“Well, It Should Be Changed for One, Because It’s Our Bodies”: Sex Workers’ Views on Canada’s Punitive Approach towards Sex Work
1.1. National Policy Approaches to Regulating Prostitution
1.2. Canada’s Recent Policy Approach to Regulating Prostitution
The three impugned provisions, primarily concerned with preventing public nuisance as well as the exploitation of prostitutes, do not pass Charter muster, they infringe the s. 7 rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.([Bedford v. Canada 2013,] p. 1104)1
Bill C-36 reflects a significant paradigm shift away from the treatment of prostitution as “nuisance”, as found by the Supreme Court of Canada in Bedford, toward treatment of prostitution as a form of sexual exploitation that disproportionately and negatively impacts on women and girls.
2. Material and Methods
2.1. The Study
2.2. Data Analysis
3.1. Demographic Profile
3.2. Thematic Analysis
3.2.1. Theme One: Challenges of Criminalization: “They Make It Very Hard for People to be Safe”
That’s kind of where the grey area is, what’s public and what’s not. Like is the internet a public place? So there’s a lot of grey area that’s really hard to understand […] like if you live with a partner, are they guilty of that [living on the avails]? That’s kind of grey area too I think. So, it’s all very convoluted.
I don’t know much because it’s very confusing. They tell you that you can do this, but, on the other side, you can’t. Like okay. You can do escort service, but you can’t advertise. So how you going to work if you can’t advertise? For any type of job or business, you have to advertise to make money. […] So how am I supposed? You don’t want me soliciting on the street.
Criminal laws I think, the real laws, they are not applying them and they should, you know. That is what sickens me. They will use small insignificant laws when people work professionally and adult work […] but you know sexual slavery is going on and they don’t do anything about it because they waste their time going after small agencies that run well.
As far as it’s not legal, we always try to hide. We don’t have the confidence to, to think that we can get help from the people around us […] people take advantage of the fact that you do something hidden, illegal.
They make it very hard for people to be safe. What I know is that you’re not supposed to work out of the same place, which I do, so I am breaking the law on that. I realize that. But, to work out of a hotel or anything is unfamiliar surroundings, and it’s just not safe.
Why am I giving you my personal information when you can still arrest me, and secondly, if I have your license and I get pulled over and it’s some dodgy dink who pulls me over on the highway, he can see I have an adult license. If he chooses to be an asshole, you think he’s going to be any nicer to me on the side of the highway? No.
Well, more in the sense of having a criminal record because of it. It causes a lot of problems. With job offers, at one point, I didn’t know what to do...to put or not that I have a record, they will...It’s either I’m lying or if I don’t say anything maybe they won’t know. This is stigmatization, you know, it remains. If you get stopped for a ticket they have it in their file. You are always afraid that it will come out. You can say that it follows you all the time.
3.2.2. Theme Two: Suggestions for Legal Reform; “It’s Not Like Being a Doctor or Lawyer, but at Least It Would Be Recognized as a Job”
Well it should be changed for one, because it’s our bodies. Who are they to say if we can or can’t sell our bodies.(Violet)
It’s my prerogative if I want to sell my body for sex. How is that against the law? I don’t understand that. It’s my choice to sell my body to whoever, right?(Kate)
Everybody eats, so we can buy food. Everybody sleeps, we can buy beds and hotels. Everybody has sex, so why can’t we say that we’re paying for sex? […] There are risks if you’re going to work at Wendy’s, you could get burned with the oil, right. Everybody takes risks, everybody takes precautions for those risks.(Cathy)
If I could actually run it like a real business and it was legal, you know, then I could, you know, run it like a real business. Like advertising, I wouldn’t have to hide out in my, in this building. I could have a place, like an actual business place. […] if I run it like a real business I could have somebody answer phones for me, I could do screening. I could do all that because it would be the norm.
I have to be checked for disease, to be in the cook industry. And they very—if you going be in the—with childcare, or school. You have to be checked. And you have a special book, and they will not even let you work if you don’t have that stuff from your—the doctor. It should be same thing.[for sex work]
Like if you’re going to do it, do it here. Like they’ll set up places for you or, you know, make it…so that people can have access to security whether it’s police or like just a security that they feel safe in doing it; safe for the client, safe for the customer—you know, everybody.
Everything we need to actually have in place, like, if you want, like I said, good clientele, you got to be able to check them. Just as much as they check us; we got to be able to make sure we’re safe, they got to be able to make sure they’re safe, it’s a mutual understanding and then you meet in the middle.
But then you have to…you have to look at it from the people that want to work and the people that are being forced to. Or, it’s a different story. So, I can understand why those laws are there, for the girls that are being trafficked and not wanting to be there, but there’s also the girls that are choosing to do that.(Elena)
I think the people that don’t want to be in this industry, really, like just the trade, should be helped. Like the people that are forced, there are people who are human trafficked that come here, or even like the women that are like, said “Oh you’re going to have a good job” and then they’re working in the massage parlor. Like those women, they should be helped. But the women that want to be doing it—let them do it.(Rochelle)
3.2.3. Theme 3: Potential Issues with Legal Reform: “By Making Things Legal, You also Devalue Them”
A part of me is reluctant to see the laws change just because it will change the face of our rates structure, but the other part of me is pushing for it because it’s so hard for a lot of us to feel safe in anything.(Clara)
If they legalized it they could actually ask for taxes on it […] that might be a downside because then you’re losing money, but at the same time, you’re safer if they know exactly what you’re doing. So I don’t know.(Marsha)
4. Discussion and Conclusions
Conflicts of Interest
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Benoit, C.; Jansson, M.; Smith, M.; Flagg, J. “Well, It Should Be Changed for One, Because It’s Our Bodies”: Sex Workers’ Views on Canada’s Punitive Approach towards Sex Work. Soc. Sci. 2017, 6, 52. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6020052
Benoit C, Jansson M, Smith M, Flagg J. “Well, It Should Be Changed for One, Because It’s Our Bodies”: Sex Workers’ Views on Canada’s Punitive Approach towards Sex Work. Social Sciences. 2017; 6(2):52. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6020052Chicago/Turabian Style
Benoit, Cecilia, Mikael Jansson, Michaela Smith, and Jackson Flagg. 2017. "“Well, It Should Be Changed for One, Because It’s Our Bodies”: Sex Workers’ Views on Canada’s Punitive Approach towards Sex Work" Social Sciences 6, no. 2: 52. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci6020052