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#Notalljohns: Notes from the hearings on Bill C-36

The hearings on Bill C-36, the federal government’s proposed prostitution law, continued today. You can watch all of the testimonies, which began on Monday, on CPAC. Today’s hearings featured, among many others, john-advocate, Chris Atchison (begins at about 10:30), who began his testimony by stating that he is not an advocate “for any individual, group, organization, or moral position on the sex industry.” Atchison, in his own words, “stud and does research with adults who are involved in the purchase of sexual services.” To be clear, Atchison’s work focuses on destigmatizing johns and he advocates for their decriminalization. He is not a neutral party on the issue (not that I believe anyone should be or is neutral on this issue). Regarding the question of whether “prostitution is inherently exploitative,”...
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Meet the ‘nice,’ ‘normal’ johns of Canada

The Invisible Men project Canada just launched a tumblr compiling comments from boards where men go to discuss, recommend, and review the women they buy sex from. The “reviews” are truly horrifying (though no more than you might expect from men who don’t believe women are actual human beings, I suppose) so be warned that they are very graphic and disturbing to read. Last month an article by Max Paris for the CBC asked if “the prostitution law debate hear from johns?” The article cites the work of Chris Atchison, a sociologist from the University of Victoria whose project, “John’s Voice” sought to challenge “stereotypes” around the men who buy sex and why. Apparently the john advocates don’t like that, in introducing Bill C-36, Peter MacKay referred to men...
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Johns are now an oppressed sexual minority

In a last-ditch effort to frame feminists as moralistic neocons and Oppressors of Freedom and Liberty, Alice Klein at NOW Magazine asks: Will johns become the new “fags?” You knew this was coming, right? Men are the real victims in all of this, after all — their right to have their dicks sucked on a whim is not about entitlement, it’s about freedom and sexual expression and anyone who says different is a bigot. Got it? I mean, its not all that far off from what’s been pushed by the sex work lobby for years — their incessant efforts to frame feminists as oppressive murderers of both sexy fun and of women is well-documented. Normalizing pimps and johns is important if we want to normalize and sanitize the sex...
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Hookers on Davie: an old documentary within a new context

Hookers on Davie, a documentary from the 80s,  was screened on June 24th at the Fox Theatre, a venue which caters to mostly white, liberal twentysomethings. The demographic who regularly attend events (music shows, burlesque, etc.) at said venue, were also the demographic who attended the screening. I did not see any local activists, feminists or other people I recognized from communities, other than a few familiar faces from the UBC feminist community. I question if the individuals present were there by default, as the pro-sex work movement seems to be supported blindly because it’s the “left” thing to do. The documentary and panelists gave some historical context for the film although the history presented did not reflect the reality of all women working in the sex industry, as...
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Podcasts

PODCAST: Janine Benedet & Alice Lee on Canada’s proposed prostitution legislation, Bill C-36

In 2007, lawyer, Alan Young, initiated a case challenging Canada’s prostitution laws as unconstitutional. After the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the laws criminalizing pimping, communicating for the purposes of prostitution, and running a brothel, the federal government was given a year to come up with new laws. Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, was unveiled on June 4th. Justice Minister Peter MacKay called it a “uniquely Canadian response.” The Bill explicitly targets demand and exploitation, criminalizing those who buy sex and those who profit from the exploitation of prostitutes. It also prohibits advertising sexual services unless a person is advertising their own services. One provision that is concerning to many advocates is that the proposed legislation would criminalize communicating for the purposes of...
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Why I won’t be supporting Canada’s Next Top Progressive Startup, Ricochet

Ricochet has been making some big waves in Canadian media over the past month since it launched a crowdfunder and began work to raise $75,000 to help build “a new model of digital journalism in the public interest.” Ricochet, we’re told, will be “a counterweight to corporate media” and is “building a new model of media: independent, progressive and grassroots” that will “transform the Canadian media landscape.” Sounds great, I’m sure we can all agree. The question I asked myself when I first caught wind of the project, co-founded by Ethan Cox and Derrick O’Keefe was, of course, “what about the women?” I have a healthy and well-founded mistrust for the male left. History shows that women and the feminist movement have been abandoned over and over again by...
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C-36: Some initial thoughts on Canada’s new prostitution bill

Most of you are likely aware by now that Canada’s federal government has unveiled their new prostitution bill. I wrote about it for VICE this week and based on talking to a number of women on the issue, here are the conclusions I’ve come to for the time being. I say “for the time being” because I think at this point we’re still speculating about the purpose of one particular (problematic) provision. Ok. So first a very brief summary of key aspects of the proposed legislation, called Bill C-36, The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act: buying sex is criminalized pimping is criminalized advertising for sexual services is criminalized unless it is the prostitute themselves who is doing the advertising prostituted people are decriminalized BUT there is a...
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Student virginity auctions and sexual economics

There has been another high profile student virginity auction; a concept I’ve been familiar with since at least 2011, conveniently contemporaneous with the raising of UK tuition fees to £9,000 but also, I have to admit, my own political awakening. I’m loath to provide links to the particular high profile case that’s been brought to my attention in 2014, however, because it’s not clear to me that the student involved, whose identity has been revealed by that bastion of journalistic integrity, the Mail Online, consented to the revelation. Suffice it to say that a professed US medical student and “virgin” (scare quotes because skeptical about the concept, not of her veracity) attempted to auction a 12 hour date which would leave her a virgin no longer. “Friends” of hers...
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Open letter in support of adopting the Nordic model in Canada garners over 800 signatures

Last month an open letter signed by 300 academics encouraged Canadian politicians to support the full decriminalization of prostitution in Canada. Today, a letter signed by over 800 feminists and allies calls on politicians to look towards the Nordic model — a model which decriminalizes prostitutes, criminalizes pimps and johns, and institutes services and supports for those who wish to exit the industry — as a solution to the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking in Canada. The model has been successful in Sweden since 1999, has since been adopted by Norway and Iceland, and has been recommended by French parliament and EU Parliament. It is a feminist model that focuses explictily on the gender inequality inherent to the sex industry.   Right Hon. Stephen Harper, Prime Minister, Leader...
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Nobody’s entitled to sex, including disabled people

This article was originally published at Feminist Times and has been reprinted with permission.   Debates about the sex industry are never far from any feminist’s consciousness, and one argument that always catches my attention is that prostitution should be legalized because, without sex workers, those poor, pitiful disabled people would never get any sex. People who have never showed any interest in campaigning against disability benefit cuts or fighting for accessible premises are suddenly preoccupied by our “right” to sex? It’s disingenuous, and it hides a not-so-subtle disablism behind the rhetoric. The assumption that nobody would ever have sex with a disabled person through personal choice is not only inaccurate, it’s also offensive. An infantilized view of disabled people also contributes to the idea that sex with one...
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No, I will not stop having ‘feelings’ about women’s lives and human rights

I refuse to believe that sociopathy is a good thing for feminism. Yet this is exactly the position we are being told to take on the sex industry. A recent article about Melissa Gira Grant’s new book, Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, demands, in its headline, that we put “our feelings aside” and look at prostitution as “a labour issue” — a strange demand to make of human beings when thinking about other human beings… Since when does feminism promote the idea that one should not have “feelings?” My understanding was that to accuse women of being “too emotional” or of letting their feelings get in the way of rational (man) thought was, er, kind of sexist? Beyond that, the reason one would get involved in the...
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In prostitution, ‘race, class, and sex intersect in the worst of ways to subjugate Native women’

Last month CTV News aired a short documentary as part of their “First Story” series, called “Stepping from the Shadows,” which looks at indigenous women and prostitution, the Bedford decision, and how the future of Canada’s prostitution laws could impact indigenous women and girls in Canada. The documentary features women such as Jackie Lynne, Cherry Smiley, Summer-Rain Bentham and Mona Woodward, who describe the ways poverty, racism, sexism, and violence lead indigenous women into prostitution and keep them there. “Race, class, and sex intersect in the worst ways to subjugate Native women — and in the act of prostitution it’s the most racist, the most sexist… And the man holds all of the economic power in that,” Lynne says. Indigenous women and girls are overrepresented in street prostitution and...
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EU Parliament passes resolution in favour of the Nordic model

EU Parliament passed a resolution today in favour of the Nordic model, which criminalizes the purchase of sex, while decriminalizing prostituted people. The resolution passed by 343 votes to 139, with 105 abstentions. This is thanks, in large part, to the work of Mary Honeyball, London MEP and Labour spokeswoman for women, who drafted the resolution. “The yes vote formally establishes the EU’s stance on prostitution and puts pressure on member states to re-evaluate their policies on sex work,” writes Maya Oppenheim in The Guardian. The Nordic model is not simply legislative, but calls on countries who adopt the model to set up exiting programs in order to support women who want to leave prostitution and help them find affordable housing and other employment. “Better education and reducing the...
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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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Podcasts

PODCAST: Amnesty International supports legalizing prostitution & Canada strikes down their current laws. What’s next?

Last month a proposal from Amnesty International advocating for the legalization of prostitution was leaked. Feminists and women’s rights organizations around the world were appalled — why was an organization that had done so much work for human rights legitimizing a violent and exploitative industry such as prostitution? Why were they advocating for men’s “right to buy sex?” Meanwhile Canada will be drafting new legislation with regard to prostitution as the Supreme Court struck down the current ones as unconstitutional. On January 28th, I spoke with Rachel Moran, activist and author of “Paid For:My Journey Through Prostitution;” Bridget Perrier, a prostitution survivor and co-founder and First Nations educator at Sextrade 101; and Kathleen Barry, Professor Emerita, author of Female Sexual Slavery, and founder of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women...
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Toying with politics: A review of Melissa Gira Grant’s ‘Playing the Whore’

Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, Melissa Gira Grant (Verso, 2014; $17.95CAN) The cover of this manifesto on sex work shows three cogs in three fleshy tones, a penetrable central socket in each and high-heeled legs sprouting from them as they appear to grind against each other in a mechanically impossible formation, with no outside power to drive them. And what is missing from the book overall is any idea of what drives the business of prostitution. Even to discuss demand, according to Gira Grant, is to detract from the agency of sex workers: The demand for victims, as anti-sex work activists describe it, is driven by men’s insatiable desire – not by sex workers’ own demands for housing, healthcare, education, a better life, a richer life, if...
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Being and Being Bought: An interview with Kajsa Ekis Ekman

Kajsa Ekis Ekman is a Swedish journalist and the author of “Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self,” which was  recently translated into French and English. I spoke with her over the phone from Stockholm.   Meghan Murphy: What led you to write a book about prostitution? Kajsa Ekis Ekman: Two things: practice and theory. Coming at the subject from two angles is very fruitful and, actually, necessary if you’re going to write about something like prostitution. You have to look at the reality but you also have to have the theory. When I started writing this book in 2006, the debate about sex work was just kicking off here in Sweden. The law on sexual services was implemented in 1999 and back then the debate...
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