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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Carceral Feminism: The Failure of Sex Work Prohibition (2012)

by Robyn Maynard, FUSE Magazine 35-3 ABOLITION
Anti-prostitution women’s groups — comprised of women morally and politically opposed to the very existence of the sex trade — have a far-reaching influence in the Canadian political climate that can be traced back to the colonization of Canada. While these groups often promote themselves as advancing an abolitionist feminist agenda, prohibitionist feminism is a more accurate descriptor, and will be used throughout this essay. [1] In the present writing, I will argue that the strategies of prohibitionist feminists do not serve the health and well-being of sex workers, but actually result in the criminalization of the very people they purport to protect. In contrast, the arguments in this essay promote a model of solidarity with sex workers, in support of their own movements for health, security and dignity within the sex trade. 

Sex workers are marginalized in Canadian society — they face staggering rates of violence and stigmatization that affect their ability to access health, social and protective services, and many (especially street- based workers) are subject to heavy police repression. Trans*, racialized, and Indigenous sex workers, as well as sex workers who use drugs, face these forms of marginalization at an even higher level, and experience higher levels of policing and incarceration. This reality is largely acknowledged by sex work activists and by most prohibitionists. [2] The issue that divides sex work activists from prohibitionists is the determination of the necessary steps to abolish violence towards sex workers. Prohibitionists believe that sex work, in and of itself, is inherently violent and exploitative, and propose instead that a carceral, prohibitionist approach must be taken to eliminate sex work itself. This model runs contrary to struggles for labour rights, migrants rights, decriminalization and self-determination which are currently being waged by sex work activists, as the means to end the high rates of violence and repression in the industry. As sex work in Canada is currently under intense public scrutiny, as well as political and legal upheaval, it is a feminist issue of the utmost importance, with high stakes in terms of the lives and safety of sex workers. Sex workers’ voices are not always represented in these debates; however, organizations run by and for sex workers such as POWER (Prostitutes of Ottawa/Gatineau Work, Educate, Resist) and legal allies such as the Pivot Legal Society have produced a wealth of information giving space for sex workers to describe their realities and needs. This information was assembled as part of sustained efforts by sex workers to prioritize their voices in the public domain as the pressure has mounted in the highly mediatized societal debates surrounding their work. Given this context, it is more necessary than ever to demonstrate how prohibitionist feminism’s align- ment with the moral right’s carceral approach to sex work in Canada results in significant harm to sex workers’ safety and autonomy. Indeed, much stands to be gained by redefining a truly abolitionist feminism with the goal of abolishing violence against sex workers, in solidarity with the safety, needs and self-determination of sex workers themselves.

Anti-Sex-Work Women’s Groups & Incarceration of Sex Workers in Early Canada: A Historical Account
Prohibitionist groups in early Canadian history were active collaborators with a carceral agenda focused on the prohibition of sex work, which resulted in arrests, imprisonment and coerced rehabilit- ation programs for many sex workers. Many prohibitionist women’s groups were part a growing trend of criminalization as a means to curb so-called social vices and impose control over women’s sexuality. This had the corresponding outcome of policing lower-class women, Indigenous women, immigrants, and women in the sex trade.
In the 1880s, numerous women’s groups joined forces with various Christian authorities, such as the Society for the Protection of Women and Children, in calling for the prohibition of the sex trade, which was actualized in 1892 with the creation of the Criminal Code of Canada. various aspects of these laws surrounded “vagrancy,” and targeted “common prostitutes, people living by the avails of prostitution, and any night walker not giving a satisfactory account of themselves,” according to Constance Backhouse. [3] At the level of magistrate courts, hundreds of women were tried and convicted under these new laws. Indeed, as Backhouse further notes, “possible prostitution offences constituted an overwhelming proportion of women’s crimes” from the 1860s to the mid-1890s. [4] In the early twentieth century, a strong lobby of women’s anti-prostitution groups in Canada and overseas, in collaboration with Christian Protestant purity groups, was increasingly vocal that women in the sex trade needed to be saved. The means of accomplishing this goal was by arresting them and the men who were their clients. Michaela Freund has documented one such group, the Vancouver Council of Women, which was deeply implicated in the process of crimin- alizing women in the sex trade (and lower-class women more generally). They argued for more social control and stricter curfew laws, lobbied for more police supervision of women in the public sphere, and painted women as victims, while also making them subject to questioning, detention and arrest when out after nightfall. This lobby spurred the creation of a new police division called the Women’s Protective Division, also supported by the Housewives League of British Columbia. This division started in 1912 and peaked in 1929, and was staffed by women who did preventative work and home visits in order to stop women from entering into the sex trade. Joan Sangster, who studied one of Ontario’s main reformatories, the Mercer Reformatory, demonstrates that many sex workers were also sent against their will into rehabilitation centres. These reformatories were not qualitatively different from prison, as women were held against their will, forced to perform domestic labour, and further, “only a minority of the Mercer files indicate that women clearly abandoned or wanted to abandon prostitution.” [5] 

Early prohibitionist groups also sympathized with racialized anti- immigrant sentiments, which served to control the movements of immigrant men and women, and women in the sex trade, under the rubric of fighting what was then known as the “white slave trade,” or the “white slave traffic.” Though there was much pressure and social panic surrounding this topic at the time, Mariana Valverde notes in her research that no evidence of such trafficking was ever discovered following this campaign. The National Committee for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic, which was supported by the National Council of Women, identified Chinese and Japanese men as the purported leading organizers of the “white slave trade.” Renisa Mawani’s research also demonstrates that the so-called white slave trade did not in fact relate solely to white women, but was also mobilized to restrict Chinese women from migrating to Canada, as they were seen to be at risk of becoming prostitutes. This panic was not without context, but became a rescue structure hijacked for the political purposes of the conservative right. Herbert Stephens, Conservative Member of Parliament and critic of Asian immigration, used the threat of women being “imported for immoral purposes” [6] as a tool in a larger anti-immigrant agenda, at a cost lived by immigrants and women in the sex trade.
Indigenous women were also adversely affected and criminalized by being labeled as potential victims of the sex trade. For example, the vancouver Council of Social Agendas also supported the Women’s Protective Division of policing in the late 1930s due to concerns with supervision of “half breeds” who were perceived to be in danger of entering prostitution. [7] In British Columbia, many Indigenous women arrested for prostitution-related offences were banished from cities and towns and sent back to their reserves. 

Abolitionists, while purportedly having sex workers’ best interests at heart, have historically collabor ted with carceral prohibitionist approaches towards sex work in the imposition of a particular kind of social and sexual role for women in society, with devastating results lived by sex workers, immigrants and Indigenous women.

Solidarity vs. Saviours: Decriminalization and Labour Rights, or Rescue and Incarceration?
Unfortunately, we do not have access to the voices of the majority of the sex workers who were forced against their will into “rehabilitation centres” and prisons at the behest of prohibitionists, the church and legislators in early Canadian history. In the current epoch, however, sex workers have been increasingly empowered to organize themselves, deciding to out themselves in order to elaborate their needs, rather than being represented as voiceless victims by others. Organizations run by and for sex workers, such as Maggie’s, POWER, Stella, and Sex Workers United Against violence (SWUAv), presently work with thousands of sex workers across Canada — with some including health services, peer-education, community research projects and legal advocacy and have since their inception been outspoken about the lives, realities and needs of sex workers. Sex workers and prohibitionists both identify violence as one of the largest threats to sex workers’ well-being, but continue to view the process by which to end this violence in fundamentally contradictory ways, with correspondingly contradictory outcomes. Though often accused by prohibitionists of glamourizing sex work, sex work activists of all backgrounds and income levels have argued that stigmatization, police repression, racism, misogyny and a societal disregard for the lives of sex workers all contribute to the violence that they experience. Indeed, sex workers across Canada organize annual vigils and marches on 17 December to commemorate the International Day Against violence Against Sex Workers. Sex worker activists view the harm involved in sex work as rooted in larger systemic injustices rather than as being caused by sex work itself. Because of this, sex workers in Canada have increasingly identified the laws criminalizing their work as one of the major barriers to their security, and indeed as one of the main causes of the high levels of violence committed against them.
Sex workers are currently leading two major court cases that identify the carceral approach to sex work as violating their basic right to security and blocking their ability to ensure safe working conditions. The case of Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and valerie Scott, with the collaboration of sex workers across Canada, argued this successfully to the Ontario Superior Court in 2009. They argued that the very conditions and activities currently subject to legal prohibitions — such as the ability to work indoors (the “bawdy house” law); hire security, receptionists and / or management (the “living off the avails” law); work in groups; and negotiate services and rates clearly with clients in public locations (the “communication” law) — are precisely the factors that sex workers have identified as effective in reducing harm and violence in their working lives. Justice Susan Himel ruled in favour, a judgment that was seconded unanimously by five judges at he Ontario Court of Appeal. Two of the five judges stated in strong terms, in concurrence with Himel, that the laws criminalizing negotiations between women and clients on the street level exposed them to undue risks without just cause. 

Sex workers working and living in vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are also mounting a Supreme Court challenge of the laws criminalizing sex workers, third parties (reception- ists, security) and clients. An alliance of several dozen street-level sex workers called the Sex Workers United Against violence (SWUAv), represented by the Pivot Legal Society, have on several occasions publicly decried the negative effects of the criminalization of negotiations between sex workers and their clients. Numerous government-ordered publications have identified the criminalization of these client-worker interactions as major factors in the existing conditions of violence towards sex workers. [8] 

Indigenous sex workers, both individuals and groups, have also spoken out against the criminalization of sex work, specifically as it has affected Indigenous women, who face disproportionately high rates 

of violence. Jamie Lee Hamilton, a well-known transgendered Indigenous sex work activist, has stated that the 1980s police repression of women and clients on the street level in vancouver’s well-lit urban areas displaced them to the Downtown Eastside in the first place, creating unsafe conditions that have contributed to the demon- strably high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women working and living in that neighbour- hood. [9] She herself was arrested and charged under bawdy house legislation for her creation of “Grandma’s House,” a safe indoor area for women to bring their clients during a massive spike in violence in the late 1980s. The Aboriginal Sex Worker Education and Outreach Project, a group of Indigenous sex workers of all genders in Toronto, have stated publicly that “the root of this violence [towards Indigenous sex workers] comes from colonization [...] and that there is no better time to work around decriminalization, but it is only a step towards (de) colonizing.” [10] 

In a current example of the power of solidarity (as opposed to prohibition), a groundbreaking report by Kate Shannon of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS released in May 2012 detailed the increases in perceived safety lived by sex workers in Vancouver following an unofficial tolerance in women’s shelters allowing sex workers to bring their clients indoors, with the following stated rules: “No dealing drugs, no violence and no pressuring other women into doing something they don’t want to do.” [11] Women’s shelters decided to listen to sex workers’ needs instead of imposing their own views on the industry, and correspondingly sex workers’ safety improved. The claims made by sex workers that decriminalization would increase their safety have been substantiated in practice elsewhere, as well. In New Zealand, the only country to have completely decriminalized sex work, a study commissioned by the Ministry of Justice demonstrated that sex workers reported feeling less vulnerable to violence, that levels of exploitation were low, and that 60% of sex workers felt they had a greater ability to report violence under the new Prostitution Reform Act than without it. The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective have also stated that access to labour rights allows them to better fight incidents of violence and exploitation at their places of work. By contrast, modern day prohibitionism remains a form of “rescue” feminism rather than one based in solidarity. There are no prohibitionist groups entirely made up of women currently in the sex trade, nor do they take leadership from current by-and-for sex worker organizations. Because of this lack of solidarity, the notions held by most sex workers regarding their desires for safety and freedom from violence in their lives differ markedly from both historical and current methods undertaken by prohibitionists to ensure sex workers’ safety. Though sex workers have organized to speak for themselves in ways that did not exist in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prohibitionists actively discount or ignore the increasingly numerous voices of sex workers who wish to remain in the sex trade but want to do so without violence.

At its extreme, the prohibitionist perspective denies that sex workers themselves can differentiate between forced and voluntary sex work. In their statement of facts submitted in Bedford vs. Canada, the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a group made up of pro- hibitionists from across Canada, [12] stated both that prostitution, in and of itself, and regardless of working conditions, is harmful to women, and that “the challenged laws do not cause or materially contribute to men’s violence against women.” [13] They argued that it was not possible for women to work more safely indoors and that pimps and clients are interchangeable as offenders. Justice Susan Himel, unchallenged by the five judges at the Ontario Court of Appeal, found much of the evidence provided by prohibitionists experts to be “troubling,” asserting that some of their expert witnesses had made sweeping statements not substantiated by their research. Specifically, Himel found that certain statements about sex workers were actually based on research about trafficked women, claims that the average age of recruitment into prostitution was 14 years old were based on faulty research, and
the argument that serial killers also targeted women indoors to be unqualified. [14] Similarly, in May 2012, Quebec’s state-funded women’s organization the Conseil du statut de la femme released a report claiming that all sex workers, including those who state that they worked consensually, were in fact psychologically damaged and suffering from long-term emotional problems because of their work, repeating the already-discredited statistic that the average age of entry into the sex trade is 14 years old. This state-funded body then called for laws directly in opposition to those advocated for by sex workers across Canada, and demanded that the government maintain the laws criminalizing indoor sex work, and for the criminalization of all clients as a means to protect women in the sex trade. In these examples, the prohibitionist perspective actively rallies against conditions that sex workers themselves claim would make their working conditions safer and less exploitative. 

Moral Impositions, Unwanted Solutions: The Criminalization of Clients, and How It Has Failed Sex Workers
Contemporary prohibitionists differ from their historical counterparts in that they no longer directly advocate for the incarceration or forced rehabilitation of sex workers as the means by which to end the existence of the sex trade. However, their approach to abolishing the sex trade remains necessarily carceral; since the purchasing itself is seen as a violent act, all clients are seen as abusers and assaulters, and all workers as victims. Abolitionist feminists in Canada advocate for the criminalization and repression of clients as a means by which to eradicate sex work. This carceral approach is known popularly as the “Swedish” model, because in 1999 Sweden became the first country in the world to define prostitution as violence towards women, and attempted to eradicate prostitution by arresting clients. Since its inception, the Swedish model has been promoted worldwide and enacted in Norway, South Africa and South Korea, and discussed by law-makers in India, France, Estonia, Finland, Croatia, the Philippines, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and Canada. Abolitionist feminists in Canada are part of an international push to enact this model of prohibi- tion as part of an American initiative that began under the Bush adminis- tration in 2003, the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) index, which defines sex work as de-facto trafficking and has called for the criminalization of clients worldwide. The TIP is a three-tier system grading countries on their purported success or failure in what it deems to be combatting trafficking, and it wields significant political influence. In effect, however, it most often pressures client countries to criminalize (or increase criminalization) of the sex trade by means of raids and shutting down sex work establishments, rewarding them for increased repression of sex work and illegal migration, while also punishing those who score lowest on the TIP index with the threat of losing American foreign aid. Though Sweden is lauded by prohibitionist feminists for taking legislative steps to criminalize clients, its stated purpose of eliminating the sex industry has been an abject failure: “We cannot give any unambiguous answer to [the question of whether prostitution has increased or decreased]. At most, we can discern that street prostitution is slowly returning, after swiftly disappearing in the wake of the law.” [15] 

Whether it actually works to eliminate sex work or not, this form of rescue feminism is disconnected from the needs of sex workers. Indeed, law enforcement attempts to focus on the criminalization of clients has had harmful consequences in sex workers in Canada over the past few decades. Two different reports commissioned by the Ministry of Justice of Canada, in 1989 and 1994, [16] specified that there was a direct link between the criminalization of clients, lowered working conditions and increased violence against sex workers due to rushed negotiations and sex workers’ loss of bargaining power. In Montreal in 2001, police conducted massive client sweeps, and Montreal-based sex workers organization Stella documented a threefold rise in violent incidents, and a fivefold rise of incidents with a deadly weapon, over a three-month period at the height of the sweeps. 

With the gradual international implementation of the Swedish model, the working conditions and relative safety of women at all levels of the sex industry have been found to be considerably reduced. According to a study by the Norweigan Ministry of Justice and the Police, street-level sex workers in Sweden have reported feeling less secure and at greater risk of violence, and indeed face an actual increase. Women working indoors in their own spaces have been faced with a deterioration in working conditions; though selling sex does not in and of itself criminalize sex workers, many of the means by which women can improve their safety, such as working together for security and passing on information about clients, are criminalized, as cited in a report by Susanne Dodillet and Petra Östergren. Conditions and safety are also adversely affected as working indoors remains illegal and landlords are required to terminate leases immediately upon discovery of a tenant’s occupation or risk being charged criminally. This often leads to extremely unstable housing situations for those who wish control their own work environments. The alignment of feminist prohibitionists with the right-wing carceral approach to sex work does nothing to further the goal of actually abolishing sex work. Instead, the implementation of this model uses the law in a manner that augments, rather than abolishes, the violence, stigmatization and vulnerability faced by sex workers. 

Trafficking Realities: Prohibition vs. Migrant’s Rights
It is difficult to separate the prohibitionist feminist push for the criminalization of clients from various “anti-trafficking” campaigns, since they are used so interchangeably both by the conservative right and by prohibitionist feminists. Indeed, the topic of trafficking is so often leveraged as a political tool that it can be difficult to address. However, the mobilization of anti-trafficking campaigns unevenly affects migrant women, and therefore needs to be treated distinctly. A major focus of much prohibitionist rhetoric is that of so-called trafficked women, and indeed the earlier timeline demons- trates how the spectre of trafficking has been mobilized in the service of anti-immigrant agendas, at the expense of migrant women and sex workers. Though the definition of trafficking in the Criminal Code of Canada can be simplified to forced labour combined with forced movement, trafficking as referred to in conservative rhetoric and prohibitionist feminisms generally refers to the forced sexual labour of women and children (in a manner that often does not differentiate between adult women and children). Highly exploitative labour conditions are a reality faced by many migrants in all sectors in Canada, both for those here legally through temporary work programs, as well as for those living and working illegally. Because of their precarious status in Canada, migrant workers often fear reporting workplace exploitation for fear of being deported. This is especially true in the context of an occupation which is itself deemed to be illegal.  Though statistics on trafficking realities vary widely and are difficult to quantify, [17] actual reported judicial cases of migrant men or women being forced into sexual labour, confined against their will, or having their wages expropriated, are quite low in Canada; for example, the RCMP reported 5 criminal convictions for human trafficking between 2009 and 2010. Even amidst this reality, there were several highly mediatised and expensive anti-trafficking raids targeting massage parlours throughout the 2000s. After mass arrests and confiscation of property, it was extremely rare for any of the sex workers present to be determined to be trafficked. [18]

The urgency of fighting trafficking continues to permeate the cultural and political landscapes, perpetuated both by prohibitionists, conservative anti-immigrant politicians and law enforcement officials. Sex work prohibitionists in Canada, the United States and Sweden, define all migrant sex workers as victims of trafficking, because of their insistence that no one is able to consent to working in the sex industry. Due to this, prohibitionist feminists, including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and the Women’s Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, advocate for the criminalization of all clients as a means of ending trafficking, since they do not differentiate between voluntary and forced workers. This discourse is promoted by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government, who, Criminal Code notwithstanding, defined prostitution as sexual exploitation in their 2011 election platform. With new powers instilled by the Omnibus crime bill (C-10), and the so-called “Protecting vulnerable Foreign Nationals Against Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation” section, immigration officers are now able to refuse would-be migrant women work permits if they are deemed to be “vulnerable to sexual exploitation.” [19] According to the bill, so-called unskilled labourers, along with exotic dancers, are considered potential victims of human trafficking, are routinely subjected to suspicion, and can be barred from entering Canada on a permit. This can be understood as nothing other than a contemporary, gendered iteration of prohibitionist language employed by politicians in the early twentieth century to justify banning immigrants from the country. 

Though anti-trafficking, anti-client raids targeting the sex trade are a reality in Canada, this phenomenon is more common in other countries, specifically in Sweden and in countries beholden to the United States’ TIP, such as Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea. Indeed, so-called anti-trafficking repression has shown horrific results for migrant women in Sweden and Norway. In these two countries, increased police repression due to enacting anti- trafficking and anti-prostitution laws immediately led to massive increases in arrests and the deportation of women living there illegally. Historically, sex workers have been subject to police raids and arrests in the name of public morality, but in instances such as these, raids are now also perpetuated in the name of fighting trafficking. Montreal has also seen an increase in law enforcement officials entering massage parlours claiming to seek trafficking victims, and arrests and deportations based on these grounds have already occurred, as documented by Montreal sex worker organization Stella, which has thousands of contacts with sex workers each year. Sex workers generally find these raids traumatic, which, alongside strict immigration rules, discourages migrant women actually experiencing extortion or other rights violations from turning for assistance to police or social services, for fear of arrest or deportation.

Impediments to Self-Determinationand Safety for Migrant Sex Workers: A Broader Look
Carceral solutions to trafficking suit the needs of prohibitionist feminists in their push to criminalize clients, and suit the needs of conservative governments in continually restricting otherwise legal methods of entering the country. However, the prohibitionist definition of trafficking fails to address many impediments to the self-determination and safety of migrant women in the sex trade. In equating all migrant sex workers as trafficking victims, it becomes extremely difficult to reach women who are in situations of actual captivity and expropriation, rare as these situations may be. In a 2012 paper, Ann Jordan affirms that in Sweden, fear of arrest and deportation has had the added effect of dissuading the most vulnerable from accessing social services and authorities if they indeed require help. Jordan’s research, along with that of Bob Wallace, Principal Policy Officer of the Prostitution Licensing Authority of Queensland, also demonstrates that anti-client laws in Sweden have made clients unlikely and unable to report places where women did indeed seem to be trafficked, due to fear of incriminating themselves.

Several countries in which anti-trafficking campaigns are mobilized on a larger scale, such as Thailand and Cambodia, have sex-worker-led campaigns against anti-trafficking efforts pushed onto them by prohibitionists, conservative politicians and law enforcement. Empower Foundation, a sex workers’ organization based in Thailand, recently released a report entitled Hit & Run, which documents the rights abuses caused by anti-trafficking efforts on sex workers, migrant sex workers and actual victims of trafficking. They opened their document with the following statement: “If this was a story of a man setting out on an adventure to find a treasure and slay a dragon to make his family rich and safe, he would be the hero. But I am not a man. I am a woman and so the story changes [...] I am not brave and daring. I am not resourceful and strong. Instead I am called illegal, disease spreader, prostitute, criminal or trafficking victim.” [20] Prohibitionist feminism, in focusing on fighting trafficking by means of the criminalization of the purchase sex, does not examine the root causes that create exploitative conditions for migrant workers, including sex workers. In addressing trafficking itself, as a phenomenon, it is important to recognize the under- lying conditions which allow it to exist. Nandita Sharma, author of Home Economics: The Making of Migrant Labour in Canada, argues that restrictive immigration controls create conditions in which traffickers can extort wages from and control the movement of undocumented people living and working in Canada, and that the exploitation of migrant labour is made possible by Canada’s immigration system. Though actual forced labour appears to be a rare occurrence, poor working conditions are endemic to migrants with precarious immigration status. Determining some people to be “legal” and others to be “illegal” in and of itself creates a pool of workers vulnerable to exploitation; they do not have rights, making it impossible for them to defend themselves. Indeed, it would be much less possible to force undocumented migrants to work under duress without threats of deportation and the hiding of passports. Effective anti-trafficking efforts would require undocumented peoples to be living without fear, and to have equal access to labour rights — as such, allowing for freedom of movement across borders. Migrant justice movements, in contrast with feminist prohibitionists, operate in opposition to the carceral model that perpetuates the vulnerability of migrants. Instead, migrant justice groups and organizations such as the Immigrant Workers’ Centre, Solidarity Across Borders and No One Is Illegal work with directly affected migrants, and address barriers to safety and security by advocating for access for all to social and health services, shelters and protection.

Towards a Model of Accountability and Solidarity with Sex Workers
The fact that some experience the sex trade itself as a form of violence is contested neither by sex workers nor by prohibitionists. Also, both sex workers and prohibitionists affirm that nobody should be forced or pressured into remaining in the sex trade against their will, and should be assisted in leaving the industry if they so desire. The laws in Canada’s Criminal Code which outlaw forced labour, exploitation, confinement, wage withholding, threats, sexual assault and rape remain on the books and are uncontested by sex workers or any feminists in Canada. Sex worker rights organizations in Canada and elsewhere advocate and provide support for the choice either to enter, remain, or leave the sex industry. Ethical support requires letting sex workers’ themselves determine their own needs, and recognizing that each individual has different experiences and is the most capable of determining the course of her life. All sex workers deserve respect, and need to be supported in their choices rather than treated as victims who are incapable of understanding their own oppression. Sex workers not only deserve respect, but also deserve the basic right to security while within the industry, and to improve their working conditions. As Sharma notes, “if we want to end exploitation [...] we give more power to workers to end their exploitation.” [21] Abolitionists, however well- intentioned, continue to advocate within the structure of rescue feminism, supporting carceral policies in line with right-wing government interests. These policies promote rights abuses against sex workers. As described earlier, carceral abolitionism has little quantitative effect on the number of people engaged in the sex trade. Further, it causes qualitative harm, in the form of stigmatization and violence towards sex workers (not to mention deportations) who do not wish to be “rescued.” Concern for sex workers’ well-being cannot and must not be acted upon blindly, but by taking the lead from those most affected by the laws: sex workers. They have been at the forefront of various struggles to remove the laws which enable violence against them, from Jamie Lee Hamilton, to the brave Downtown Eastside women of SWUAv, to the three sex workers in the Bedford case, some of whom have recently seen success in removing the laws that keep them in danger. A feminism of solidarity is what is now required in order to abolish the violence faced by sex workers, and to challenge an increasingly right-wing government hostile to the dignity of sex workers, along with all women, LGBTQ communities, migrants, Indigenous people, communities of colour, drug users, the mentally ill and the poor. 

[1] Some sex workers, especially sex workers of colour, find the application of the term “abolitionist feminist,” which references the abolition of slavery, to be offensive and inaccurate in its application to sex work and prefer to refer to it as fundamentalist, prohibitionist or carceral feminism.
[2] One important exception is the narrow definition of the term “women” used by most prohibitionists, who define sex work as a violence towards women in a way that often does not include transgendered women. Though they often acknowledge the racial and class-based reality of violence towards sex workers, prohibition- ists often leave out the realities of the extremely high rates of violence lived by Trans* sex workers, as well as the existence of males in the sex trade. However, proper treatment of this issue is beyond the scope of this essay. 
[3] Constance Backhouse, “Nineteenth-Century Canadian Prostitution Law: Reflection of a Discriminatory Society” Social History/Histoire sociale 18, no. 36 (1985): 394.
[4] Ibid., 397. [5] Joan Sangster, Regulating Girls and Women: Sexuality, Family, and the Law in Ontario, 1920-1960 (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001), 109.
[6] Renisa Mawani, Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encoun- ters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871-1921. (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009), 79.
[7] Mariana Valverde, The Age of Soap, Light and Water: Moral Reform in English Canada, 1885-1925, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), 249.
[8] Fraser Committee, Fraser Report, commissioned by Ministry of Justice of Canada (1985); Street Prostitution: Assessing the Impact of the Law, Department of Justice of Canada (1989); Étude sur les violences envers les prostituées a Montréal. Rapport de recherche soumis au ministère fédérale de la justice (June 1994).
[9] Robyn Maynard, “Jamie Lee Hamilton: Up Close and Personal,” ConStella- tion, Special Issue on Human Rights (publication forthcoming).
[10] Indigenous People in the Sex Trade: Our Lives, Our Bodies, Our Realities, Aboriginal Sex Work Education and Outreach Project (ASWEOP), February 14, 2012.
[11] Susan Lazaruk, “Vancouver Study: Sex Trade Workers Feel Safest When Working Inside Supported Housing,” The Province, 9 May 2012 (online; accessed 18 June 2012).
[12] The Native Women’s Association of Canada, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, The Canadian Association of Sexual Assault Centres, Vancouver Rape Relief Society, Action ontarienne con- tre la violence faite aux femmes, Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle (CLES), and Regroupement québécois des centres d’aide et de lutte contre les agressions à caractère sexuel.
[13] Fay Faraday and Janine Benedet, Factum for the Intervenor Women’s Coalition (online; accessed 18 June 2012).
[14] Importantly, one of the expert witnesses to have his evidence discredited was Richard Poulin, who publicly identifies as part of Quebec’s leading prohibitionist group, the Concerta- tion des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle.
[15] Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, Prostitution in Sweden 2007, (online; accessed 18 June 2012).
[16] Department of Justice of Canada, Street Prostitution: Assessing the Impact of the Law, (1989); Ministère de la justice du Canada, Étude sur les violences envers les prostituées a Montréal, (June 1994). These reports also document the harmful effects of criminalizing sex workers.
[17] Indeed, the Canadian government itself has stated both that the scope of trafficking in Canada is difficult if not impossible to ascertain in the present: “Currently, there is a lack of reliable, quantitative data on the scope and nature of human trafficking in Canada and around the world.” Statistics Canada, Towards the Development of a National Data Collection Framework to Measure Trafficking in Persons, (online; accessed 14 June 2012).
[18] This is discussed in more detail in Robyn Maynard, “Trafficking, the ‘Foreign Stripper Problem’ and Migrant Sex Workers’ Rights in Canada,” ConStella- tion, Special Issue on Human Rights (Publication forthcoming).
[19] Backgrounder: Safe Streets and Communities Act, Department of Justice Canada (online; accessed 18 June 2012).
[20] Hit & Run:The Impact of Anti-traf-ficking Policy and Practice on Sex Workers’ Human Rights in Thailand, Empower Foundation (2012).
[21] Nandita Sharma, Home Economics; Nationalism and the Making of “Migrant Workers” in Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2006).

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