A ‘Sault This Week’ recent article on sex work, “Hooker haven on Gore still an issue with area residents” (June 25th) was the latest in a series of countless sensationalist, disappointing media and societal responses to sex work and sex workers in our neighbourhoods. This echoes the dangerous tactics that the media used to shame and stigmatize sex workers in 2012 through articles that captured and published the names and home addresses of 9 sex workers that were arrested in Sault Ste. Marie.
The article positions sex work as a social problem, rather than a form of income generation, which invisibilizes the reasons people do sex work and the support that sex workers need. In a region where there are few employment opportunities, sex work can provide rent, food for families, stability, and a source of community for those of us living in poverty.
The article also relies on the opinions and stereotypical assumptions of residents, who not do not recognize sex workers equally as members of civic society but who also promote the idea that the presence of sex workers is a social disease and that sex workers should be eliminated.
Neglecting to interview one current sex worker in Sault Ste. Marie for the article highlights the old age reality that sex workers are all too often left out of conversations about us, and even more so excluded from the creation of strategies that can promote safer neighbourhoods for all residents, including sex workers.
Sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie are over-surveilled, by both the public and the police, and often by social services that aim to “save” rather than support us. Over-policing of sex workers – predominantly those of us who are Indigenous, drug using, and who occupy public space – results in our social isolation and marginalization.
In avoiding law enforcement and the institutions that promote repression against us, our clients, our families and others we work with, we are also isolated from and avoid mainstream health, social and legal services, for fear of being identified as a sex worker.
The article and the people interviewed, blindly promote the use of criminal law as a “solution” to sex work. This advice ignores the 40+ years of academic and community-based research that demonstrates the negative effects of criminal law on the health and safety of sex workers. This research identifies criminalization as a key contributor to violence and other risks of harm experienced by sex workers including discrimination.
Various human rights organizations, UN bodies and courts have affirmed this research and concluded that criminalization of the sex industry has been proven to support exploitation including Amnesty International, the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Human Rights Watch, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the World Health Organization (WHO) with the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE), the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, and the Supreme Court of Canada in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford (Bedford).
One cannot explore, understand, or support a community without speaking to (ALL) its members. Sex workers are all too often left out of discussions about our lives, about our work. Talk to us, interview us, involve us in discussions! Concern for our livelihoods can be translated by supporting our initiatives for self-determination, autonomy, safer working conditions and dignity. This includes supporting the removal of oppression institutions in our lives, including police, and supporting decriminalization of sex work. Until societies recognize sex work as a valuable source of income, and sex workers as valuable members of our communities, they cannot pretend to have our safety, security and well-being in mind.
Submitted by: Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights – Amanda Jabbour, Founder- Sault Ste Marie Sex Workers’ Rights.
Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights is a group of sex workers and allies working to improve working conditions for sex workers in Sault Ste. Marie. Our work is founded in principles of self-determination and autonomy and we recognize sex work as a form of labour. We work in solidarity with sex worker rights groups across the country and are a proud member of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform.