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  • Dec. 17th -- 10th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

Dec. 17th -- 10th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

I'm living in a much smaller community this year, so this time around, December 17th has been a day for me to reflect quietly by myself. It's always a balance of sadness, anger, celebration of sex workers' resistance and determination to do more to resist, but this year I will admit to mostly just feeling sad and angry. 

One reason for feeling that way is having done research on sex-positive feminist history over the summer and learned that, well, gosh, we've been saying exactly the same things for a really, really long time. Like 40 years. And I mean exactly the same things; very little has changed. It's hard not to wonder if maybe it never will, as I read over this year's fierce, articulate, perfectly sensible statements from sex workers and allies on sex work and feminism, which will be ignored by everyone who doesn't already believe them anyway. 

The sex industry has been a rough gig for a lot of people, especially since the 2008 recession. Direct support for sex workers -- not just one-night-a-week drop-ins with condoms and half-baked trauma counselling, but real, holistic support that recognizes sex workers as strong, resilient adults living in marginal positions -- is thin in major cities and non-existent in smaller communities. What I've realized, after a couple of tough years in which I've had to be pretty clever to get around the general dearth of support for poor women, is that ideological agreement only goes so far. And it usually comes with a lot of pressure to educate and affirm, and a lot of inconsistency.

Be sex-positive, feminists, but be practical about it. Some folks really do want to hear about your incredible learning journey on the topic of unprotected sex, or to listen while you acknowledge your privilege, but others might just need help filling out tax forms for a new job, or for you to get them $100 to speak at your school because they're broke, or help moving for the 100th time this year because, fuck, that's what poor people do. 

But most of the world isn't sex-positive feminist activists. Most of the world doesn't know that they know any sex workers, or only knows about sex workers because they see them on the street. 

For those people, POWER, a prostitutes' organization in Ottawa, has released a "Toolbox" of information about and strategies for assisting sex workers without causing further harm. It has sections for police, social workers, journalists and others who come directly into contact with sex workers. Everything you ever wanted to know about sex work, or just about. 

A few years ago, working with others at Big Susie's, we created a community "newsletter" with tips for residents of neighbourhoods where sex workers live and work. I can't find the document just now, but here are some of the ones I remember (I think we borrowed a lot from Vancouver's Living in Community in this process, too).

Things You Can Do to Make Your Neighbourhood Safer for Sex Workers:

  • Smile and say "hi."
  • Teach your kids kindness, politeness and empathy for sex workers.
  • If there are indoor sex workers around, and they're not bothering you, leave them alone.
  • If there are outdoor sex workers around, and they're not bothering you, leave them alone.
  • Get to know sex workers and their families and let them get to know yours. 
  • Remember that sex workers are the neighbourhood's eyes and ears when others are indoors or asleep: when you're on good terms, having sex workers around can make you safer walking at night and keep your home or business safer from robbery.
  • Make sure trash cans and public washrooms are available.
  • Make sure sharps bins (containers for safely disposing of used needles) are available.
  • Lobby your city or region to adequately fund outreach and needle exchange services.
  • If someone looks like she's in trouble, ask if she needs help. 
  • Offer assistance that you can actually deliver: use of the phone, a cup of coffee, cab fare.
  • Challenge misinformation and violent "jokes."
  • Don't make the police your first call when the issue isn't a criminal one: would a mobile outreach service, or just a word to the sex worker herself, solve whatever problem is occuring?
  • Remember that harassing, stalking, threatening and assaulting sex workers is violent, criminal activity -- don't do it. 
  • Tell other people about sex workers' rights. Tell them a lot. 

Really, tell them a lot. As the inquiry into the disappearances and murders of sex workers in Vancouver BC reported today, systemic bias against sex workers is what allowed those deaths to happen. Make your community a place where that can't happen.