The International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers originated in 2003 as a memorial for more than 48 sex workers who were victims of a predatory killer in Seattle, Washington. The killer said that he targeted sex workers because he knew that he could, that no one would look for them. The criminalization and consequent stigma that made sex workers vulnerable to targeted violence in 2003 continue to do so today.
Since 2003, Dec. 17 has empowered people from cities across the globe to organize and honour sex workers who are victims of violence, and be visible in the ongoing struggle for recognition and better working conditions for sex workers. It is also a moment that we urge our public and elected government officials to prioritize the right to non-violence for sex workers and repeal legislation that fosters violence.
Almost two years ago to date, Canadian sex workers, the people we work with, and our allies celebrated a huge victory in the Supreme Court with Bedford v. Canada. The justices struck down three major prostitution laws, declaring them unconstitutional and dangerous for sex workers’ safety. One year ago, however, the Conservative government implemented a new series of criminal laws, called the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (formerly Bill C-36), which ignored the spirit of the Bedford decision.
The new laws related to sex work replicated most of the harms that the court recognized as contributing to the societal and institutional violence that sex workers experience. Since the implementation of these laws, sex workers have reported increased stress, fear, and antagonism with police. The laws impel sex workers to work alone, be less visible, and forgo protective mechanisms. Sex workers who have experienced the most antagonism and repression from police under this new regime are racialized and migrant sex workers working indoors and sex workers on the street.
Fighting violence against trans, female, and male sex workers should be recognized as part of the larger struggle against violence against marginalized and gendered communities. This year’s International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers represents an opportunity for elected government officials and the public to support ending this ongoing violence.
Arrest, detainment, deportation, and policing of public space is dangerous for those of us who are already targets of police violence, particularly sex workers who are black, Indigenous, migrant, trans, or use drugs. The displacement of street sex workers resulting from the criminalization of clients doesn’t make sex work go away; it only makes us easier targets for violent predators.
The practice of workplace raids that put those of us who are migrants in danger of deportation must be stopped. Our worksites need to be decriminalized, because their prohibition leaves us with no labour rights and increases our vulnerability to gendered violence and wage exploitation. Those of us who have fewer options for income and decide to do sex work need a decent wage and affordable housing.
The new laws put in place to “abolish the sex industry” put our lives at risk. We urge our governments and our publics to demonstrate that it values women, men, trans and two-spirited people, no matter how we earn income. A crucial first step is to repeal these laws. But we must commit on a deeper level to end violence against sex workers.
Supporting sex workers’ rights means acknowledging that sex workers are part of all of our neighbourhoods, and that we care about the safety and security of all of our residents. It means resisting police mistreatment of sex workers in our neighbourhoods and not contributing to the stigmatization and shaming of sex workers and clients.
Support sex workers in our fight for our rights and dignity by joining us in our actions across Canada for the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on Dec. 17 (hashtags #dec17 #17déc). For details of actions in your region, email the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform is an alliance of sex worker rights and allied groups and individuals across the country who work together to fight for sex work law reform, sex workers’ rights and community well-being.
Action Santé Travesties et Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ), Montréal; Action Putes et Allié.es du Québec (APAQ), Montréal; BC Coalition of Experiential Communities, Vancouver; Big Susie’s, Hamilton; Butterfly, Toronto; Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Toronto; Émissaire, Longueuil; FIRST, Vancouver; Maggie’s, Toronto; Migrant Sex Workers Project, Toronto; PACE Society, Vancouver; PEERS, Victoria; Pivot Legal Society, Vancouver; Projet Lune, Québec; Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE), Edmonton; Prostitutes of Ottawa Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist (POWER), Ottawa; Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society, Vancouver; Rézo, projet travailleurs du sexe, Montréal; Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.), St John’s; Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), Toronto; Sex Work Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS), Sudbury; Sex Workers of South Western Ontario, London; Stella, l’amie de Maimie, Montréal; Stepping Stone, Halifax; Stop the Arrests! Sault Ste. Marie; Strut! Toronto; Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN), Vancouver; West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP), Vancouver; Winnipeg Working Group, Winnipeg.