Sex workers speak out

Sex work ads move underground to 'unregulated and often unmoderated' sites

Part 6 of a series
Photo: Loozrboy

A prohibition on the advertisement of sexual services is part of the anti-prostitution laws introduced by the Harper Conservatives. This has led sex workers to place ads in untrustworthy places and to use less clear language about their boundaries and services, which impedes screening of and communication with clients. This is the sixth installment of a series featuring the voices of sex workers.

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AJK, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador

I have been working in the adult massage industry as a massage attendant on and of since 2008. For the last eight months I have been the in-house manager of an adult massage studio.

The studio and staff identify as feminist and pro-choice. We have all-female management, and the business is owned and operated by a woman with lived experience in the industry. We respect the privacy and discretion of all of our clients and staff. We are registered and licensed with the city in which we are based. We pay income taxes. We vote. We promote and project equality, empowerment, independence, and self-worth. Our work is consensual. Our work is real work.

Sex work after Harper For two years, sex workers have faced tough laws, implemented by the Harper Conservatives in defiance of a Supreme Court directive not to impose dangerous conditions on prostitution. The new laws criminalize those who purchase sex (clients), those who communicate in a public place in order to sell sex (sex workers or third parties), those who carry an advertisement for sexual services (e.g., newspaper, website), and those who gain material benefit from sex work (e.g., security, drivers, receptionists, agency owners). Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has yet to address the unconstitutional nature of the legislation.

Since the introduction of the new sex work laws, I feel less safe as an individual within the industry. At the studio we have had to change the way we advertise our work. Before the new laws, even though we had to be careful about the language and images we used in our ads, we were still able to advertise in the Yellow Pages, newspapers, newsletters, and elsewhere. We would pay for advertising like other businesses do in order to secure safe, reliable, and consistent work.

The local police seem uncertain about how best to support sex workers.

We are now forced to advertise (if we do at all) by using sketchy websites that put everyone at risk. The providers and consumers have all moved underground to connect. These methods are unregulated and often unmoderated, and can be dangerous to both the provider and the consumer. Women have had their personal information, including full names, addresses, contact information, identifying photos, and social media accounts, posted and shared for everyone to see. This is where we are forced to go to advertise. This is not safe and this is not acceptable.

Interactions with law enforcement are inconsistent. The local police seem uncertain about how best to support sex workers and issues that arise within the sex industry. I do believe that they want to help, but they are not being given the direction or tools needed to do so.

We need to be allowed to advertise in print and online media without fear of arrest of the third parties that run it. We need government to acknowledge that sex work is real work. We need people to be our allies and not our adversaries.

Kayla, Halifax, Nova Scotia

I have been in the sex trade since I was 19 years old. I am now 42. I used to work on the street but now find my clients by advertising online. I also have a few regular customers that I see from the past.

The enactment of Canada’s new laws surrounding sex work has made it more difficult for me to work. The criminalization of advertising has made website owners more fearful, and I now have to be even more careful with the way I word my advertisements online. I cannot use certain photographs, and I cannot state what my specialties are.

I want to seek medical attention without feeling ashamed and judged for my work.

All of these things were part of what made advertisements unique and sellable. Being restricted like this makes pitching a sale more difficult. I have incurred a loss in finances since this act has been put in place. I am also finding it more difficult to screen my clients ahead of time, as they are afraid to be open and honest due to fear of being arrested, since they are now the target.

My interactions with the police have changed as well. When I do speak with police, they are very shaming and degrading. They talk to me about wanting better for my life and ask me questions about other sex workers. They think they are being helpful, but they have this misconstrued idea that all sex workers are trafficked victims in need of rescuing. I am not a victim and never have been. I am an educated woman from a good family. I have had relationships over the years that do not resemble the stereotypical idea of “pimps” and “prostitutes.” I feel more harassed by police and their desire “to help” than I ever did.

These laws need to change. Recognizing sex work as work is necessary to protect the safety and rights of sex workers worldwide. We cannot protect ourselves sufficiently with these laws surrounding how we practice our trade. Not being able to hire protection or drivers leaves us in vulnerable situations. Not being able to work in pairs and work out of one house together causes us more risk of danger.

I decided to do sex work because it worked for me.

I want to feel safe and protected by my government — the way other workers do. I want to seek medical attention without feeling ashamed and judged for my work. I want to feel confident, knowing that if I am assaulted or victimized in any way by a customer or other people, I can go to the police and file a report without being ridiculed and made to feel as if it is my fault because I am a sex worker.

If the government would just listen to me, to all sex workers, and hear our voices, I would ask it to please reconsider these current laws and amend them to complete decriminalization in order to end the human rights violations against us.

I think it is very important for people to know that sex work is work and that we are not all victims. I want people to know that I decided to do sex work because it worked for me, and I enjoy my work. I am a sex worker but I am a human first, and I deserve the same rights and protection as every other Canadian citizen.

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