A former prostituted woman comments on Pivot's legal challenge to prostitution laws

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martin dufresne
A former prostituted woman comments on Pivot's legal challenge to prostitution laws

On Monday, December 15, British Columbia's Supreme Court rejected a request to have stricken from Canada's Criminal Code all articles related to prostitution, which would have in effect given free rein to pimps, brothel owners, traffickers and buyers of "sexual services", currently targetted by the law.
Vancouver's Trisha Baptie has covered as a citizen correspondent the first trial of serial murderer Robert Pickton for
the www.orato.com Citizen News website.
Trisha was granted in March the "Courage to Come Back
Award" for overcoming social adversity, as she once worked alongside some of
the missing women and counted some of Pickton's victims among her friends.
This was in recognition for her bravery in overcoming the cycle of abuse and
addiction and for giving the murdered women of Vancouver, Canada's Downtown
Eastside a voice.
She recently was a vocal participant of the "Flesh
Mapping vancouver markets pacific women" event:
essay below about the B.C. Supreme Court decision can also be
found, along with other experiential reports on prostitution issues, on the
Orato website: http://www.orato.com/node/7816, and
has been distributed on the CATW-L list.***
***Subscriptions: http://list.web.net/lists/listinfo/catw-l
[email protected]

Pivot Challenge To Prostitution Law's
Will Not Be Heard
By Trisha Baptie
Created 12/16/2008 - 20:48

I was at a coffee shop in a meeting with an Abolition group I am a part of
on December 15th 2008, when I received a call from the Department of Justice to
let me know that minutes earlier Pivot's Charter Challenge had been thrown out
of court.

In October Pivot Legal Society went before The Honourable Mr. Justice Ehrcke
to argue on behalf of Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence
Society ("SWUAV") and ex-prostitute Sheryl Kiselbach that Canada's
current  prostitution laws in varying degrees needed to be struck down as
they put women working the streets of the Eastside at risk for harm.

I find myself in a most unusual position of being happy that laws I do not
necessarily agree with were not changed.

While I understand the heart of this case was to keep the most vulnerable of
society safe I find this court challenge to be short sighted and fundamentally flawed.

If we know the women are suffering from many different issues, why are we not
taking the government to court to provide those basics and essentials of life?
Why are we not demanding what we all know they need, detox - which currently
has a minimum of a 24 hour wait to get in and you need a phone number for them
to call you back at. Most of these women do not have a phone.

Why are we not demanding that we have LONG term recovery beds - we know
these women's lives will not be repaired in a 3 month program. Why are we not looking
at when most women do decide to change their lives they suffer devastating
mental, emotional, spiritual and sometimes physical effects from prostitution?
Why are we not taking BC's abysmal welfare rates to court and fighting for an
amount that is liveable?

Instead of looking at the reasons the women were working the dangerous
streets of the Downtown Eastside - like poverty, addiction, mental health
issues, pasts filled with
deep hurts that need to be dealt with and a myriad of other issues - Pivot, who
for the most part is on the right side of issues affecting the marginalized in
our society, was instead making sure we keep the demand for paid sex available
and not look at the heart of this issue
which is, it is the very act of prostitution that is the violence that is
harming the women - Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is astronomical amongst
former prostituted women. Why are we not looking to stop the causes of that in
their lives which is the very act of prostitution?

I have had that privilege of spending the past 16 days at the table of an
International panel that was put on by Vancouver Rape Relief to discuss
prostitution and human trafficking and included the amazing women of AWAN
Aboriginal Women Action Network). What I heard them argue was, with the
overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in Vancouver's survival sex trade,
perhaps we should look at the systemic issues that got them there - large
issues that need not paralyze us with their enormity like colonialism, racism
and residential schools to
name a few, but give us a better framework for which to look at prostitution through.

My heart is to keep the women out on the streets - right now as I write this
- safe. This is a deeply personal issue as my friends are out there right now,
and I can vividly remember being out there on cold winter nights. The way to
keep them safe however is to arrest men before they pay to rape the most
vulnerable of our society.

Canada's laws are they stand right now can be used for good. Let's all agree
to not victimize the most marginalized anymore by using the laws we have to
arrest the prostituted women; I believe wholeheartedly that the women should
not be criminalized. Let's use our laws to punish the perpetrators of this
violence against women and predators who think of women as a sub-class of human
beings that can be bought and sold.

Instead let's look at our laws and punish those that deserved to be punished
by them. We could be arresting the owners of the brothels that run right now
under the guise of "escort agencies". We could look at the
"massage parlours" that we all know are fronts for paid sex. We could
look at some of local agencies that profit of the prostitution of women. We can
put in jail that people who prey on our young and offer this up as an amazing
opportunity. Let's take our laws and use them against those who profit en masse
from the selling of women's bodies. For it is not the actual women being raped
for money that profit, not monetarily nor in the sum total of her life


Spam removed by oldgoat.  Haven't done a good spam removal in many months now.


I have had the privelege of seeing Trisha speak in one of my classes. Her focus on the ongoing disadvantage that women face is clear and wonderful to hear from someone who has lived prostitution. In a perfect world, the issue would only be about worker gender equality to be legal. And yes, women should not be criminalized. However, women would also have the support necessary to escape this 'choice' in a perfect world, something that MUST be one of the harm reduction activities pursued by legalizers with equal zeal to legalization. Safety is not necessarily improved indoors alone, nor young victimized women kept out of this choice which for so many is not beneficial beyond preventing starvation.

There needs to be a strong alternative to starvation/homelessness for young single moms and young undereducated women, and less endorsement of the benefits of legal prostitution as a career choice for these women (there but for the grace of god went I). I have heard that some young attractive women enrolling in EI or welfare are now being asked if they have considered working as an escort in Vancouver. If they are not already working that and are seeking EI it is highly unethical for them to be pushed in that direction, as obviously most women are aware the field exists (first heard 'hore' called in grade three), and it is a moral choice whether one can stomach entering the profession, the reproductive health risks, and the lifelong stigma that may result from any time there.

susan davis susan davis's picture

first, its decriminalization,not "legalization". prostitution is legal in canada. look what legalization has got us

second, the biases that exist in social services, victim services, criminal justice and the health care system are nothing new and certainly not the result of the decrim movement but rather a result of being deemed a criminal. what do you think they mean when they say get tough on crime?

violence against sex workers being seperated within the criminal code of canada sends the message that violence against sex workers is different and as such police/victims services treat it as such. also, social services workers and child and family services are no better- if discovered to be a sex worker- children seized- if beautiful- told to become an escort or exotic dancer- these policies stem from the BC liberal government instructing all departments to deny people supports and to try to get them to draw on their "social capitol"- ask your friends and family formoney/help- a bad policy that assumes people have any friends and family who can help them....

not the fault of the decrim movement but a result of system wide biases and discrimination against sex workers.

and the criminalize the client and business owners approach is no better. are canadian sex working women so incompetant that we cannot decide for ourselves who we would engage in consentual sex with and under what circumstances? that we need a mostly male government to impose a law to "protect us"? not to mention the sex working trans and male persons....

the experiences of people who experienced exploitation in the sex industry, like trisha, like me, are critical to moving forward but so are the experiencs of people who do not experience exploitation. why did they not get exploited? how did they stay safe? how can we use those experiences to improve the working conditions of and safety of sex workers?

while i respect trisha and her voice is strong, we can not base decisions as we move forward solely on the exploitation side of the industry.

as an example- dr.lowman of SFU criminology has compiled facts related to the legal changes of the last 40 years and the increasing numbers of murders that resulted from the closure of sex industry businesses under those legal changes. are we really going to ignore the impacts of the abolitionist movement on the safety of sex workers?

as a worker i can tell you its difficult to collectively bargain with a lamp post, if there is nowhere "legal to work", how will we ever improve working conditions?

also. raids resulting from abolitionist pressure to act are causing wide spread harm to the workers, mostly women who must endure them.

in a recent raid in vancouver of a 16 years in business massage parlour where no under age girls or human trafficking was occuring and was run by women- police bullied their way in, hand cuffing all of the women, who were scared and crying dressed in their "work attire" enetring rooms where workers and clients were engaged- quote" i was doin her doggie style when the cops arrived"- and then arresting the business owners mom. at some point they decided it would be "professional and appropriate" to vandalize the business smashing decorative features, cutting phone and cable wires even putting decorative flowers in the toilette. the younge woman- a sex worker- who owns the business said it took 4 days to clean up.

not to mention it was one week before rent day. why is this important? they destroyed the workers opportunity to make money in a safe place and put the women at risk as they scrambled to find work to pay their bills. there are not alot of parlours left in vancouver as a result of this on going abolitionist pressure and some could not find work else where indoors.

just like the closure of craigslist erotic services section, workers where forced onto the street. incidently, a sex worker who was "new to the street" according to other sex workers was found dead,murdered in a park in burnaby. the MAP Van is reporting more and more workers on the street in the post craigslist sex industry....i wonder how that sits with the people responsible for putting these workers/women at risk?

it's all very well for outsiders to preach abolition and even trisha, (whose experiences are important ) will not be affected by any legal changes as she is an "exited" sex worker. i am not saying i have the be all end all solution but at least the decrim movement are engaging with actual sex working people and have reports and projects to prove it.

trisha still asserts that the average age of entry into prostitution is 14- a debunked statistic- and that 90% of us were abused as children- another stat with no basis in reality- ethical research underway by the UBC center for excellence in HIV/AIDS suggests that 23% of sex workers were abused as children and i would challenge people to think about how that is closer to the average of all canadians who were abused as children- this is a bad thing but bad for everyone, not just sex workers- and that 90% of us want to exit the industry- a fact she cannot possibly know as they do not engage with active or empowered sex workers.

in the end i would really hope that people would closely scrutinize the so called "facts" about prostitution and by that i mean from all sides. do not accept what i say,do not accept what the abolitionists say. investigate for yourself, be sure you have the facts straight.

this is a heated issue  and the most important choice we can make it to not repeat the mistakes of the past or base decisions on biased/skewed data done outside of the ethical standards set out by the canadian government in the "tri council policy statement".

i have worked in an industry for 25 years with no labour standards or occupational health and safety training, no labour complaints processes or even protection of law. where do theh thousands of canadian sex workers likeme fit into the abolitionists strategy? we don't. are we really prepared to allow workers to die over a social experiment?

in my last encounter with trisha and her cohorts their assertion was that the "swedish model" or criminalize the client would simply eliminate the market for sex and thus the sex industry would end...no market? as if to say simply passing a law would be enough to adress issues facing sex workers. it will not adress system wide biases, we will still be considered criminals/victims. we will still be numbers on a page justifying budgets whether its a police "organized crime" budget- i am sure i am counted as a pimp- you know pimping myself- and counted as a victim- you know because of the sever abuse i am heaping on myself while trafficking myself.

not to mention that sweden's social support structure is one of the best in the world and that model depends on that level of commitment to supporting people. we do not have a structure like that here so whyb would we think a carbon copy of that model will work here? it won't because we don't have the supports to back it up.

it is illegal to comprimise the rights of one group to "save" another. that's the international charter of human rights.

in spite of the silencing tactics of the abolitionist side, i still remain hopeful that reason will prevail and that after 25 years i will be able to work without fear and that canadians will base decisions moving forward on facts, not fear.

Red Tory Tea Girl

When Janice Raymond is a crown witness on the abolitionist side, it gets generally easy to determine which side is protecting women and which side is protecting the right of some women to attack and marginalize other women.