Letter to City Council
(Sent to the Vancouver Sun)
DATE: Wed, Sep 21, 2011 at 4:18 PM
SUBJECT: Issues & Ideas: Response to Kerry Jang, Sept 21, p. A11
To: Vancouver Sun Issues & Ideas
Re: Vancouver taking comprehensive approach to sex trade issues, by Councillor Kerry Jang, p. A11, Sept. 21.
Councillor Jang states that the City sex trade report "represents a balanced approach," which according to the report included, "considering the full range of social development tools available to the City."
I strongly disagree.
Jang's list of tools is limited to "much-needed support systems to assist individuals to exit the sex trade, and work with neighbourhoods to address the negative impacts of sex work."
Neighbourhoods have a history of addressing the issue by forming "Shame the Johns" groups, or by hiring private security to sweep their streets.
Vancouver has funded sex-trade exit programs for more than 15 years with little overall effect. This may not be the fault of the programs, rather this lack of success indicates that sex workers face incredible barriers when they search for other work.
The most significant barrier is the negative stigma associated with having worked in the sex industry. Nothing in the City's sex-trade report addresses this barrier.
In fact, the City report perpetuates negative sex-worker stereotypes. For example, negative impacts on neighbourhoods listed in the report include "needles." Sex workers don't use needles when providing sex services. Injection drug-users discard used needles.
In order to combat the prejudice that sex workers face everywhere, the City must officially acknowledge that there ARE occasions when providing sex services is both legitimate and appropriate. Afterall, there are no sanctions in the Criminal Code of Canada that specifically prohibit sex for pay.
As a young man, I provided sex services. I had clients who suffered from cerebral palsy; who were paralyzed and unable to relieve themselves; people who were obese, old, lonely, or afraid; people who had queer fetishes such as wearing nylons, getting the school strap, or tickling. And, I made a bit of money doing it. No one will ever make me feel guilty or ashamed for providing these services professionally.
The voice of professional sex workers is absent in the City sex trade report. It's time that sex workers have a mechanism to represent themselves, rather than being misrepresented by criminologists, lawyers, social-service agencies, policy-makers and police.
In my opinion, the single-most effective strategy for preventing exploitation and enhancing health and safety is to build peer capacity for sex workers to organize themselves. It worked for the Sonagachi Project in Kolkata, India, where sex workers empower each other and report abuses and exploitation. And it will work here in Vancouver too. In places all over the world where sex work is not criminalized, sex-worker unions consistently combat unscrupulous employers and establishments.
Instead of expecting sex workers to quit their jobs, and get retrained for minimum-wage work in the service industry, the City should support and foster better sex-industry jobs. This could give sex workers the opportunity to advance within their profession. Only by taking sex work seriously by working with citizens who have successful careers in the sex trade will regulators get a grip on this issue.
When the City reviews its bylaws for establishments where workers without massage qualifications provide body rubs, the City should consider membership in an incorporated sex-worker association as a new licensing criteria.
To this end, my colleagues and I have started a new organization. Our mission is to build sex-worker peer capacity and assist working sex workers to organize themselves into a representative member-based association. Our goal is to recruit a membership of 200 signed sex-worker members by 2013.
Any help or resources the City is able to provide would be greatly appreciated.
Committee to Unite Prostitutes
BIO: Andy Sorfleet was the education coordinator for Canada's first peer-run Prostitutes' Safe Sex Project (1992-1994), coordinator of the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver (1995-2005), author of $WE@&R! The Sex Worker's Workbook: Where YOU regulate the sex industry (2005, Law Commission of Canada) and official Rapporteur for the European Conference on Sex Work, Migration, Labour and Human Rights, Brussels (2005). (To read the report: http://walnet.org/cup/cup-library.html)