Tag Archives: sex work

New in Print: “To Live Freely in This World: Sex Worker Activism in Africa” by Chi Adanna Mgbako

book cover
source: http://nyupress.org/books/9781479849062/

A new book for a new year. Here’s one to add to our 2016 feminist reading list, just released from NYU press.

To Live Freely in This World: Sex Worker Activism in Africa by Chi Adanna Mgbako

From the publisher’s website:

Sex worker activists throughout Africa are demanding an end to the criminalization of sex work and the recognition of their human rights to safe working conditions, health and justice services, and lives free from violence and discrimination. To Live Freely in This World is the first book to tell the story of the brave activists at the beating heart of the sex workers’ rights movement in Africa—the newest and most vibrant face of the global sex workers’ rights struggle. African sex worker activists are proving that communities facing human rights abuses are not bereft of agency. They’re challenging politicians, religious fundamentalists, and anti-prostitution advocates; confronting the multiple stigmas that affect the diverse members of their communities; engaging in intersectional movement building with similarly marginalized groups; and participating in the larger global sex workers’ rights struggle in order to determine their social and political fate.

By locating this counter-narrative in Africa, To Live Freely in This World challenges disempowering and one-dimensional depictions of “degraded Third World prostitutes” and helps fill what has been a gaping hole in feminist scholarship regarding sex work in the African context. Based on original fieldwork in seven African countries, including Botswana, Kenya, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda, Chi Adanna Mgbako draws on extensive interviews with over 160 African female and male (cisgender and transgender) sex worker activists, and weaves their voices and experiences into a fascinating, richly-detailed, and powerful examination of the history and continuing activism of this young movement.
About the author:
picture of Chi Mgbako
Chi Mgbako. Source: https://www.fordham.edu/info/23164/chi_adanna_mgbako

Chi Adanna Mgbako is clinical professor of law and director of the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic at Fordham Law School. In partnership with grassroots organizations, she and her students work on human rights projects focusing on sex workers’ rights, women’s rights, criminal justice reform, and access to justice. She has conducted human rights fieldwork in many countries, among them Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Uganda, and the United States.

Under Mgbako’s direction, the clinic has conducted human rights trainings on women and HIV/AIDS, female genital cutting, and LGBT refugee rights; published human rights reports on access to safe abortion and police abuse of marginalized communities; ran mobile legal aid clinics in rural communities; contributed legal research to lawsuits challenging the forced HIV testing of sex workers; submitted claims to the United Nations on behalf of arbitrarily detained prisoners; and consulted organizations on best practices of community-based paralegal programs, among many other projects.

Mgbako’s publications have appeared in the Harvard Human Rights Journal, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Georgetown Journal of International Law, and Human Rights Quarterly, and popular media, including The International New York Times, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post. She is the author of To Live Freely in This World: Sex Worker Activism in Africa (New York University Press, 2016).

In recognition of Mgbako’s clinical teaching, writing, and human rights advocacy, she has been honored as one of the New York Law Journal’s Rising Stars, National Law Journal’s Top 40 Lawyers of Color Under 40, Fordham Law School’s Public Interest Faculty Member of the Year, and the Police Reform Organizing Project’s Citizen of the City Award recipient.

Before joining the Fordham law faculty in 2007, Mgbako served as the Harvard Henigson Human Rights Fellow in the West Africa Project of the International Crisis Group, where she focused on justice sector reform in Liberia and political reform in Nigeria, and as the Crowley Fellow in International Human Rights at Fordham Law School, where she co-produced a documentary on the feminization of HIV/AIDS in Malawi.

Mgbako earned her JD from Harvard Law School, where she received the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, and her BA, magna cum laude, from Columbia University.

[Friday January 24] After Bedford v. Canada: What next for regulating sex work in Canada?

Poster_PrintI’m* going to moderate this panel, which takes on some very difficult issues in the wake of an important Supreme Court decision.

After Bedford v. Canada: What next for regulating sex work in Canada?
Come and hear an array of panelists discuss the new legal landscape and the challenges that now face us after the Supreme Court struck down many – but not all – of Canada’s criminal laws about sex work.
What happens when legal doctrine tries to address street realities? Six experts offer different visions of the road ahead.

  • Cheryl Auger Board Member, Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Worker Action Project
  • Christa Big Canoe Legal Advocacy Director, Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto
  • Jamie Cameron Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School
  • Brenda Cossman Professor & Director, Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies
  • Katrina Pacey Legal Director, Pivot Legal Society
  • Kim Pate Executive Director, Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies

Friday, January 24, 2014
3:30 – 5:30 p.m.
University College, Room 179
15 King’s College Circle, University of Toronto

 

Generously supported by the Scotiabank University of Toronto Faculty of Law Lecture and Conference Fund and the Institute for Feminist Legal Studies, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University,
and co-sponsored by the Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies and the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, University of Toronto

PDF poster here with map.

 

* sonia lawrence, ifls director

on Bedford (four things)

pic of bike helmet

Having spent the day mulling it over, I‘m haven’t fully decided about Bedford. I do consider it a victory on the facts and for this cause.  I mean that I haven’t decided on the map the court used to get there – what does it mean for the future on this issue and the ones that will follow.  Below are a list of four things that I think we should be thinking about – followed preceded by a very small round up of links.

I haven’t done an overview here. I can’t even begin (for reasons of time but also volume) to collect all the commentary that has come out today.  But I will say that along with the commentary – including law profs Brenda Cossman , Angela Campbell and  Michael Plaxton in the Globe, Carissima Mathen in the Ottawa Citizen, PIVOT’s summary (PIVOT is a Vancouver social change legal organization which intervened on the case against the government) NWAC’s press release (Native Women’s Association of Canada, who intervened against striking down the challenged laws), mentions of Canada in US law blawgs (here, from Canada-phile @robsonconlaw) and @cmathen’s twitter feed all day long –   you should read the decision.  It is not a monster. It is, as these things go, a model of clarity and guidance (with caveat below).  Find it here.

1.  Suspension

The last three paragraphs of the case (full text here) might be the most troubling.  Having accepted and described the harms that these laws cause – having raised the spectre of Pickton in that analysis – the Court via the Chief sets up the opposite side.  That is, a “concerned public”.   She does not, here, describe precisely what those “many Canadians” would be greatly concerned about.  But it is enough to justify “increased risk” to prostitutes [para 168], apparently because although “neither alternative is without difficulty”, the declaration of invalidity is suspended. [169]

Alright, @cmathen, you are correct of course.  My point is not so much that the Court should not have done this – but rather let’s talk about what is really going on in that three sentence paragraph 169.  Why take this approach?  Is this pragmatism?  I see no one on social media or in op eds raising the thought of section 33 (the override).  The “dialogue” that a suspended declaration is usually said to create is one way of mitigating claims about activist courts usurping the role of the legislature.  It is useful to think more about the extra-doctrinal reasoning, the reasons not provided, because clearly there is something wrong with the doctrinal logic of this suspension.

2.  Choice

My favourite trope in Charter cases: Choice!  And here we see the court taking on facile arguments about choice in wonderful ways [para 79 through 92].   The AG’s (Ontario and Canada) take a bit of a beating for their positions about the causal connection between the law and the harms the court is recognizing.

[79]     The Attorneys General of Canada and Ontario argue that prostitutes choose to engage in an inherently risky activity.  They can avoid both the risk inherent in prostitution and any increased risk that the laws impose simply by choosing not to engage in this activity.  They say that choice — and not the law — is the real cause of their injury.

Paragraph 86 represents a relatively complete picture of the complexity of choice and sex work.  It is, in many ways, this picture which makes debates over sex work so fraught within feminist communities.  Some choose it – others cannot be said to do so.

[86]                          …., while some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so.  Ms. Bedford herself stated that she initially prostituted herself “to make enough money to at least feed myself” (cross-examination of Ms. Bedford, J.A.R., vol. 2, at p. 92). As the application judge found, street prostitutes, with some exceptions, are a particularly marginalized population (paras. 458 and 472).  Whether because of financial desperation, drug addictions, mental illness, or compulsion from pimps, they often have little choice but to sell their bodies for money.  Realistically, while they may retain some minimal power of choice — what the Attorney General of Canada called “constrained choice”  (transcript, at p. 22) — these are not people who can be said to be truly “choosing” a risky line of business (see PHS, at paras. 97-101).

Here is another piece of the fraught feminism around choice and sex work, referenced in para 87, which also contains the greatest SCC analogy (another of my hot button issues!) of all time or at least of 2013:

[87]                          Second, even accepting that there are those who freely choose to engage in prostitution, it must be remembered that prostitution — the exchange of sex for money — is not illegal.  The causal question is whether the impugned laws make this lawful activity more dangerous.  An analogy could be drawn to a law preventing a cyclist from wearing a helmet.  That the cyclist chooses to ride her bike does not diminish the causal role of the law in making that activity riskier.  The challenged laws relating to prostitution are no different.

Actually, there is of course another piece of the choice puzzle, and that’s the choice and role not of the seller but the buyer – but that was not at issue in this case. It will, of course, be unavoidable in the debate over what to do next.

My interest in choice goes beyond this case. It’s been a discourse that the Court has used in a number of cases to sink section 15 challenges.  Seeing it taken on so clearly here – treated as a complex issue – is a relief.

3.  Appointments & Mr. Harper

I can’t make this point any more clear than Osgoode student Avnish Nanda did via twitter:

That’s not the whole story – but it’s a big part of it.  We’re not at defcon 5 (Bush v. Gore style) yet with this Court, not even close.

To have a unanimous decision like this will make consensus builder McLachlin C.J. happy.  But this doesn’t look like a  “split the difference, everyone gets something” consensus, unless you see the suspension as the split difference.   This looks like a clear message to Parliament about lines and limits.

4. Stare Decisis & Deference to  Trial Judges on Social & Legislative Facts

There is much to be said about what happens starting at para 38, as we examine whether conclusions in earlier cases can be “revisited” [41] or “departed from” [39] (hmmm, not “overruled”?).  It’s a sign, perhaps, that we’ve had the Charter a while now that the Court now must say both:

[38]  Certainty in the law requires that courts follow and apply authoritative precedents. Indeed, this is the foundational principle upon which the common law relies.

and

[42] ….Similarly, the matter may be revisited if new legal issues are raised as a consequence of significant developments in the law, or if there is a change in the circumstances or evidence that fundamentally shifts the parameters of the debate.

Likewise, the CJC notes that the SCC’s position on deference to the Trial Judge on social and legislative facts (starts at para 48) has shifted as we entered the Charter era:

[53]  As the Attorney General of Canada points out, this Court’s decision in RJR-MacDonald Inc. v. Canada (Attorney General), [1995] 3 S.C.R. 199, suggested that legislative fact findings are owed less deference.  However, the use of social science evidence in Charter litigation has evolved significantly since RJR-MacDonald was decided.  In the intervening years, this Court has expressed a preference for social science evidence to be presented through an expert witness (R. v. Malmo-Levine; R. v. Caine, 2003 SCC 74, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 571, at paras. 26-28; R. v. Spence, 2005 SCC 71, [2005] 3 S.C.R. 458, at para. 68).  The assessment of expert evidence relies heavily on the trial judge (R. v. Abbey, 2009 ONCA 624, 97 O.R. (3d) 330, at paras. 62-96).  This is particularly so in the wake of the Ontario report by Justice Goudge, which emphasized the role of the trial judge in preventing miscarriages of justice flowing from flawed expert evidence (Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario: Report, vol. 3, Policy and Recommendations (2008)).  The distinction between adjudicative and legislative facts can no longer justify gradations of deference.

This makes me think about the incredible burden that many critical cases place on litigants and lawyers.  There was voluminous evidence in this case – bravo to the lawyers and others who put this all together, and to the Trial Judge (a former Deputy AG Ontario, Justice Susan Himel) who wrote a decision that could stand up to all the scrutiny, that carefully detailed how she weighed the evidence.  Have a look at a case like Inglis v. British Columbia (Minister of Public Safety), 2013 BCSC 2309 – again, a long decision, significant evidence, written by a judge no stranger to this kind of evidence (I understand Justice Carol Ross has a background in sociology – she also wrote the original decision in Victoria v. Adams 2008 BCSC 1363).  Consider the 1416 paragraph BCSC decision in Carter, the right to die case) by Justice Lynn Smith (hmmm, lots of women judges here).  At any rate, these aren’t cases that walk into your office one day.  They are cases put together piece by painstaking piece.  It’s a long road to justice this way around, folks.

 


 

The last thing I need to think about, of course, is  – is there a way that the doctrines created here will be applied that I need to start worrying about?  At this point, I’m just anticipating the next ten years as a slow retreat from this high water mark of rights-protection.  I’m a bit of a pessimist.

 

I’m not, here, really writing about the substance of the case.  I do completely agree with the basic theory as captured by the helmet analogy (see bottom of this post).  And like many others, I was struck by the fierce language the CJC uses to illustrate the very real harm done by these laws, by the references to Grandma’s House (para 64, and especially 136 “A law that prevents street prostitutes from resorting to a safe haven such as Grandma’s House while a suspected serial killer prowls the streets, is a law that has lost sight of its purpose”) by the assertion that the ability to “screen” through direct communication is relevant if the practice “could have prevented one woman from jumping into Robert Pickton’s car” (para 158).    I admit that during this case, I was sometimes made uncomfortable by the variety of things which were being asserted through reference to the desperate and deadly situation in Vancouver’s DTES during the time Pickton was murdering women he picked up there.  I heard these arguments made in ways that seemed to me sensationalized – almost exploitative, and I felt uncomfortable with them – but I also heard them made with despair and rage.  In this judgment, I see these arguments accepted because of the way that the women who died at Pickton’s hand are women who might have been saved but for these laws – women with rights, women whose chances to save themselves mattered then, and now.  That’s something.

 

 

An analogy could be drawn to a law preventing a cyclist from wearing a helmet.  That the cyclist chooses to ride her bike does not diminish the causal role of the law in making that activity riskier.  The challenged laws relating to prostitution are no different. [para87]

Craig on Carline at Jotwell: Vulnerability, Sex Work, State Responses

Elaine Craig (Dalhousie) reviews Anna Carline‘s article Of Frames, Cons and Affects: Constructing and Responding to Prostitution and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation (in a special issue of Feminist Legal Studies, 2012 Vol 20. (3)) over at Jotwell.  Enjoy the review and the article.

Anna Carline’s piece, … was of particular interest to me. Carline’s contribution interrogates the invocation of the vulnerable subject as a justification for state intervention with respect to sex work. She draws upon Judith Butler’s recent work theorizing life’s precarity in order to examine the race, class, and gender based differences in the distribution of vulnerability perpetuated by the Policing and Crime Act 2009 in England and Wales. Carline uses Butler’s framework to highlight how official discourses surrounding the adoption of this legislation framed the State as concerned with recognizing and protecting the vulnerable sex worker. This is a strategy that, according to Carline, ultimately resulted in reforms reflective of a law-and-order/morality approach to the sale of sex rather than a victim-centered approach.

via Forsaking Vulnerable Sex Work – Jotwell: Equality.