In Canada’s National Post, Celine Bisette argues that sex workers themselves should be the prime voices in the debate over sex worker rights —
I have been following the recent steps toward updating our laws concerning prostitution with great interest and a high degree of unease. My interest in the matter is personal. I have been a sex worker for almost a decade, and have grown used to having the conversation about the future of Canada’s prostitution laws unfold around me without having a chance to take part in it.
The mainstream media have been giving politicians, researchers, lawyers and women’s rights advocates a platform to share their views on what the government should do now that the country’s prostitution laws have been struck down. However, sex workers themselves are struggling to gain access to this forum. I strongly believe that our voices should be heard and prioritized in this debate. No doubt members of the public are already starting to form opinions on what the country’s approach to prostitution should be, but they will not be adequately equipped to make a sound decision until they have considered the perspectives of sex workers.
While there are many options and several different theories regarding the best way to move forward, the government seems keen to bring in the “Nordic” approach to prostitution, which would criminalize the purchase of sexual services but not their sale. The underlying assumptions of this model are that prostitution is inherently exploitative, a form of violence, and has no place in a just society. The Nordic model focuses on attacking the demand side of the exchange by attempting to dissuade sex buyers (or “johns”) from seeking out the services of sex sellers. Sex workers are not criminalized under this system.
The Nordic approach has a few vocal advocates, including Conservative MP Joy Smith. In a Huffington Post blog from Feb. 13, Ms. Smith argued that people in the sex trade experience “significant harm” and that they should have the right “to be from exploitation and violence.” According to Ms. Smith, criminalizing the purchase of sexual services will help sex workers.
I completely agree that people in the sex trade — like myself — should be free from violence. Like Ms. Smith, I too am concerned about the harms that are present in my industry. Our nation is forever marred by the atrocities committed by Robert Pickton and other predators. Sadly, even today, sex workers continue to be murdered, raped, assaulted and exploited in this country. That needs to change.
If the Nordic model is adopted in Canada, sex workers will continue to be treated like second-class citizens.
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