Sex workers’ groups speak out against police harassment, urge Parliament to go different way

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

You can change the conversation. Chip in to rabble's donation drive today!

Big Susie's, Sex Professionals of Canada, Sex Workers Action Group Kingston, Stepping Stone, Maggie's: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Group and Stella join fellow sex workers' organizations in condemning recent police activities that use deception and intimidation to investigate trafficking and exploitation, driving the sex trade further underground and away from safety. Three hundred and thirty three sex workers across the country were targeted.

In cities across Canada, male officers are posing as clients to book appointments with indoor sex workers. Several officers then show up at the worker's door, demanding entry in order to check for signs of trafficking or coercion. Once inside, officers bombard the worker (usually a woman) with personal questions, demand to see ID and search the worker's premises and possessions.

Tragically, such duplicitous and intimidating policing tactics hinder the important goal of surfacing actual cases of exploitation and coercion. "Part of our work as a sex workers' rights and advocacy organization is to support anybody who might find themselves in a coercive situation," shares Phoenix from Maggie's.  "I can tell you that these sorts of deceitful and menacing approaches further degrade trust between sex workers and the police, and stop people in exploitative situations from seeking and accepting police assistance."

This policing strategy seems to contradict the recent Supreme Court decision that insisted that the law cannot be used to further endanger the security and safety of sex workers. As Valerie Scott from Sex Professionals of Canada points out, "Police intimidation pushes us further into the shadows, and sets up the same kind of circumstances that the Supreme Court just ruled are unacceptable."

Sex workers express feeling intimidated by the current police tactic and coerced into allowing police into their homes and worksites. Privacy and dignity are compromised. "I understand the importance of identifying and stopping abuse," says Emma, a sex worker in the GTA. "But scaring and intimidating women isn't the way to do it. I mean, several uniformed cops at my door asking to be let in? While I'm standing there in my lingerie and heels? I would likely let them in just so my neighbours and landlord won't know what's going on. The last thing I need is to lose my home. Not to mention it scaring off clients and me losing money. It's not like this is some minor inconvenience."

We urge politicians and law enforcement to recognize the unintended yet serious harm caused by poorly designed laws and tactics intended to fight exploitation. "As Parliament tackles prostitution law reform over the next few months, they should be cautious not to develop laws that, in the name of helping women, actually compromise their safety and well-being," comments Amy Lebovitch, a sex worker and activist with Sex Professionals of Canada. "Otherwise, we will have more of the sort of deception and intimidation we are seeing with this recent policing tactic -- and worse."

Laws that could cause such damage include those that do not criminalize sex workers directly but aggressively target their managers and clients. As Kara Gillies, a sex worker and advocate, says, "The problem is that there is no way to go after our clients and managers without hurting our income and security. And those approaches harm not only us but also the majority of clients and managers who are benevolent, not exploitative."

Sex workers would like to have other strategies developed to decrease exploitation and increase safety. Mz. Scream from Big Susie's explains: "In fact, sex workers are well equipped to work together with business owners to build a better business practices model including a minimum set of health and safety labour standards, and an official complaints process so that we can weed out the bad clients and managers under our own governance."

Collectively we are calling on local and national police forces to stop using deceptive and intimidating tactics against sex workers. As Chanelle Gallant, Spokesperson for Maggie's states, "Harassing over 300 sex workers in this manner is a misuse of police resources, oversteps acceptable police conduct and undermines everyone's right to fair application of the law."

Contacts:

Big Susie's: Big Susie's is a working group by and for sex workers in Hamilton and the surrounding areas. Our purpose is to fight back against the stigma and silence that degrades, devalues and dehumanizes sex workers and their work. Big Susie's is a sex-positive and sex worker-positive organization that advocates for the total decriminalization of sex work to allow sex workers self-determination of their own bodies. 

Maggie's: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project is an organization run for and by local sex workers. Our mission is to assist sex workers in our efforts to live and work with safety and dignity. We are founded on the belief that in order to improve our circumstances, sex workers must control our own lives and destinies. Contact: Chanelle Gallant 

Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) is a sex worker activist group whose main objective is to work toward the decriminalization of sex work through political activism and public awareness. Contact: Amy Lebovitch 

Sex Workers Action Group Kingston (SWAG) is a sex positive group run by sex workers, people with lived experience, allies, and agency members who strive to improve the lives of sex workers in Kingston and surrounding area.

Stella, l'amie de Maimie (Montréal, Quebec). Stella is Montréal's organization run by and for sex workers. Since 1995, Stella has fought for better working conditions for sex workers working in all sectors of the industry, promoting health and human rights

Stepping Stone is a charitable not for profit organization that offers supportive programs and outreach to women, men and transgender sex workers and former sex workers in Halifax, NS.  

Photo: Mikasi/flickr

Further Reading

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.