Tag Archives: sex work

NIP: Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy and the State in Global Perspective

Policing Pleasure: Sex Work, Policy and the State in Global Perspective

Dewey and Kelly, eds.NYU Press, Dec. 2011

Mónica waits in the Anti-Venereal Medical Service of the Zona Galactica, the legal, state-run brothel where she works in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico. Surrounded by other sex workers, she clutches the Sanitary Control Cards that deem her registered with the city, disease-free, and able to work. On the other side of the world, Min stands singing karaoke with one of her regular clients, warily eyeing the door lest a raid by the anti-trafficking Public Security Bureau disrupt their evening by placing one or both of them in jail.
Whether in Mexico or China, sex work-related public policy varies considerably from one community to the next. A range of policies dictate what is permissible, many of them intending to keep sex workers themselves healthy and free from harm. Yet often, policies with particular goals end up having completely different consequences.
Policing Pleasure examines cross-cultural public policies related to sex work, bringing together ethnographic studies from around the world—from South Africa to India—to offer a nuanced critique of national and municipal approaches to regulating sex work. Contributors offer new theoretical and methodological perspectives that move beyond already well-established debates between “abolitionists” and “sex workers’ rights advocates” to document both the intention of public policies on sex work and their actual impact upon those who sell sex, those who buy sex, and public health more generally.
[From the introduction]

Bedford Decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal

This decision came out yesterday, and if you’re in Canada you already know that.  Here’s a link to the lower court decision, yesterday’s Ontario Court of Appeal decision, and a small round up of what’s going on.

Here are Profs Bruce Ryder (Osgoode) and Brenda Cossman (U of T) on Global News (in text form) with a good precis:

Q: What does the ruling allow sex workers to do that they couldn’t before?

A: Firstly, Ontario’s top court has struck down a ban on brothels. Sex-trade workers will be allowed to set up shop in private houses and business areas and carry on sex work. In the past, it would have been criminal.

Secondly, the law dealing with living on the avails of prostitution can be reworded to specifically exclude the exploitation of prostitutes. Meaning sex-trade workers could now hire drivers, bodyguards, or receptionists and be paid from the money they made. In the past, they could not do so.

Thirdly, the Appeal Court has upheld the ban on soliciting for the purposes of selling sex.

The Edmonton Journal offers a longer tour of the decision, here, and here’s a podcast of Ottawa prof Carissima Mathen on CBC’s Ontario Today.  If you prefer video, the CBC has Evan Solomon on Power and Politics with Osgoode Prof Alan Young who brought the case and Nikki Thomas, SPOC spokesperson. Sorry, you have to sit through a commercial first. I got dishwasher detergent.  Do they target these? Or theme them to the content of the video?

Sex workers, advocates and feminists are far from united on the case.  It is hard to divide into pro and anti, because the case was a rather blunt tool to remove some laws, rather than a legislative initiative.  I think on both sides there is a classic “strange bedfellows” challenge facing feminists.  As the National Post put it:

The thorny issue transcended traditional ideological divides, with conservative religious groups finding strange allies in feminist activists in their support of retaining the prostitution restrictions.

(I recently wrote about Yorku Prof Kamala Kempadoo’s work on critical approaches to sex work and “trafficking” narratives, for instance).  Here is an article about a confrontation during the “celebration” of the verdict.  Terri-Jean Bedford, a lead claimant, describes herself as a feminist, and has many feminist supporters.

Eyes brimming with tears, voice unsteady, Angel Wolfe came to Monday’s news conference called by jubilant sex workers challenging Canada’s prostitution laws because she was “appalled and disgusted” by a decision handed down by the province’s top court.

Wolfe is with Sex Trade 101 Toronto’s ONLY Sex Trade Survivors and Abolitionists Organization. Valerie Scott, one of the plaintiffs, is with Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC).

Maggie‘s and other sex worker advocacy groups like BC’s PIVOT Legal  were supportive but concerned about the majority’s refusal to strike the communicating provisions.

“The vast majority of all prostitution arrests are under the communication law. The failure to strike down the communication law means that the most vulnerable sex workers will continue to face arrest, police harassment, prosecution and violence.” –Emily van der Muelen, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Ryerson University. [From Maggies]

You may remember Emily van der Meulen – she spoke at the IFLS/METRAC co sponsored panel on Bedford in 2010.

Here is a press release, hosted on the Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter website, from the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, which I have included in full:

Equality-seeking Women’s Groups will continue to demand a change in the laws on prostitution

 (Vancouver) March 26th 2012 – The Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a pan-Canadian coalition of equality-seeking women’s groups received the Ontario Court of Appeal decision today regarding the prostitution laws with mixed feelings.  

We are critical of the upholding of the communication provision with no differentiation between the women in prostitution and the men who are buying sexual services. As interveners we argued to the court that women in prostitution should not be criminalized. We know that the majority of women enter prostitution due to conditions of economic, social and racial inequality. As Jeannette Corbiere Lavell, President of the Native Women’s Association of Canada stated in our presentation to the Court: “Aboriginal women are overrepresented and victimized in the sex industry, which testifies to the link between racism and misogyny in prostitution.”  

We are relieved that the court upheld the living off the avails provisions in relation to exploitation but are very troubled by the striking down of the bawdy house provisions. It gives men permission now to buy women in in-door prostitution.

The Court of Appeal of Ontario has clearly recognized what the Women’s Coalition has been arguing: prostitution is inherently dangerous in virtually any circumstances.  We concur with the Court, that a modern, comprehensive legislative scheme could reflect the values of dignity and equality.

Hilla Kerner for The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centers: “We are calling on the Canadian parliament to follow Sweden and other countries by bringing forward legislation that in one hand prevent men from buying sexual services and on the other hand provide economic security to women to protect them from resorting to prostitution”.

The members of the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution:

CASAC/ACCCACS – Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres/ Association canadienne des centres contre le viol; NWAC – Native Women’s Association of Canada; CAEFS – Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies; RQCALACS  – Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel; CLES – Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle; Vancouver Rape Relief & Women’s Shelter; AOcVF – Action ontarienne contre la violence faite aux femmes;

Finally, here’s Rob Nicholson, Canada’s Justice Minister, in a press release.

“It is the position of the Government of Canada that these provisions are constitutionally sound.

The provisions denounce and deter the most harmful and public aspects of prostitution.  They also ensure that the police have the tools necessary to continue to address the significant harms that flow from prostitution, both to communities and to the prostitutes themselves, along with other vulnerable persons.

Apologies in advance, I put this post together in a bit of a rush. I hope that I have not misrepresented anyone or their views.  But more importantly, I’m aiming to convey the range of positions on this issue and the nuances on the issue which aren’t likely to be captured by the pro/anti divide.

From Bleeding Hearts to…. (at York March 19 & 20 with Kamala Kempadoo and others)

Given this earlier post on recent legislative proposals, this conference organized around student work and the launch of this book seems very well timed!

From Bleeding Hearts to Critical Thinking: Exploring the Issue of Human Trafficking

March 19, 2012  11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.  Vari Hall Rotunda
March 20, 2012  9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. FSCR (Founders 305)

Stories about human trafficking, particularly ‘sex trafficking’ abound in the media. Yet what do we make of such stories and what can we do to address the issue?

This year two courses in Development Studies and Women’s Studies   – SOSC3455 “Global Human Trafficking” and WMS6211/DVST5124 “The Global Sex Trade” – taught by Professor Kamala Kempadoo of the Department of Social Science, gave undergraduate and graduate students an opportunity to study such questions in depth. Some of the results of the student study and research will be presented at a conference at York University on March 19-20, 2012.

The aim of the conference is to animate critical thinking amongst the wider York U. community about human trafficking narratives and to exchange ideas about strategies for change. The conference underlines the importance of theorizing everyday social problems in order to effectively tackle such issues both politically and academically, while emphasizing the need for informed research on migration and forced labour practices.

During the conference the work of students in the two courses will be showcased as examples of how one can engage with the issue of trafficking in meaningful and critical ways. A main focus is the analysis of media representations of human trafficking, including examinations of how race, nationality, sexuality and gender are taken up in films, TV documentaries and video clips.  To publicize and kick-off the one-day conference, some of the undergraduate student research will be staged or presented in Vari Hall on Monday March 19. On Tuesday March 20, undergraduate presentations will continue, followed by paper presentations by graduate students. To complement the student analyses, internationally renowned sex worker rights’ activist and filmmaker Carol Leigh will present several of her short documentaries that explore the perceived nexus between sex work and trafficking. The conference will wrap up with the launch of the second edition of the book edited by Professor Kempadoo, Trafficking and Prostitution Reconsidered: New Perspectives on Migration, Sex Work and Human Rights, which includes a new overview of studies on human trafficking and a reflection by policy-makers, researchers and activists on what has been accomplished since the first edition of the book. The event is being co-organized with the Centre for Feminist Research.


Sex work/workers in Canada after Bedford: watch our Nov.24 event

Along with METRAC/OWJN, the IFLS held a panel discussion on November 24 in order to ask “how we might map out the way that this case shifts the debate and the context of the debate around sex work in Canada”.

The whole session was taped – so if you couldn’t make it, here it is, in streamed video.  If you want to hear from only one of our speakers, you can hear their presentation by scrolling below and clicking on their photo.

Thanks to the generous and talented Manori Ravindran (Journalism/Ryerson) for the photos.  The introduction to the session is here.

click for video

“Public policy has to  do a lot more than just express simple moral preferences.” – Alan Young

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“There has to be a voice given to those most vulnerable.” -Christa Big Canoe

Click for video

“…often times the laws and regulations which can make it much more precarious and sort of de facto push people into working [outdoors]….”

-Emily van der Meulen

Click for video

Questions from the audience.

More information about the presenters:

Christa Big Canoe, B.A., J.D. is a First Nation Anishinabe Kwe feminist lawyer from Georgina Island First Nation in southern Ontario. She received her B.A. from the University of Calgary and graduated from the University of Toronto Law School in 2005. Christa is a recipient of the Dr. Ralph Steinhauer Award presented by the First Nations Student Association and The Native Centre of the University of Calgary, and the Alberta Aboriginal Women’s Esquao Award. She articled and worked with Nahwegahbow, Corbiere, an all First Nations law firm prior to becoming Policy Counsel for Legal Aid Ontario. Christa is passionate about parenthood, First Nations and women’s rights. She is a feminist lawyer with goals of promoting access to justice for Aboriginal women and people.

Emily van der Meulen
is a community-based researcher and Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Center for
Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital.  She holds a supplementary Post-Doctoral Fellowship
with the Comparative Program on Health and Society, Munk School of Global Affairs and is a 2010-2011 Visiting Fellow in the Lillian S. Robinson Scholars Program at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute. She completed her doctoral studies at York University where she conducted an action research project that examined the relationship between Canadian policy and sex workers’ ability to organize for improved labour, health, and human rights under criminalization. She has been involved with Maggie’s: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project for over four years.
Alan Young is Co-Founder and Director of Osgoode’s Innocence Project, which involves LLB students in the investigation of suspected cases of wrongful conviction and imprisonment. Between 1998 and 2000 he played an integral part in compelling the federal government to take action to recognize the medicinal value of marijuana. He has represented countless numbers of people suffering from AIDS, cancer and multiple sclerosis who had been charged as a result of using marijuana for medicinal purposes. In addition to his work in the area of consensual crime, Professor Young has also provided free legal services to victims of violent crime and to individuals attempting to sue the government for malicious prosecution. He is the author of Justice Defiled: Perverts, Potheads, Serial Killers and Lawyers (Toronto: Key Porter, 2003).