NOW Magazine will stand with sex workers against discrimination

NOW supports its feisty independent journalism by selling advertising. It has run ads for sexual services throughout its history, because as a publication that stands for human rights and free expression, NOW has refused to discriminate against sex work and sex workers while allowing advertising from other less stigmatized businesses.

We are mindful of the fact that advertising benefits independent sex workers in particular, as it offers a much safer and more secure way to connect and do business with clients. For many, the alternative to access to advertising is street-based prostitution.

NOW has benefited from the advertising dollars this category of business has brought in. But it has also paid a price in real dollars and cents, because there are many potential advertisers that won't advertise and haven't advertised as a result. With costs and benefits on both sides of the ledger, NOW has made a principled choice to stand against discrimination and further marginalization of sex workers. As a publication in print and online, NOW stands for sexual freedom between consenting adults and for the normalization of the reality of sexual diversity.

This is the same struggle that the LGBTQ community has waged for full human rights despite sexualities some have deemed unacceptable, immoral and exploitative. NOW has always been at the forefront of that struggle, and the conversation has been transformed. Homophobia is less and less acceptable in Canadian society. But the new prostitution laws are part of a political agenda that aims to turn the clock back on the acceptance of human sexual diversity and our right to choose our own individual paths.

There is a high price to be paid for resisting the norms of stigmatization and sexual shaming. Those in sex work truly bear the brunt of this price. It took 10 years and a very real body count of murdered women and tragic violence to win the constitutional challenge that overturned the laws last year.

NOW Magazine has also paid and continues to pay for resisting the hypocritical moralism that would like to sweep the conversation about human sexual diversity under the rug, and the age-old practice of sex work into back alleys.

With the new law in place, NOW is threatened by the loss of ad revenue needed to finance its independent journalism and under attack with the worry that criminal charges could be laid against us. However, the constitutionality of this new law is highly questionable. And the provisions around advertising are murky.

We retained Alan Young, the Osgoode Hall law professor who won the constitutional challenge that overturned the old prostitution laws, to offer his opinion on our right to continue running ads for sex workers. Supported by a substantive study of the wording of the law, we believe that running ads placed by sex workers themselves is still legal and we are transitioning our business to comply with this new regulation.

Like any business dealing with new regulations, it will take some time to complete this transitional process.

At the same time, we welcome the opportunity to have a conversation around exploitation of women and sexual violence that includes the lived realities of sex workers. But let's remember as we have this valuable conversation, that sexual violence also takes place in the dating world, as we have seen very clearly in the past few days and weeks. And despite that and the rape culture that some are blowing the whistle on on campuses across the country, no one is suggesting that there be a prohibition against dating. We have seen in recent days horrible evidence of ongoing domestic violence. Prohibition is not the answer to that problem either. And what about cyber-bullying -- shall we shut down the Internet?

Exploitation of women, and crimes against women and children: these are real concerns. Let's deal with them with care and respect for the dignity and health of all of Canada's peoples.

Alice Klein is the co-founder, editor and CEO of NOW Magazine. This column was first published in NOW Magazine.

Photo: LexnGer/flickr

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