Back from a brief vacation with a long post that will probably annoy some people, but is the result of a long-standing annoyance…
By now I am getting extremely annoyed with a certain discourse around sex work that has become popular amongst some sectors of the North American (and occasionally European) left. Originally a discourse that was limited to lifestyle [and predominantly male] anarchists, as well as a few hippy sex fetishists, the political assertion that sex work is liberating, and that the liberating potential of sex work should be treated as part of a radically progressive politics, is now being embraced by the broader left-wing population and gaining the support of so-called feminists, socialists and communists who should know better. Indeed, the unqualified pro-prostitution position is being treated by some as a litmus test for numerous radical commitments as it is now attached to, and turned into a falsely essential component of, feminism, queer and trans liberation, and other anti-oppressive political positions.
BARRIE – Lawyers and women’s rights supporters say they’re upset that hookers arrested in a recent “sweep” are being convicted even though Canada’s prostitution laws sit in limbo before the courts.
“It’s dead wrong,” says lawyer Angela McLeod, who represented a 19-year old woman convicted of communicating for the purpose of prostitution.
McLeod’s thin, frail client — sentenced to nine months house arrest — was one of 20 young women arrested during an undercover sweep in downtown Barrie.
The woman sat in the prisoner’s box wearing sneakers, pyjama bottoms and an oversized coat, rubbing her wrists after a police officer unsnapped handcuffs and released her into the custody of the Elizabeth Fry Society where she will remain under house arrest.
Members of the Sex Workers Outreach Project New York City (SWOP-NYC) and Sex Workers Action New York take to the streets. (Photos courtesy swop-nyc.org)
In a perfectly “free” labor market, everyone theoretically has the right to exchange work for commensurate compensation. But a free market is not necessarily a just one. And when the commodity is sex, how free is too free?
Sex work, and its attendant culture wars, have moved over time from traditional brothels of urban lore to online marketplaces, raising new questions about private and public freedom. In the digital world, how should trust and power be negotiated between provider and client, both encircled by systemic gender and economic inequities?
According to numbers released by the Trans Murder Monitoring project in 2010, there have been more than 420 reported murders of trans people internationally since 2008, which means a trans person is killed every three days.
An Ottawa-based activist organization that works with sex workers has won an Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) award for a resource kit it created to look at issues facing sex workers in Ottawa and Gatineau.Representatives from Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau, Work, Educate and Resist (POWER) will be presented with the Jay Browne Living Legacy Award on Nov 15 at OHTN’s annual conference in Toronto.Frédérique Chabot from POWER learned about the award on Nov 3.
“This is such a prestigious award — an award I thought a group like POWER could never win,” she says.
Lara Purvis (left) and Frédérique Chabot hold POWER’s banner.
The go-to perspective on prostitution from many progressives in Canada these days seems to be a fairly hard and fast vote for decriminalization or legalization. Even many of our beloved East Vancouver lefties seem convinced that the most progressive position to take is one of “sex as work,” arguing that debates around prostitution should prioritize labour rights, allowing women to come out from the underground and”‘into the light” as free and autonomous workers.
The gaps in this logic are all at once complex and simple. While I have long been a supporter of labour rights, of unions, and have counted myself as a fighting member of the working class who has waivered somewhere between socialism and Marxism from the moment I understood the concept of class struggle, I’ve found myself suddenly misaligned with some of those with whom I share my end of the political spectrum.
For the past decade, I have had the great fortune of working closely with sex workers in the DTES and across the country who are fighting for safety, equality, legal rights and social protections for women and men in the sex industry. When I first began campaigning on this issue, I thought that, as a lawyer, I could make a particular contribution to this movement by bringing test cases that would advance rights and protections for sex workers. I thought that by providing pro bono legal representation, a major access to justice hurdle was overcome. However, what I did not know was that one of the biggest struggles would be for sex workers to simply get their day in court, and that there are many other systemic barriers for sex workers who want to engage the legal system to assert their rights. A long struggle for access to justice for sex workers continues and, in January 2012, Pivot will continue this fight at Canada’s highest court.