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Victoria Sexual Assault Centre takes official position in favour of full decriminalization of prostitution

The Victoria Sexual Assault Centre (VSAC) recently published a statement outlining their official position on prostitution, saying: “VSAC unanimously agreed to support the decriminalization of sex work. We therefore oppose Bill C-36, as it further criminalizes the sex work industry.” This position is defended on the basis that, according to the statement, “criminalization of any aspect of the adult sex industry will have a negative impact on the safety of sex workers.” There is nothing attached to this claim to support it, so I’m not sure how, exactly, the organization came to such a conclusion. It seems to me, rather, that the legalization of the industry has been extremely harmful to women and girls, in general, and we have yet to see any real evidence that criminalizing johns has...
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Who do you listen to? On ‘listening to sex workers’

There’s one guaranteed pro-sex-work response whenever you write something unenthusiastic about prostitution, and that response is: listen to sex workers. It was the dominant theme of critical replies to my review of Melissa Gira Grant’s Playing the Whore: listen to sex workers, then you’ll see how wrong you are. In some ways it’s a peculiar logic when it comes to sex work — it claims the privileged status of the victim, while pro-sex-work advocates simultaneously insist that sex workers are not victims — but there’s a logic to it that I wouldn’t dispute. The people directly affected by any situation have undeniable insights into their condition, and I want to listen to them. I want to do justice to the people who figure in my politics. But when I’m told listen...
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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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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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My response to the Simone de Beauvoir Institute's statement on the Bedford decision and on prostitution law in Canada

The Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University  is “a college of Concordia University dedicated to studying feminisms and questions of social justice.” It is, essentially, the Women’s Studies Department at Concordia University. Following the Bedford v. Canada decision, they released a statement “applauding” the ruling. Here is the response I sent earlier today: I am beyond appalled that a university Women’s Studies department would take a public position on this issue, never mind such an anti-feminist one. The purpose of academia is to learn, to critique, to further discourse. You are in a position to influence many young women who are perhaps only beginning their foray into feminist theory and it is your job to support them in developing the skills and foundations to come to their own...
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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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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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