Canada’s new prostitution law fails to protect sex workers
Recently, headlines told the horrific story of the gang-rape of a St. John’s sex worker. Despite the RNC’s commitment not to arrest them, sex workers have been unwilling to come forward concerning the matter, preventing an investigation. Fears of gang violence, public scrutiny, and criminal charges have silenced these workers and Canada’s new prostitution laws will do nothing to calm their fears.
Tellingly, it was the Safe Harbour Outreach Program (SHOP) that put out the warning about the gang-rape incident via Twitter. SHOP is a new organization devoted to supporting sex workers in Newfoundland and Labrador, and will hopefully serve as a rallying point for those interested in protecting these womens’ rights. Notably, they have started a Warn Other Workers 24/7 hotline, by which callers can inform sex workers about violent clients. Sex workers, and women generally, feel their reports of sexual assault go ignored and so typically do not turn to the justice system to solve them, resulting in untold violence for those involved.
Currently in Canada, prostitution policy is extremely harmful to sex workers, as they are forced into unsafe environments, subject to frequent physical and sexual abuse, and unable to report abusive incidents for fear of going to jail for solicitation.
In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Canada’s prostitution laws for putting workers in danger. The government’s response, Bill C-36, has been to adopt the Nordic model of increasing penalties for clients and establishing a fund for those who wish to exit the industry while continuing to prohibit public solicitation. The law will not allow sex workers to set up proper businesses, but will rather force them further into hiding as their clients will be less eager to meet publicly. Bill C-36 will not properly protect the safety of sex workers, but it is terribly close to coming into law.