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Understanding Sex Work

Society has preconceived notions about who sex workers are and, as a result, condemn them without even knowing them.

People assume that all sex workers are addicts or social deviants, were sexually abused as children, and that they are the bottom feeders of society. In reality, all sex workers have a story and they all deserve the same level of dignity and respect afforded to anyone who is engaged in the profession of their choosing.

Such sweeping generalizations are harmful and hurtful. Like all human beings, every sex worker has a story and a path they are on, and they all deserve.

Sex Work Myth VS. Reality

MYTH: Arresting sex workers prevents sex work from occurring in our community.
REALITY: Arresting sex workers usually only keeps them out of the business temporarily. It also pushes the industry further underground, making sex workers more vulnerable to violence. Crackdowns (sweeps, arrests of sex workers) results in the growth and expansion of sex workers throughout the city as they flee police from fear of arrest.

MYTH: Focusing law enforcement efforts on the customers of sex workers will stop the commercial sex trade.
REALITY: It is not the number of customers but economic trends and social conditions such as unemployment and a shortage of living wage opportunities that determine the number of sex workers at any given time. Studies of laws in Sweden that criminalize customers found that these practices push sex workers underground and subject sex workers to more violent situations

MYTH: Sex workers were abused or assaulted as children.
REALITY: One out of three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime. Like many individuals, some sex workers have been the victims of a sexual assault during childhood. However, there are other sex workers who have never been sexually assaulted in their lifetime. The majority of sexual assault victims do not work in the sex industry.

MYTH: Most sex workers are forced or coerced into street based sex work.
REALITY: Individuals enter into sex work for a variety of reasons. The number one reason for entering sex work is economic, not by trickery or coercion of an outside party. According to common stereotypes, a pimp is a man who controls a sex workers work and income. The reality is that many sex workers (including street based) work independently. Sex work may require maintaining professional relationships with third parties such as drivers, receptionists, and managers. The criminalisation of employers makes it difficult to perform sex work in safety. Sex workers who are under the control of another person are most often in a situation of conjugal violence within their working context. When sex workers want to file a complaint and break the cycle of conjugal violence, their efforts are difficult because of the criminalization of sex work.

MYTH: Sex workers are dangerous to the general population because most have diseases they transmit HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections.
REALITY: Sex workers are often more knowledgeable about sexual health – and practice safe sex more often – than the general population. Sex workers often act as sexual health educators for their clients and should be mobilized, not demonized, in the struggle to control HIV/AIDS. The ability to negotiate various sexual services depends on a sex worker’s working conditions. Criminalization and regressive policies create stressful environments that can hinder the ability to negotiate safer practices. This illicit context also limits sex workers access to services and health care because they fear being discriminated against. Where sex workers are not treated as outsiders or criminals, they are able to pursue health care that does not stigmatize them or violate their human rights. When sex workers know their human rights will be enforced and respected, they can – and do – seek health care and promote condom use by clients, safer working conditions and protection against violence. When sex workers are stigmatized, denigrated, jailed and forced underground, they live in the shadows without health care or legal protection.

MYTH: Raids of brothels are the best way to help sex workers and stop sex work from happening.
REALITY: Raids of brothels typically lead to the arrest, detention, incarceration and even the deportation of sex workers. Empowering sex workers to identify and assist those people who have been coerced is the most effective way to support sex workers. Pulling people out of brothels neither “saves” nor “rescues” them. Sex workers who work in the open continue to be preyed upon by violent clients and the incidence of violence against sex workers is greatly reduced (though not eliminated) when sex workers work indoors such as in massage parlours or through escort services.

MYTH: Sexual assault is just part of the job.
REALITY: No one ever deserves to be sexually assaulted. Whether there is payment or not, any sex act performed without consent is an act of violence. In addition, many sex workers are intimidated by the police and will not communicate violent attacks against them for fear of arrest. As a result, this makes sex workers an easy target. Sexually assaulted sex workers, whether at work, in their love life, or in their social life, fear not being believed by authorities or fear being categorized as sexually depraved, as if forcing a sex worker to perform a sex act was a normal situation and not an assault.

MYTH: All sex workers are drug addicts.
REALITY: For many people, sex work and drugs go hand in hand, so they assume all sex workers are drug users. Because of considerable stigmatization, many believe it is difficult or even impossible to perform sex work without using drugs. However, the reality is more complex. Some sex workers use alcohol or drugs recreationally, on an occasional or a regular basis, but some never use them at all. Those who use drugs while working or overuse them become much more vulnerable to abuse and risk having great difficulty setting their limits in regards to acts, prices and duration of services they offer. Drug addiction can put their health and security at risk, and more supports are needed in Nova Scotia (detox beds, education and public awareness) for sex workers who are harmfully involved with drugs.

Thank you to the program participants at Stepping Stone and to Stella (chezstella.org, 14 answers to your questions) for their contributions to Sex Work Myth. Sex Work Reality)

We have feelings, too. We are someone’s kids. We’re someone’s mother, someone’s sister. Don’t just look at us and say “Oh, that’s a whore.”

Joan

Sex Work VS. Trafficking

Trafficked persons, unlike sex workers, enter/ed the sex trade through coercion, force, manipulation or threats. When sex work and sex trafficking are conflated, or lumped together as one, it causes serious harm.

By denigrating sex workers, we are also denigrating the ones engaged in sex work unwillingly. Before we even help a trafficked person, we have already sent the message that what they did was filthy and demoralizing. In order to help them and have them trust us, we must purposefully separate those who didn’t choose that life, from the consenting adults who willingly engage in it. Regardless of what we think or feel about the profession.

In Canada, it is not illegal to sell sexual services which means sex workers are not breaking laws and should not be treated as though they are. Still, that same law makes it illegal to buy sexual services, which forces many sex workers further underground. This puts them in harms way, at greater risk, and lessens their ability to screen potentially dangerous clients.

Local Resources

The following organizations offer a range of services from hot meals to beds to sleep in at night.

List of Local Resources

BRUNSWICK STREET MISSION

Phone: 902-423-4605
Email: bsm1@eastlink.ca
Web: www.brunswickstreetmission.org
2107 Brunswick Street, Halifax
Drop-In: Mon-Fri, 9:00am to 2:00pm
Meals: Mon-Sat, 7:00am to 8:00am
Food Bank: Thu, 9:30am; distribution 10:30am to 12:00pm
(pre-register on Wed during drop-in for food bank)

FEED NOVA SCOTIA

Food bank/food assistance resources
Phone: 902-457-1900
Email: communications@feednovascotia.ca
Web: www.feednovascotia.ca

METRO TURNING POINT – MEN

Phone: 902-420-3282
Email: michellewheeler@shelternovascotia.com
Web: http://moshhalifax.ca/?location=metro-turning-point-centre
2170 Barrington Street, Halifax

METRO NON-PROFIT HOUSING SUPPORT CENTRE

Phone: 902-423-5479
Email: mnpha@ns.sympatico.ca
Web: https://mnpha.wordpress.com/programs-services/housing-support-centre/
2330 Gottingen Street, Halifax
Drop-In: Mon-Fri, 8:00am to 12:00pm
Food Bank: Mon-Fri, donuts, fruit, snacks, etc

HOPE COTTAGE

Phone: 902-429-7968
Web: https://www.hopecottage.ca/
2435 Brunswick Street, Halifax
Mon-Fri, 10:00am to 11:00am, 5:00pm to 6:00pm

PARKER STREET FOOD & FURNITURE BANK

Phone: 902-425-2125
Email: info@parkerstreet.org
Web: https://www.parkerstreet.org/
2415 Maynard Street, Halifax
Mon., Wed., Fri., fill food orders, 8:30am to 11:30am; registration starts half hr before order times.

MI’KMAQ NATIVE FRIENDSHIP CENTRE

Phone: 902-420-1576
Web: http://mymnfc.com/
2158 Gottingen Street, Halifax
Mon-Fri, 9:00am to 4:00pm

ARK

Phone: 902-492-2577
Email: info@arkoutreach.com
Web: http://www.arkoutreach.com/
2177 Gottingen Street, Halifax
Youth, ages 16-24
Mon-Fri, hours vary

PHOENIX CENTRE FOR YOUTH/HEALTH PROGRAM

Phone: 902-420-0676
Email: pcfy@phoenixyouth.ca
Web: https://phoenixyouth.ca/programs
6035 Coburg Road, Halifax
Tue & Fri, 2:00pm to 5:00pm

LESBIAN, GAY, BI-SEXUAL YOUTH PROJECT

Phone: 902-429-5429
Email: carmel@youthproject.ns.ca
Web: https://youthproject.ns.ca/
2281 Brunswick Street, Halifax
Call first

FEEDING OTHERS OF DARTMOUTH

Phone: 902-464-2919
Email: info@margarets-house.ca
Web: https://margarets-house.ca/
43 Wentworth Street, Dartmouth
Lunch: Mon-Sun, 12:00pm to 12.30pm
Supper: Mon, Tue, Wed, 4:30pm to 5:00pm

ST. MATTHEW’S UNITED CHURCH

Phone: 902-423-9209
Email: stmatts@ns.sympatico.ca
Web: https://www.stmatts.ns.ca/
1479 Barrington Street, Halifax
Breakfast: Sun 8:30am to 10:00am

SAINT GEORGE’S ROUND CHURCH

Phone: 902-423-1059
Web: https://roundchurch.ca/
2221 Maitland Street, Halifax
Supper: Sat 4:00pm to 5:30pm

SUNDAY SUPPER

Phone: 902-492-2577
Email: info@arkoutreach.com
Web: http://moshhalifax.ca/?location=sunday-supper
6036 Coburg Road, Halifax

ST. MARY’S BASILICA DROP-IN

Phone: 902-429-9800
Email: cathedral@halifaxyarmouth.org
Web: https://www.halifaxyarmouth.org/cathedral/
5221 Spring Garden Road, Halifax
Mon-Fri, 1:30pm to 3:30pm

Canadian Resources

Not in Halifax? No problem! We have a list of Canadian organizations that provide services and support for sex workers.

Online Resources

The resources featured here promote safety, personal care, and well-being. If you do not see what you’re looking for, feel free to drop us a line!

List of Online Resources

SEX WORK AND COVID-19

Protect Yourself from COVID-19

Sex Work COVID-19: Guidelines for Sex Workers, Clients, Third Parties, and Allies

Guidance for clients of Sex Workers

COVID-19 Sex Workers Guidance

SEX WORK AND HARM REDUCTION

Dope Guide: Sex Work, drugs, alcohol and other substances

A Sex Worker Handbook: XXX Guide

Decent Work: A Smart Sex Workers Guide

GENERAL SAFETY

Border Crossing Tips: Published by Maggie’s Toronto, this information page is intended to make border crossing from Canada to the US safer for sex workers.

Law Matters: Information about laws pertaining to sex work, advice for how to deal with police and tips for reducing risk of being targeted.

Security Matters: Advice on how to deal with clients, how to secure your workspace and what to do between dates.

HEALTH SAFETY

Health Matters: Discussion of common health concerns as indicated by sex workers and tips on how to deal with them.

MISCELLANEOUS

Dancing Matters: Discussion of common health and security concerns as indicated by dancers and tips on how to deal with them.

Money Matters: Information about money management, filing income tax, government insurance and private insurance.

Policies & Legislation

To ensure that those who are affected by given policies and/or legislation are informed, we have compiled the following collection of literature.

List of Policies & Legislation

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: BILL C-36

Here is a link to the full text of the bill.

Q&A on Bill C-36: Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act: For a bill to become law it typically goes through a series of readings in both the House of Commons and the Senate. The bill can be accepted as is, approved with amendments, or rejected in its entirety. On October 6, 2014, Bill C-36 passed third reading in the House of Commons with some amendments. This document is an addition to Reckless Endangerment.

Briefing Note – Bill C-36: An Act to amend the Criminal Code in response to the SCC decision in AG Canada v Bedford and to make consequential amendments to the act.

RELEVANT ARTICLES

Here’s What Amnesty International’s Sex Work Proposal Really Means by Hilary Hanson

Canada’s new prostitution laws: Everything you need to know by Josh Wingrove

Senate approves controversial Prostitution Bill C-36
 by The Canadian Press

Bill C-36: No safety or security for sex workers
 by Cheryl Auger

Bill C-36 hearings told not to conflate prostitution and trafficking
 by Laura Payton

LEGAL INFORMATION

Laws around Sex Work

Sex Work Rights Guide

The Charter

Decriminalization of Sex Work

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