Adult sex work beyond the stereotypes
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ADULT Sex work: Beyond the stereotypes. Thinking about: what we know, how we how we know it and the implications of myths and misconceptions. Sex work is illegal. False. Selling sexual services for compensation is not and has never been illegal in Canada.

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ADULT Sex work: Beyond the stereotypes

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ADULT Sex work: Beyond the stereotypes

Thinking about: what we know, how we how we know it and the implications of myths and misconceptions

Sex work is illegal


Selling sexual services for compensation is not and has never been illegal in Canada

Sex workers, their partners and their friends are vulnerable to criminalization


Sections 210, 212 and 213 make it virtually impossible to work without breaking the law

Most sex workers are street based


5 – 10% of industry is street based – most work in other sectors

Sex work is a women’s issue


It is a human rights issue

No one would choose to “sell themselves"


“Its better then flippin burgers and MacDonald’s”

moral argument

Well then... No one would freely choose to work street based


Workers choose based on personal and familiar needs, flexibility, personality, preoccupations ......

Okay then .....once they are in they are trapped


Stigma renders ex-workers silent and invisible....however criminal records do limit options

Sex workers are drug addicts


Subsistence (survival) sex compared to sex work

Sex workers are controlled by pimps


“Lock up your daughters” folk devils and moral panics

Sex workers have low self esteem


“being rewarded for being physically attractive and sexually competent is not an obvious barrier to self-esteem” (swav)

Sex workers’ come from dysfunctional families, abuse.....


Another statistically unsupported ‘explanation’

Sex workers are victims of their exploitative clients


Clients versus aggressors

Sex workers are responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS

False (in Canada,)

Sex workers are the original safe sex experts

Sex workers’ lives are disorganized and dysfunctional


Sex work is something a person does not something a person is.....Workers have friends, homes, they play sports, take their kids to hockey practice, love their parents , fight with their siblings. ......In other words they are just like everyone else!

Canadians think sex work is immoral and want it controlled


Canadians are generally ambivalent about consensual sex between adults is the nuisance they do not want

Sex work is dangerous


Tragically this is very true, like other jobs the job is dangerous

Rates of Non-fatal Violence

PACE survey

Robbed – 53.2%

Physically Threatened – 73.3%

Threatened with a weapon – 60.3%

Physically Assaulted – 47.3%

Forced to have sex against will – 56.7%

Forced to have sex with weapon – 38.8%

Kidnapped/confined – 30.9%

Rates of Fatal Violence

  • Street sex workers 60 – 112 times more likely to be victims of fatal violence (Lowman)

  • Between 1991 – 2004 – 171 female sex workers murdered (stats can)

  • 45 % of homicides unsolved (stats can)

  • Increasing rates of violence

Sources of violence

  • Physical and sexual violence from aggressors, and clients

  • Theft from clients, aggressors and police

  • Harassment from neighbours and vigilantes

  • Police violence and misconduct

  • Police harassment

Another mythSex work is inherently violent


Criminal intent violence is not inevitable or a risk of the job – it is result of the context in which workers must operate. Therefore it is preventable.

Explaining the Violence 1Criminalization

  • Pressure from clients

  • Limits opportunities to access security of third party controlled establishments

  • Criminal Record

Explaining the Violence 2Enforcement Practices

Conditions labour practices

  • Street workers

    • Relocated to dark areas

    • Do not work in teams

    • Do not take time to assess clients

    • Can not communicate/clarify with clients

Rates of Fatal ViolenceBritish Columbia

  • 1960 – 64………………. 0

  • 1965 – 69………………. 0

  • 1970 – 74………………. 0

  • 1975 – 79………………. 3

  • 1980 – 84………………. 8

    1985 “communicating law” comes into force

  • 1985 – 89………………. 22

  • 1990 – 94………………. 24

  • 1995 – 95………………. 50+

Explaining the Violence 3Lack of Protection

Can not call the police

Targeted by aggressors

Limits options in cases of domestic violence

”I thought I could kill as many of them as I wanted without getting caught.“ Gary Ridgeway

  • Candy: He won’t let me go. He takes me down by the marina, down by Hull. Rips the buttons right off my dress, starts beating me up. Nothing sexual, he just wants to hurt me. Beating me up. Finally somebody calls the cops, they come. You know what? They arrest me! For prostitution! They let him go! And I – no bra or underwear, dress wide open, black and blue, bleeding and they arrested me! The Hull police. You know. Because – and I told them, “yeah I was working on the Market and this guy picked me up and he’s beaten the shit out of me!” Fucking arrest him! I got rights. (Ottawa street based worker)

Explaining the Violence 4Police inaction

  • Police failure to afford violence against sex workers the same consideration as non-sex workers

  • Do not respond to sex violence against sex workers (Lance Dove and Robert Pikton)

Police InactionVancouver’s Murdered WomenFailure to take seriosly

  • Refuse to accept evidence of foul play

  • Refuse to acknowledge possibility of serial killer

  • Did not investigate murders

  • Questionable claim that absence of bodies prevented investigation

Explaining the Violence 5Discourse of Disposal

‘Disposable’ Women (Lowman)

Constructs workers as

  • Responsible

  • Irresponsible

  • Unworthy

    Sex work as master status

The Discourse of Disposal

  • Nature and extent of media coverage

  • Public indifference

  • Lack of political will

    “Hooker and woman raped” Vancouver Sun

So then…..

  • Myths and misconceptions :

    • Are based on discourses of protection, salvation and immorality

    • Are not based on evidence

    • Result in marginalization and stigmatization of workers

    • Support policing and criminalization

  • The policing and criminalization of sex workers

    • Increases their vulnerability to violence,

    • Further stigmatizes and marginalizes workers

    • Undermines their ability to realize their human and labour rights

      What to do?


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