US Sex Workers Celebrate Canadian Victory

US Sex Workers Celebrate Canadian Victory:
Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA and other US groups join in celebration with Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) and all Canadian Sex Workers

This week Canadian sex workers won a constitutional challenge when an Ontario court struck down key Canadian anti-prostitution laws, saying that they contribute to the danger faced by sex-trade workers.

Three sex trade workers asked Ontario’s Superior Court of Justice to declare legal restrictions on their activities a violation of charter rights of security of the person and freedom of expression.  On Monday, the Court struck down the three sections challenged by members of the group Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC), Sections 210 (prohibiting bawdy houses), 212 (1j) (living off the avails of Prostitution), and Section 213 (prohibiting communication in public view for the purpose of prostitution).

The invalidation of Section 210 of the Criminal Code, which prohibits “bawdy houses”- that is brothels and indoor sex work venues-will mean that sex workers “can ensure [their] safety by working together indoors,” according to SPOC. Section 212 (1j) of the Criminal Code prohibits living wholly or in part on the avails of prostitution. Although the Code was developed to protect sex workers from third parties involved in prostitution SPOC commented that,  “[i]n practice, it makes us and our live-in partners, and even elderly parents we support, susceptible to being charged, and serving up to ten years in jail. The invalidation of Section 212 (1j), will allow our families to finally stop fearing arrest. Our employees, such as receptionists, drivers, etc. will no longer fear criminal prosecution.”

Rights Based Organizations in the United States Support the Reforms

Laws against “living off the earnings” of sex workers, solicitation and indoor sex work are common in many countries around the world. Sex workers’ legal victory in Canada gives hope to workers in other countries that these laws can be invalidated and their safety and welfare improved. Organizations working with and defending the rights of sex workers in the United States joined their voices with SPOC to celebrate this victory.

“We recognize the long time work of Sex Professionals of Canada and the contributions of the many sex worker rights organizations, activists and allies around Canada. We are also grateful to Osgoode Hall Law School Professor Alan Young and the students at Osgoode who worked on this case,” says Liz Coplen, SWOP USA Board Chair. “We hope that the US will learn from our Canadian neighbors,” added  SWOP USA Founder, Robyn Few as she celebrated the victory in her home in California.

“Over 30 years of dedication brought Val Scott, along with Amy Lebovitch, Terri-Jean Bedford and SPOC (Sex Professionals of Canada) to this pivotal moment in our history,” says long time sex worker activist Carol Leigh and director of the BAYSWAN, California. “We respect their hard work and dedication to make a change for rights.”

“Although there is a long road ahead, we are pleased that there is a high court recognition of what sex workers have been experiencing and explaining, that these laws that purport to protect women actually serve to drive sex workers of all genders further underground, hinder us from accessing services, and allow abuses to be perpetuated against us without recourse,” commented Dylan Wolfe of SWOP-NYC.

“We welcome the reforms in Ontario,” commented Penelope Saunders, Coordinator of the Best Practices Policy Project. “These changes will help defend the safety and security of sex workers and others in the sex trade, and will benefit their families and loved ones. Furthermore, striking down section 213 means that the police will have less cause to harass others in the community such as the homeless, youth, transgenders, and minorities.”

Canadian Judge’s decision based on facts, not misinformation

Justice Susan Himel, the deciding judge in the case, concluded that policy reform can increase safety for sex workers and people in the sex trade, writing that there are “ways of conducting prostitution that reduce the risk of violence towards prostitutes.” Judge Himel discounted misguided arguments from prostitution prohibitionists that sex work is inherently harmful and affirmed critiques of research carried out by leading prostitution prohibitionists describing it as not meeting the “standards set by Canadian courts for the admission of expert evidence.” Justice Himel also found that many of these individuals “were more like advocates than experts offering independent opinions to the court” who “at times…made bold, sweeping statements that were not reflected in their research.”

Academics in the United States concur with the judges view. “As scientists we already know that there are certain ways to conduct prostitution that reduces the risk of violence, disease, coercion and increases the safety to workers and the public at large. This ruling at last cuts through the misinformation spread by those ignoring the science,” says Professor Barb Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Cris Sardina, a SWOP USA board member and co-coordinator of the Desiree Alliance praised the judge for using facts, not misinformation. “Around the world sex workers struggle against violence, campaigns of misinformation, manipulated statistics, sensationalistic campaigns and plain untruths by the some of the same experts who testified in opposition to the SPOC,” she said. “I’m very pleased Judge Himel based this decision on evidence, not hysteria.”

This week’s ruling represents a significant and historic victory in the international struggle for Sex Worker’s right to live and work with safety, dignity and without violence.

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