The readings assigned for this module address the way that sex work continues to spark intense debate, however, sex workers themselves are largely excluded from these discussions. The texts we will examine today force us to consider why it is that people with sex work experience are generally not included in discussions about sex work, that is, why they are the object of debate rather than the subjects of debate.

Ava Rose, “Punished for Strength: Sex Worker Activism and the Anti-Trafficking Movement

… there is an interest in representing the “truths” about sex work, yet the narratives that sex workers are permitted and encouraged to speak are ones that validate and prove true the injured body of the prostitute.

Ava Rose, “Punished for Strength: Sex Worker Activism and the Anti-Trafficking Movement,” Atlantis 37.2, no. 1 (2015): 58.

In this piece, Ava Rose reflects on her experiences “as a white sex worker with citizenship status in Canada, confronting anti-human trafficking activism” (57). She defines anti-human trafficking activism as “research and activism that encourages the close link or conflation of prostitution and human trafficking (i.e. sex trafficking) and advances a prohibitionist stance on sex work, including ‘end-demand’ approaches” (57). Rose says that the objectives of anti-trafficking organizations have been institutionalized to a significant degree, such as in policy or legislation, that they are usually associated with some level of criminalization of sex work as part of a set of strategies to protect women from human trafficking.

As you read:

  • Pay attention to Rose’s definition of anti-human trafficking activism.
  • Consider the importance of positionality and point of view. What does Rose say about the issue of who gets to speak and what is deemed the ‘truth’?
  • Think about the different ways in which being a sex worker has impacted Rose’s life?
  • Consider the ostensibly antithetical link between law enforcement and violence experienced by sex workers. What changes Rose suggest in order to address this issue?

Find the Rose reading in the supplementary resources block on eClass.

Sarah Hunt, “Decolonizing Sex Work: Developing an Intersectional Indigenous Approach”

As an Indigenous person, I argue that we need to examine what lies at the heart of our inability to support our community members engaged in sex work.

Sarah Hunt, “Decolonizing Sex Work: Developing an Intersectional Indigenous Approach,” in Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada, eds. Emily van der Meulen, Elya M. Durisin, and Victoria Love (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2013), 92.

In this article, Indigenous feminist scholar Sarah Hunt discusses the shame and silence in some Indigenous communities about sex work, sexual violence, violent relationships and the inextricability of these issues from the histories and presents of settler colonialism. Drawing on her own experiences as an Indigenous woman studying the links between the overrepresentation of Indigenous women in the sex trade and colonial stereotypes about Indigenous women, she asks the following: “… what is the relationship between violence targeted at sex workers in the Downtown Eastside [Vancouver] and the broader racialized violence experienced by Indigenous women at a national level?” (84)

As you read:

  • Consider the link between colonialism and the violence against Indigenous sex workers.
  • According to the reading, what are some of the ways to support Indigenous women in sex work?
  • What are the possibilities to support Indigenous women in sex work?

Find the Hunt reading in the supplementary resources block on eClass.

The New Era of Canadian Sex Work

Finally, we’ll end this module with a VICE documentary on those who consensually engage in sex work, and how the politicians behind Bill C-36, also known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), fail to give proper consideration to the willing participants of Canada’s sex industry. While technically still legal to sell sexual services under the new law, PCEPA criminalizes many related aspects of sex work. Introduced in 2013, Bill C-36 made it illegal for sex workers to advertise through a third party and criminalized the discussion of transactions between prostitutes and their clients. By doing so, it has become harder for women to vet potential clients in order to ensure cleanliness and personal safety.

As you watch:

  • Consider the consequences the Bill C-26 has had on Canadian sex workers.
  • Do the testimonies from the documentary align with the readings in this module?