On December 17th 2009, sex workers and their allies across Canada will mark the 7th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. This day draws attention to acts of violence that continue to be committed against sex workers worldwide, and to the stigma and discrimination perpetuated by prohibitionist laws against sex work, which endanger our lives and work.
In light of the continuing violence faced by sex workers across the country, four groups that advocate for sex workers in Canada demand an end to criminalization and the removal of current laws around sex work that put sex workers lives in danger. “Sex workers are caught in a strange Catch-22 situation” said Chris Bruckert, President of POWER and Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa’s Department of Criminology, “While our work itself is legal, it is illegal for us to communicate about it beforehand, live off the avails of our work or run a private worksite.” Émilie Laliberté, spokesperson for Montreal’s sex worker group Stella adds, “These laws stigmatize us and force us to work in isolation, making us more vulnerable to violence.” “Sex work is not violent in and of itself,” adds Rene Ross, director of Stepping Stone in Halifax, “It is the policies that criminalize sex workers’ lives and our work that foster violence against us.”
The current legal regime around sex work in Canada has already been identified as ‘unacceptable’ by the House of Commons Subcommittee on Solicitation Laws. Jessica Yee, Board Member of Maggie’s: The Toronto’ Sex Worker’s Action Project and Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network notes that “Even Parliament recognizes the laws aren’t working. Why then is the federal government still defending these laws in the current Charter challenge in Ontario? We insist that our government enact meaningful change to allow sex workers to work in a safe environment free of harassment and violence.”
“We also want to highlight the heightened risk of violence faced by Aboriginal sex workers,” added Yee. “This has been gruesomely apparent in the murders of sex workers in British Columbia and Alberta, and the lack of police response has been especially disturbing. The lack of culturally relevant services, in addition to the racialized stigma and shame faced by Aboriginal sex workers, increases our vulnerability to violence.”
Maggie’s, Stella, Stepping Stone and POWER demand that the federal government strike down the laws that criminalize sex workers and put us in danger. The criminalization of our work robs us of the right to security. Decriminalization of sex work gives workers more control and safety in our workplaces. This December 17th we remind the public that decriminalization saves lives.
Maggie's (Toronto) is an organization run for and by 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: Jessica Yee (416) 419-6937, jyee@nativeyouthsexualheal
Stella (Montreal) is a community group run by and for sex workers. Stella’s objectives are to offer to support and information to sex workers so that we may live and work in safety and security and with dignity. Stella supports the total decriminalization of all forms of sex work. Contact: Émilie Laliberté, porte parole (514) 285-1599, stelladirection@videotron.
POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa-Gatineau Work Educate & Resist) is a non-profit, voluntary organization run by and for sex workers. We envision a society in which sex workers are able to practice their professions free of legal and social discrimination, victimization, harassment and violence and in which sex work is valued as legitimate and fulfilling work making an important contribution to society. Contact: Chris Bruckert (819) 661-3785
Stepping Stone (Halifax) provides support to former and current sex workers and holds the philosophy that all individuals have the right to self determination. Stepping Stone believes that sex workers deserve the basic right to health and safety and are entitled to social and economic alternatives to sex work. Contact: Rene Ross, Director firstname.lastname@example.org (902) 420-0103