Thinking about: what we know, how we
how we know it and the implications of
myths and misconceptions
Selling sexual services for
compensation is not and has
never been illegal in Canada
Sections 210, 212 and 213 make it
virtually impossible to work without
breaking the law
5 – 10% of industry is street based
– most work in other sectors
It is a human rights issue
“Its better then flippin burgers and
moral argument
Workers choose based on
personal and familiar needs,
flexibility, personality,
preoccupations ......
Stigma renders ex-workers silent
and invisible....however criminal
records do limit options
Subsistence (survival) sex
compared to sex work
“Lock up your daughters” folk
devils and moral panics
“being rewarded for being physically
attractive and sexually competent is not
an obvious barrier to self-esteem” (swav)
Another statistically
unsupported ‘explanation’
Clients versus aggressors
False (in Canada,)
Sex workers are the original
safe sex experts
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 are generally ambivalent about
consensual sex between adults is the
nuisance they do not want
Tragically this is very true, like other
jobs the job is dangerous
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%
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
Physical and sexual violence from
aggressors, and clients
 Theft from clients, aggressors and
 Harassment from neighbours and
 Police violence and misconduct
 Police harassment
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
Pressure from clients
Limits opportunities to access security of third party
controlled establishments
Criminal Record
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
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+
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)
Police failure to afford violence against sex
workers the same consideration as non-sex
Do not respond to sex violence against sex
workers (Lance Dove and Robert Pikton)
Refuse to accept evidence of foul play
Refuse to acknowledge possibility of serial
Did not investigate murders
Questionable claim that absence of bodies
prevented investigation
‘Disposable’ Women (Lowman)
Constructs workers as
Sex work as master status
Nature and extent of media coverage
Public indifference
Lack of political will
“Hooker and woman raped” Vancouver Sun
Myths and misconceptions :
Are based on discourses of protection, salvation and
 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?