanting to end prostitution. That's nonsense. However, there are concerns for society. You say "the last thing we need is a mostly male government regulating where, when and under what circumstances a woman allows people access to her vagina." But that's what you are asking for when you want prostitution decriminalized, because if it is, you find more rules and regulation about how to govern it than you can imagine. And you will still have women who do it illegally. Why do you think indoor workers are being arrested but not women on the street? It sounds like a push to make you go to court to have it decriminalized and laws changed about working indoors. I don't know if these are all within the same negotiations or if they are being looked at separately. I guess as long as it's a criminal act, you can't use property to pursue your line of work. There are some similarities between oppression of gays and oppression of prostitutes, but differences too. The big issue is prostitution - the world's "oldest profession," and all about sex. It's about women and sex - and while religion is one aspect of it, it's also about the physical and emotional boundaries of sex - what's permissable, what shouldn't be, and so on. Rape, sexual harassment, and matters of consensual sex are all wrapped up in this. And work. I was busy and have not posted it yet. When I said I can't publish it all it is in part because it is so long. I will simply stop at a certain point, and I have already picked the most obvious one, as I said before. I also do not want to have content that will make my site an "adult content" site, which would limit access to it for some people, and yet I don't know how strict the blog site is. I received a notice one before, questioning my site, but it was resolved without my doing anything. I will put the dialogue onto my website, too, under Essays etc. S A McPherson website http://samcpherson.homestead.com/homepage.html

sue, with all due respect, please read what we propose. there is no way that sex workers who are so vocal in this country will sit back and allow the kind of "legalization" and regulation you are describing. that is the difference between decrim and legalization. legalization implies some kind of government regulation where as decrim means protection of labour law, unions, as is our right under the charter.

mandatory health checks? useless and illegal. unless every single canadian submits to mandatory health checks, first it would be a uselss excercise in terms of disease prevention and second it's discriminatory. why should we submit to discriminatory policies and practices directed at victorian attitudes of sex workers as the vector of disease?

dna sampling? how will that help solve crimes against sex workers? unless every canadian submits their dna it would be a useless excercise. the only purpose for dna sampling is to make the police job easier when they find us dead. how about a little prevention instead, like allowing us to work in collectives, indoors to increase our safety? oh no, that's illegal, it MIGHT normalize violence against women...

any other sort of regulations would be impossible to enforce, unless there were on-site government supervisors monitoring penetration...as if.

nothing i write could not be said in a doctors office. penis and vagina are not dirty words. it's peoples attitude towards these words and body parts that creat alot of the stigma we live with.

an open and transparent industry with accountability would creat an environment allowing the workers to have the greatest control of their working conditions. maintaining our criminal status does nothing to work towards that. the only road is to open the doors and shine a light into every dark corner, weeding out exploiters while respecting the choices of sex working people.

The myths and unfounded fear-mongering over decriminalization thrive mostly in the absence of people hearing the more sane, realistic, and informed voices of sex workers. When I've read articles from Australia and New Zealand regarding debates that led to reforming their similarly outdated laws, the statements from the religious zealots or other anti-decriminalization types were often followed by responses from Catherine Healey of the New Zealand Prostitutes' Collective or someone from the Scarlet Alliance in Australia. We almost never hear that in Canada. This week I read the word "eccentric" used to dismissively describe the three sex workers on the winning side in the Himel judgement. Like most of the discussion on the subject in Canada, it seems to pretend the rest of the thousands of sex workers across Canada do not exist. I think that when more people in Canada have a better understanding of the real situation, and that there are already thousands of sex workers (some independent, some working for escort agencies or in massage parlours) across Canada, the debate will become more realistic instead of involving so much ignorance.

Is there some kind of similar national organization in Canada representing sex workers? Or is the problem in Canada simply that media or people in general refuse to acknowledge their existence?
Sue To Susan, Re "an open and transparent industry." You mean like we have in every other industry - all the hidden biases and abuses and exploitation coming into the light. It's not going to happen. See my blog for excerpt from this discussion The decriminalization of prostitution: two women talking http://suemcpherson.blogspot.com/2012/03/decriminalization-of-prostituti... March 6, 2012

to sue.... re all hidden biases and abuses, all other industries do not have those biases compounded and reaffirmed as ok because the workers are "criminals". have you been to prison? i have....maintaining the current legal framework does nothing to address the societal biases, all it does is say that society only cares about one group who suffer abuses....the other group get what they deserve because they are criminals.

noone is denying what you say about discrimation against women, my problem comes when you are willing to comprise the rights of one group of women- deemed less valuable/dirty- for another group of women- valuable- moms, clean, good girls-.....all women are important and to quote a movie i saw recently- "it's a kingdom of conscience, or nothing". i will not happily sacrifice myself or my cohorts to save a "good" woman...why should i? those so called good women wouldn't do it for me....they are the reason i am deemed a criminal in the first place. thanks alot sufferagettes and prohibition....

the fact that discrimination exists is not the fault of sex workers. we deserve to be on a level playing field with all working women, no matter their industry. the fact that we are seperated out as the sacrificial lambs and as the reason all discrimination against women exists is why so many have died....we will better women's lives by comprimising the safety and lives of other women, less important women, sex working women.

the sadest day in my advocacy work was the day i realized it was women, not men who had created the dangerous working environment i live with today. yes women. the same women who only wanted the vote for white wealthy educated women, never mind anyone else. those same women are responsible for the "poor prostitute victim" steroe type we live with today.

@subhuman

yes there are several orgainzations like the NZPC and scareltte alliance http://www.spoc.ca/ ( i do not represent spoc) for one...in ontario, BC, quebec, maritimes...yes there are organizations like that. this is a HUGE country however and provincial and municipal laws that complicate things. we are working towards unity but being CRIMINALIZED .....sue......makes that very difficult. if we were not criminalized we could better and openly fight for our rights and work together without being considered "organized crime"...you know ... where its an extra 14 years in prison simplky for being part of an organized crime group....like a sex worker union....criminals who are organized....

Susan, you don't know that having a criminal record, in itself, results in abuse. A record can be used against a person if they are poor or vulnerable. Rules and laws are made to protect the rich and powerful. They get criminal records too, if their crime can't be swept under the rug. But even if they do have to serve a little time, for rape or manslaughter, their crimes can easlity be overlooked when they get out again. And feminists won't sacrifice themselves, or go out of their way, to save you. I'm not saying the rights of one group have to be compromised. I'm still trying to get you to see that other women will no doubt suffer if decriminalization is achieved. If you can see that, then I have gotten somewhere. But the thing is, it's not going to be moms and middle class wives who suffer anyway. It's going to be the women pushed out by their familiy, alone and isolated, without enough to live on. That's when the predators move in.That's when prostitution and sexual harassememt overlap. As the author, Meghan Murphy, of the article 'Who does decriminalization leave out?' at http://www.feminisms.org/4346/who-does-decriminalization-leave-out/ , says, it's the well-off prostitutes who will benefit from decriminalization. Read my posts there at the end, too. I agree with you. It was an eye-opener for me, too, to realize feminists weren't my friends. No matter how much I learned, and analyzed, and wrote, finally I realized it wasn't merit that mattered. The world revolves around sex and money, and it is these that matter most, even to feminists. All women have secrets - something to hide - about how they got their job, or their husband, or whatever. No one escapes this world without doing something they would rather not have to share with others. That's how people are kept in line, afraid to speak out, or to acknowledge their own vulnerabilities, no matter how well off they are. Wealthy feminists keep quiet about certain things because it is in their best interests that they conform to the norms of the group, no matter how vile they are. My website on the Montreal Massacre goes into this further, as it is one instance of feminists withholding truths and distorting other truths, to suit their own agenda. Marc Lepine killed women, but the reason he did so was never allowed to be discussed in any detail. Weren't Canadians curious about Robert Pickton's reasons? All feminists want to say about Marc Lepine was that he hated women. I wonder why, knowing what happened to me, if it happened to him too, then no wonder he was pissed off. And as for me, the same thing is happening to me - my reputation ruined, I am treated as stupid, but I don't stand a chance. Montreal Massacre website http://montrealmassacre.homestead.com/index.html

also, thanks for the link but it may surprise you that i am familiar with the montreal massacre.

We received the following letter to the editor from Judy Bridge:

SUCH A LOW STANDARD

The Burnaby murder trial is over. A john was found guilty in the murder of Ping Li, a young prostitute who was shot and killed in an indoor brothel on the 25th floor of a high rise in Burnaby.

Yet still there are those who want to see prostitution laws support decriminalization so that brothels would be legal. The fact is, it is not the place that makes prostitution for women so dangerous - it's the human factor - the johns, the pimps, and the traffickers.

Even some advocates for decriminalization (rabble.ca 3/2/12 Arthur) have recently admitted that indoor prostitution is not safe or healthy for women: "Neither the judge nor any witness ever claimed that indoor prostitution is 'safe or healthy' for women - only safer than working the streets."

Safer? What about Ping Li? She's dead.

Why would anyone not want to see women safe (not safer)? That's what the abolitionists want: support for women, no criminal charges for women (who have little choice regarding prostitution - especially when they are trafficked, under age, or surviving), and exit services.

Anything less, anything that allows johns, pimps, and traffickers to harm women, is such a low standard.

Judy Bridge
Vancouver

Susan, you say you are familiar with the Montreal Massacre. I suggest you only think you are. I wrote about it from a different perspective, that of a man being done of his career by middle class women, the daughters of the mayor and so on, in Montreal. Feminists destroyed his reputation, they wouldn't allow people to discuss his reasons - that feminism was causing so much harm in society. This is no justification for murder, but it does explain why Marc Lepine felt compelled to act on his frustrations. My website gives different perspectives than the feminist one.

why is it that criminal charges used to protect nom sex working women should not apply? why is it that assault, unlawful confinment, murder, rape....do not apply to sex workers? should we make marriage a criminal act to end domestic violence? to protect women from entitled husbands?

why do we need 2 sets of laws to protect people from violence? raids against asian massage parlours lead to those businesses being driven underground where in one year following the raids 3 members of that community were murdered including a "pimp" or as we call him a hero security guard. he was stabbed to death by 2 cowards who knew the asian workers would not call police because raids and deportation and targeted them for systematic robbery.

thanks for the rescue....

where in any of the decrim work does it support exploitation of women and girls? no where in fact the opposite. the fact that people in spite of the numbers of escalating murders ignore that the so called protective measures being implemented are causing that lack of safety.

instead they balme the industry for violence and vulnerability they themselves have caused. there were no murders of sex workers before 1975....why? becuase we operated openly and without fear of police.

policy based on mis information does allow johns, pimps and traffickers to harm workers and creates dangerous working conditions. stop blaming the industryand do something to protect us, listen to us,work with us....

the abolitionists claim to want to protect us but don't even take the time to listen to how we feel that could best happen instead they push for measures that have no proven benefit to increasing the safety of sexworkers. the nordic model is not effective in accomplishing any of the things the abolitionists claim it does. if it did why would the swedish parliament be reviewing it now?

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