Last week President Donald Trump signed a bill into law holding websites liable for the content users—literally millions online—post onto their sites. The bill, a combination of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA), means that websites can be prosecuted if they engage in the "promotion or facilitation of prostitution" or "facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."
The stated aim: to crack down on sex trafficking and protect women by targeting platforms that facilitated it. The reality: targeting these websites will increase the risk of violence faced by sex workers by making it harder to screen clients and work in safer indoor locations. In many cases, sex workers will be pushed to the streets to engage clients, where the risk of violence and death is exponentially higher.
Already digital mainstays like Backpage have shut down, robbing thousands of sex workers of income, safety, and livelihood. Since then, the list of casualties has cascaded; and these sites no longer serve as safe spaces where sex workers can screen potential clients and negotiate terms of services.
Canadian sex workers will also feel the impacts of this dangerous, ill-advised change in policy, as many sex workers here relied on Backpage for the safety it afforded. Users posted an average of 1,600 new adult-services ads on Backpage every day according to one analysis, and 60 per cent of Canada’s online adult ads were hosted on the website, reports the Globe and Mail.
One of the benefits Backpage provided was a sense of agency and autonomy for sex workers who were able to stop working for exploitive third parties. Sex workers were able to take control of their work, be their own bosses, and were able to negotiate the range of services they preferred and the rates at which to offer them. There was little or no “overhead” in the conventional sense. But since the closure of Backpage, “there’s been an upswing in pimps sending sex workers messages promising work,” according to local sex work activist Hailey Heartless. This puts sex workers on the losing end of a skewed power dynamic, which leaves them more susceptible to exploitation.
Evidence supporting the relative safety of internet-based sex work compared with outdoor sex work is strong:
- 91.6% had not experienced burglary in the past five years;
- 84.4% had not experienced physical assault in the same period, and only 5% had experienced physical assault in the past 12 months;
- 82.8% had not experienced theft or robbery and less than 5% had encountered this in the past 12 months; and
- 77.8% had not experienced sexual assault in the past five years.
Writer and activist Morgan Page drew a comparison to the elevated threats and harassment faced by Vancouver street-based sex workers in the 1970s after the closure of the Penthouse Nightclub (click tweet below for full thread).Read more
(Photo credit: Peter Kim, Red Umbrella March, 2017)
Fueled by male transgressions and the unrelenting harms issuing from the White House by an oppressive US president, the 2018 Women’s March once again boasted an inspiring show of force last weekend. Millions attended marches across North America, defiantly calling out the injustices, oppression, and patriarchal systems underpinning them.
(Photo credit: Vox, Women’s Marches across the US, 2018)
But what was markedly different this year in many cities was the focus on intersectionality and a recognition of the need to centre the most marginalized voices to truly represent the diversity and inclusion this movement seeks to embrace. In Vancouver, a local trans sex worker, Hailey Heartless, underscored the need to include sex workers and the trans community as integral parts of the women’s movement.
(Photo credit: @PaceSociety; Hailey Heartless at Vancouver Women’s March; January 20, 2018)
We could not agree more, and believe that for feminism to truly embody the spirit of empowerment and liberation it must not only include, but also work to amplify the voices of sex workers and those fighting to make the profession safe.
Feminism requires listening to women and empower them to name their experiences on their own terms. It means respecting their views with regard to the policies and positions that have direct bearing on their health and safety. The majority of sex workers, and research, agrees that decriminalization would improve the health outcomes of those in the profession.
At its core, feminism is about supporting women's choices and control over their bodies. If feminism supports women's reproductive choices, and their choice to have sex (or not) with whoever they choose, an exchange of money should have no bearing on this.
Sex workers are experts at negotiating sexual consent, however, their ability to do so is seriously compromised by criminalization of their work and work places. Criminalization of the purchase of sex has led to rushed transactions on the street, as clients fear detection by law enforcement. This limits the ability of sex workers to properly screen clients and therefore increases their vulnerability to violence or exploitation. Criminalization of advertising and communication has also made negotiating with clients and screening more difficult.Read more
For years Pivot Legal Society, Sex Workers United Against Violence and the PACE Society have been fighting for the rights of sex workers. That fight led to intervening in the Bedford case at the Supreme Court of Canada in June of 2013; and on December 20th, 2013 the Supreme Court of Canada released their historic decision.
Executive Director Katrina Pacey to step down as leader of BC’s leading human rights legal advocacy organization
For Immediate Release
December 21, 2017
Vancouver, BC – After 17 years of dedication to BC’s leading human rights legal advocacy organization, Pivot Legal Society, Katrina Pacey will be stepping down as the organization’s Executive Director in the new year.
“After almost 17 years, it is hard to believe that I am moving on from Pivot Legal Society, an organization that I adore and believe in so deeply,” says Pacey.
I have spent my entire legal career helping to build and shape Pivot, and I am so proud to see what it has become today. Pivot is a principled, courageous, and impactful organization and I am excited to see where its exceptional staff, board of directors, and new leadership will take it in 2018 and beyond.”
Pacey began her career with Pivot in 2001 in her first few months of law school, when Pivot was a fledgling organization created in response to the health and human rights emergency taking place in the Downtown Eastside. Pacey has worked on all of Pivot’s campaigns since that time, but for more than a decade she was lead counsel on Pivot’s sex workers’ rights campaign.Read more
Pivot’s work is grounded in the belief that poverty and social exclusion are not inevitable. Through our campaigns, our team focuses on making the possibility of a more just and compassionate society a reality. Our projects evolve from year to year, but our central mandate, to use legal tools and political advocacy to challenge laws and policies that intensify poverty and social exclusion, remains the same.
New report from Pivot Legal Society finds that legislation introduced two years ago threatens the physical and economic security of sex workers, fails to protect women from violenceRead more
It is time for Parliament to reform Canada’s laws on sex work.
The Criminal Code provisions introduced by the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) are unconstitutional and should be repealed.
This report, "Evaluating Canada's Sex Work Laws: The Case for Repeal," provides a history of the litigation that struck down previous laws and the approach taken in drafting the PCEPA. It gives an overview of the impacts that the PCEPA is having on sex workers across Canada and why the law is unconstitutional. Finally, it draws from advocacy by sex workers to make key recommendations for creating laws that respect and promote the human rights of sex workers.Read more