You can be a prostitute… just don’t work as one


Key portions of the laws that criminalize sex work in Canada may have been deemed unconstitutional in December, but in recent months in provinces from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia, police have been posing as clients in a campaign called Operation Northern Exposure.

They make appointments with sex workers and then show up at the door four strong claiming to be looking for trafficked people.

These raids seem devious and cynical now that the Supreme Court has declared laws criminalizing sex work unconstitutional. Those laws that have yet to be renewed.

Are there not more compassionate and intelligent ways of locating and assisting trafficked people? Or are we to pretend that these raids are being undertaken for the good of sex workers? That is utterly false.

It’s time for police and special interest groups to stop treating sex clients as rapists. They are not.

Rapists are rapists. When four men who are in fact police pose as clients and demand to be let in to a sex worker’s space with her tenuous and frightened consent, that sounds like assault to me.

Now, of course it’s in my best interest that I don’t have rapists as clients.

But like many sex workers, I don’t call people who rape sex workers clients. I call them rapists, or people posing as clients. I also don’t want clients to be scared away because police may brand them as rapists and ruin their lives. Initiatives like Operation Northern Exposure have this effect.

These raids are reported in the media, alarming people who use intimate services and creating an atmosphere of criminality around sex work. An atmosphere of criminality around a business attracts people for whom consequence is not an issue.

I don’t think restaurant owners should be criminalized outright just because I was sexually assaulted by one. Another lied to an agitated drug user who had a gun to my head that there was no money in the till.

As a sex worker, on the other hand, I have never been assaulted or robbed. I’m told that this makes me one of the lucky ones. Do people say that to servers who haven’t been assaulted?

If the recent raids are a sign, seems sex workers are right to be concerned the feds could replace the old “you can be a prostitute, just don’t work as one” model with the so-called Nordic model.

Simply put, the Nordic model criminalizes clients. If we were honest, we would call this the End Desire or the End Pleasure model.

First implemented in Sweden in 1999, this piece of legislation came wrapped in a package of “feminist” ideals that included more severe penalties for sexual harassment, sexual violence and domestic violence.

As Sandra Ka Hon Chu and Rebecca Glass write in Sex Work Law Reform In Canada: Considering Problems With The Nordic Model, the Swedish legislation provides a framework for prostitution that “conflates sex work with trafficking, pathologizes male clients and renders male and trans workers largely invisible.”

News flash: clients have always been pathologized in Canada. If you want to see this in action, just go to court after street sweeps.

You’re likely to see men, sometimes alone, sometimes with a male friend translating the proceedings, occasionally with harried lawyers, being pushed through a legal sausage grinder and advised to just pay the fine and do john school.

Many of these men are precariously employed and their English, the language in which they will have been notified of their rights at the time of arrest, basic at best.

They will have had to take a day off work, lie to their employers and now go to john school, which costs $500, where a discontented former prostitute will tell them they’re rapists.

The john school website also uses the words “human trafficking” a lot, even though most who end up there are involved in no such thing.

As Laura Agustín, author of Sex At The Margins: Migration, Labour Markets And The Rescue Industry, said in an interview with the Huffington Post in 2011, “Anti-trafficking campaigns are now a popular form of social action, but many don’t know what kinds of abuses take place in the name of saving people.” Ask women who get caught up in raids what it’s like.

The Nordic model is already having universal implications.

The U.S. Defense Department has rewritten the Uniform Code Of Military Justice to include “patronizing a prostitute” as a criminal offence for soldiers.

The UN has banned peacekeepers from purchasing sexual services and from frequenting zones or establishments where sex work might take place.

The phrase “patronizing a prostitute” stands out for me. Laws that patronize (and by that I mean “demean”) prostitutes are dangerous, not the clients who patronize prostitutes.

In the coming months, sex workers lobbying for our right to ply our trade have a lot of work ahead.

It’s not enough to say that the Nordic model is bad. That doesn’t give politicians who will be making the decisions anything to work with. We need strategies.

People often ask me what I want. It’s simple. I want people to know that my work isn’t inherently dangerous. But that I should be able to take the same measures as any worker to protect myself, and those measures shouldn’t involve having to first and foremost protect myself from stigma, state abuse and faith-based laws.

I wish those who impose their faith-based judgment on me would stop using trafficking as a red herring. If they have to keep conflating sex work with trafficking, I wish they’d at least include the Catholic Church. The systematic rape and molestation facilitated by the Vatican itself of thousands of children over decades is definitely sex trafficking.

Sex and sex work are complicated. I understand this. I am so confounded by sex sometimes.

But let’s not criminalize and demonize consenting people for accessing it as a service. Fear shouldn’t inform law.

The author is a sex worker. Fleur De Lit is a pseudonym.



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