January 20, 2012 • In web :: Features
Sex Work: A Feminist Legal Perspective
Feminist lawyer Leslie Robertson discusses her work with sex worker-led advocacy organizations.
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Critics of sex worker advocacy groups often propose continuing to criminalize the buyers of sex and not the women who are the sellers. On the presumption that all clients are men and all workers are women, they advocate putting the men in jail while helping women exit the trade. POWER and Maggie’s told the Court that this model does not actually make their work safer. When clients are criminalized, workers will still have difficulty screening customers, clearly communicating about their transactions, and working with others or indoors. Criminalizing the clients perpetuates the stigmatization and keeps this labour underground and unsafe.
POWER and Maggie’s told the Court of Appeal what they tell Governments and sex work abolitionist feminists alike: sex work is not inherently violent or degrading. The exchange of money for sex does not hurt women; violent people, discrimination and dangerous laws do. And just like in other professions, sex work can be honourable and valuable work, founded on consent and respect. To disregard sex workers’ rights to make decisions about their bodies and their labour is paternalistic, dangerous and disrespectful.
The Ontario Court of Appeal has yet to release its decision on the laws around sex work. Whatever the decision, decriminalizing sex work is an issue that will likely end up at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Our legal system often works against the most marginalized communities. As long as it does, feminist activists will continue to challenge laws and fight for change. To do so, we have to listen to the people who are most affected by these laws that perpetuate oppression. When it comes to the debate around the criminalization of sex work we have to respect the experiences of sex workers and take direction from them.