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Supreme Court of Canada removes laws criminalizing prostitution: What’s next?

I’m glad I was partially wrong in my reflections yesterday about the impending Supreme Court of Canada decision in Bedford. The Court did not follow the lead of the Ontario Court of Appeal by letting the laws pertaining to street prostitution stand. All the laws fall on the s. 7 Charter guarantee of security of the person. That seems ironic to some of us – since prostitution itself, indoor and outdoor, is the greatest threat to women’s security. But there it is. We have achieved one of our goals with resounding success: all women are now decriminalized if the Supreme Court regime stands and some of the most vulnerable women in prostitution – those who work on the streets – have not been ignored. This is a victory to...
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Arguing Against the Industry of Prostitution – Beyond the Abolitionist Versus Sex-Worker Binary

Introduction Prostitution has long been a contentious issue in the Women’s Liberation Movement, splitting feminist individuals and groups. This is largely because the debate is often reduced to an either/or argument between what is called ‘harm minimisation’ in a legal ‘sex industry’ – the legalisation argument – and on the other side, arguments for the abolition of prostitution. Those veering towards the latter view are often accused of moralism, conservatism and, worse, of a disregard for women’s safety. It is perhaps timely then to revisit the feminist understanding of prostitution as a cause and consequence of inequality, and this post will attempt to address some of the contemporary challenges to this political stance. What is the abolition argument? Abolitionists are those who believe in the criminalisation of demand for...
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Podcasts

PODCAST: Jackie Lynne on internalized racism, abuse, and surviving prostitution

Jackie Lynne, a Métis woman, a social worker, and an exited prostitute, who has been researching prostitution academically since 1998, speaks about her experiences of abuse, rape, and internalized racism and how those experiences led to her entry into prostitution. She links the continuum of male violence and colonialism to the current situation of prostitution in Canada and sees a solution in the Nordic model. The talk took place at an event hosted by Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry (IWASI), on April 18, 2013 at the Vancouver Public Library. ***Warning: This program contains graphic depictions of rape and abuse that may be triggering or upsetting for some listeners Podcast: Play in new window | Download...
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There is no feminist war on sex workers

I’ve become increasingly frustrated by what feels like a barrage of articles coming from self-described progressives claiming that feminists are the real enemy of sex workers. It seems as though some of those who position themselves as ‘sex worker rights activists’ are intent on creating rigid divisions among women, placing the prostituted woman in a category of her own and placing feminists in some illusory moralistic war against sex. A key factor is that many writers on the left either misunderstand or misrepresent the abolitionist approach as a moralistic one, leading them to draw unfounded conclusions based on what could easily be resolved by having a simple conversation. I’m disappointed that journalism, the left and the feminist movement has come to manipulating ideology in order to further a rather...
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Evidence shows that ending demand works: A response to Noy Thrupkaew and the attack on the Swedish approach to prostitution

Law enforcement, intellectuals, politicians, and activists all over the United States—last month, even President Obama—are discussing legal approaches toward the related scourges of human trafficking and prostitution. Recognizing that prostitution is a form of sex inequality related to gender-based violence, the Swedish approach criminalizes the purchaser, while decriminalizing the prostituted person, and has dramatically reduced prostitution and human trafficking since 1999. The law has also been adopted in Norway and Iceland. Particularly with the amendment Sweden made in 2011 that enables prostituted persons to claim damages directly from purchasers for violating their equality and dignity, it would fit well as a civil rights law in America. Nonetheless, some critics keep citing inaccurate and biased data, saying the law would not work in the U.S. For instance, in the New...
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A quick note on accuracy & the prostitution debates

Because it’s difficult to have a genuine conversation or debate when we are presented with inaccurate information, I just wanted to write a quick post to respond to this post that went up a last week over at Gender Focus. The post was initially written about a recent decision made by the Supreme Court of Canada to grant public interest standing to Sheryl Kiselbach and a group called Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) which, rather than having much to do (yet) with prostitution and prostitution law (aside from the fact that the group wants standing in order to challenge prostitution law in B.C.), is relevant in terms of public-interest litigation and who can launch constitutional challenges of the criminal code. The federal government had originally argued that the...
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All the abusive men I've known seemed super nice at first

It’s true. I’ve known more than one abusive man in my day. Some I knew intimately and some were only acquaintances. You know, just friends of friends. Some men still think it’s ok to maintain friendships with abusive men dontchaknow. At a certain point someone might accidentally let it slip that so-and-so, you know, that guy we party with, you know, maybe tormented or threatened or tried to strangle his girlfriend, and funny thing! I wouldn’t want to hang out with those dudes anymore. How awkward for everyone. “Meghan, Meghan – we don’t acknowledge those things.” “Hey! Buddy never abused me so who knows, right? His girlfriend is probably lying about that abuse.” If you don’t see it with your own eyes you should just assume it isn’t happening...
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Gloria Steinem supports the Nordic model

Gloria Steinem recently gave a talk in New Delhi about prostitution and trafficking. Again defying that old trope, forever pushed by advocates for the full decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution, that pretends abolitionists are concerned with some kind of puritan morality and “sin,” Steinem stated: “Prostitution is not inevitable, it is only about unequal distribution of power.” That’s right folks. Feminism is about fighting inequality; there is no “moral panic” or fear of sex. In fact, prostitution and trafficking has little to do with female sexuality (aside from that fact that it is perceived and represented as something that exists only for male pleasure) – rather it is about dehumanization. Abolition is about connecting a context of poverty with racism, colonialism, and male power and working from there. Though...
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Who is the real enemy in the prostitution debate? A response to one argument against abolition

Earlier this month, rabble.ca published a response from a sex worker named Sarah M. to, not only the abolitionist argument as a whole, but to me in particular. Having written several blog posts, cross-posted to rabble.ca (as F Word blog posts are) on the topic of prostitution which address and challenge arguments for decriminalization and/or legalization, building on or using abolitionist and radical feminist arguments as foundation, the site, with good reason, felt it fair to solicit a response from a sex worker, as many of their regular readers suggested they do. I do question the recent efforts by some to focus this debate on individuals and on personal attacks. In essence, I am not convinced that this conversation should be specific to me / my work… While I...
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Who does decriminalization leave out?

This article was originally written for and published in Sister Outsiders, issue #4: What you won’t hear inside the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.   Decriminalization is touted, by many, as the most progressive way to address prostitution. From our local left-wing politicians to feminist academics to the media, this option is often presented as though it is the only one. Arguments in favour of decriminalizing prostitution tell us that this model will help women, that it will provide agency and options, and that it will empower women and improve lives. These arguments don’t tell the whole story. Decriminalization, is, in fact, a misleading label. Placed in opposition to abolitionists – who advocate for the decriminalization of prostituted women, while criminalizing only the pimps and johns – those who...
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Partying and playing at Piggy’s Palace: Men’s silence about men’s violence

Jacqueline Guillion is a collective member at Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter. This article was originally written for and published in Sister Outsiders, issue #4: What you won’t hear inside the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry.   Mainstream media like CBC, The Tyee, Vancouver Sun, and Seattle’s weekly, The Stranger, easily uncovered the fact that former Port Coquitlam Mayor, Scott Young, and hundreds of other people had attended events at Piggy’s Palace, the party venue operating for several years at Pickton’s pig farm. I asked some of those Vancouver rock/punk bands playing in the 1990s what they’d heard about Piggy’s Palace. I was relieved to hear my friends say they had refused to play there because, as one said “even though we’d played some shitty places, we’d heard...
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Who gets a say? The sex work lobby & the silencing of feminist voices.

It’s become so predictable that, now, I just sit back and wait. I’ve written several pieces about prostitution and the abolitionist movement, and several more that don’t directly address these issues, but perhaps mention the word “prostitution.” And really, that’s all it takes these days. What I’ve come to realize is, no matter what I write, no matter what argument I make, no matter the points I bring up, the sex work lobby doesn’t care. Because if you aren’t agreeing with them, you must be stopped. Public use of the word “prostitution” is enough to justify skimming right past the contents of any article and heading straight to the silencing. The silencing is the most important work, after all. It is the goal. “If we can bully them into...
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And in other news, your body is no longer attached to your being.

According to Melissa Gira Grant, who published a piece in The Guardian today entitled Men buy girls, not sex’ and other myths of anti-prostitution moralists, your body is no longer connected to your existence as a human being. Even though women’s bodies have long been the only signifier of their existence as lesser beings, it is now clear, thanks to Grant’s willingness to set us all straight, that when men buy access to women’s bodies they are not, in fact buying a person, like a person attached to a body, but are merely buying sex…Which clearly has nothing to do with anyone’s body! Simple. She claims that ‘anti-prostitution moralists’ (who these mystery moralists are, it isn’t clear. There is Ashton Kutcher, and then there’s the abolitionists. Who are all...
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Letter to the Feminist Movement

Originally posted on www.lacles.org: La Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES).  CLES is a coalition of organizations and individuals operating out of Quebec, who are critical of the sex industry. This letter was reposted with permission.   Letter to the Feminist Movement Originally circulated in French on June 23, 2011 In the wake of a series of targeted attacks–sometimes subtle, other times blatant–aimed at abolitionist feminists, we call on you, as members of the feminist movement in Québec, to react. Abolitionist feminists address the fundamentally patriarchal but also racist, capitalist and colonialist nature of the institution of prostitution. The purpose of their political education, prevention and intervention work is to equip feminists with information and tools to enable them to argue that the sex industry is illegitimate and...
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Why reproductive rights and prostitution are not the same thing: A response to one decriminalization argument

I received a link to this blog post just hours ago via a feminist listserv; a listserv that has, just like much of the feminist community elsewhere has, experienced A LOT of heated debate around prostitution, sex work, abolition, and decriminalization. The author claims to desire a ‘genuine’ answer to some specific questions she puts to abolitionists and, implies, by the title of the post: Choosing Our Battles: Why the feminist movement needs to stop arguing and support the decriminalisation of sex work, that what she truly desires is to end the infighting and to do what’s best for women, which of course, is really what we all want….That said, the post, and even the title of the post hints at something different than a desire for genuine discourse. Not...
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The Myths of Bedford v. Canada: Why decriminalizing prostitution won’t help

This is a guest post by Laura Johnston, re-printed with the permission of the author and originally published at The F Word.  Laura is a law student who worked for Janine Benedet, counsel for the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, an intervener in Bedford v. Canada case heard in the Ontario Court of Appeal in June 2011. I recently worked as a research assistant for counsel for one of the interveners in the Bedford v. Canada appeal. Bedford v. Canada challenges three Criminal Code provisions that criminalize parts of the prostitution industry as unconstitutional. In short, the provisions are communicating in a public place for the purpose of prostitution (which essentially criminalizes street prostitution), bawdy house (which criminalizes brothels) and living on the avails of prostitution (which...
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A Word or Two on Abolition.

If you don’t look hard enough, it’s easy to feel like the abolition argument has become ‘passe’. As though arguments against sex slavery and violence against women can go out of style. What I mean, I suppose, is that it has become somewhat  unpopular, let’s say, these days, to talk about abolition. The divides between women and feminists which come up around the argument are, often, vitriolic. The ‘radicals’ are often painted as desiring to “abolish prostitutes–not just prostitution…that we’re after criminalizing everyone connected to prostitution, rather than the profiteers–there’s the accusation that we don’t respect women’s choices (that’s my fucking favourite), and that we’re moralistic and anti-sex.” (I highly recommend reading this whole post I’ve just linked to here, it is very good); those doing the painting thereby...
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