Vancouver client of sex workers speaks out against federal law despite risk of being prosecuted

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      Patrick Clark doesn’t fit the profile of a typical sex-trade activist. Not only is he male, he was born with cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.

      His impaired muscle coordination and unusual movements clearly indicate that he’s living with a serious disability—a product of brain damage that occurred when or just after he was born.

      Yet Clark’s mobility issues didn’t stop him from joining the third annual Red Umbrella March on June 13 in downtown Vancouver. Red umbrellas have become the international symbol of sex workers’ solidarity since being adopted as an icon by Venice prostitutes in 2001.

      In the eyes of the federal Conservative government, Clark is a criminal because he occasionally pays to have sex.

      “I’ve been a long-time client of a sex worker,” Clark told the Georgia Straight. “I think that in order to change the status quo and all the harm that’s going on, we have to fundamentally change how the client–sex worker relationship is seen.”

      The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which came into effect last year, makes it illegal to pay for sex.

      Clark knows that by speaking out, he could be investigated and charged. The law allows for imprisonment of up to five years for paying for “sexual services”, which isn’t defined in the legislation, and a fine of $2,000 for first-time offenders.

      Clark is willing to go public because he thinks that the law creates greater risk for sex workers and their clients by driving them into the shadows.

      “One of the things that the mainstream doesn’t understand is that the true criminal—the truly violent—they don’t care about laws,” he said. “So the laws don’t affect them. By pushing people farther out of the mainstream, we are now more of a target.”

      So why does he pay for sex? “Joy,” Clark replied with a big smile. “I’ve met over the years many wonderful people [who do sex work] from a wide variety of lifestyles and backgrounds. Sex is a really wonderful thing.”

      Sex-workers' association is also vulnerable

      Someone else at the rally who’s feeling the impact of the law is sex worker Andrew Sorfleet, president of the Triple-X Workers’ Solidarity Association of B.C. He told the Straight that the Conservative legislation makes his advocacy group illegal because it collects dues from sex workers. Under the law, no one—possibly not even a spouse—can receive any financial benefit from the sale of sex.

      “For me, the most personal consequence is that it’s technically illegal to live with us or to be our friends and hang out with us,” Sorfleet said. “I think that’s a serious violation of our right to associate.”

      Andrew Sorfleet (left) has been an outspoken advocate for sex workers.
      Charlie Smith

      One of the speakers at the rally, Maggie McNeill, is a Seattle-based former sex worker who writes the Honest Courtesan blog. She told a crowd of about 40 sex workers and allies that more states are legalizing recreational marijuana use. She suggested that this poses a threat to the “prison-industrial complex”, which she said needs a new target to justify its existence and keep receiving public funding.

      A U.S.–based research and advocacy group called the Sentencing Project calls America “the world’s leader in incarceration”, with 2.2 million people in jail. In 2013, however, the U.S. state and federal prison population declined for the first time in 40 years.

      McNeill claimed that authorities on both sides of the border are ramping up campaigns against the sex trade because the war on drugs is collapsing.

      “I think one of the biggest things we have to do as sex workers right now is to get people to recognize that this is not just our struggle,” McNeill emphasized. “This is their struggle, too. Just like the drug war undermined the civil rights for everyone—even people who were absolute teetotallers—so the war on sex workers is going to undermine rights for everybody, even people who are absolutely celibate.”

      It’s a message that Sorfleet and Clark heartily endorse.

      Comments

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      5 Comments

      Bixby Snyder

      Jun 17, 2015 at 7:31pm

      "Under the law, no one—not even a spouse—can receive any financial benefit from the sale of sex."

      I believe that this is a misinterpretation of the Act. As I noted in the comments section of another one of your posted stories, you've discounted the "Exceptions" clause from the Act. I believe that a spouse would be exempt under 286.2 subsection (4)(a)

      Under 286.2:

      Exception

      (4) Subject to subsection (5), subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to a person who receives the benefit

      (a) in the context of a legitimate living arrangement with the person from whose sexual services the benefit is derived;

      (b) as a result of a legal or moral obligation of the person from whose sexual services the benefit is derived;

      (c) in consideration for a service or good that they offer, on the same terms and conditions, to the general public; or

      (d) in consideration for a service or good that they do not offer to the general public but that they offered or provided to the person from whose sexual services the benefit is derived, if they did not counsel or encourage that person to provide sexual services and the benefit is proportionate to the value of the service or good.

      Karen3

      Jun 20, 2015 at 4:45am

      I read the Honest Courtesan when she was trying to make the case that only a few prostitutes are under age when they start and that the average age is actually quite high. I have to say that the callousness of this kind of defence is really hard to take. What I mean is, if the best you can do is"Oh, I'm sure there are only a few 12 year olds (and under 12s)" this is not really a great argument. It just makes you look like a jerk. Like any twelve year olds would be okay. The comments were also very conservatives. There were several who compared the issue to climate change, for instance, because that should be debunked too, they thought. These people are not running a union or unions (people should stop calling them that). Unions don't fight for the rights of bosses and clients. Union leaders would know that climate change is real. These people are deeply conservative. They're shoring up white male privilege.

      Anna Smith

      Jun 20, 2015 at 5:28pm

      Patrick Clark should receive an award for his courage. Many people agree with what he says, but most are too afraid or compromised to say so in public. Bravo Patrick !

      Anti Regisser

      Jul 10, 2015 at 1:16am

      Sex worker rights groups and johns like the one mentioned in the article are reprehensible. They claim to represent all sex workers, when they basically represent high-end escorts and high-end indoor prostitutes... not the overwhelming majority of pimped-out street prostitutes that suffer daily from exploitation. Sex worker rights groups that call for full legalization thus profit, in many cases off the backs of those that are truly exploited: They driving up overall demand for prostitution by lobbying for full legalization to improve their profits.

      Just stop

      Aug 18, 2015 at 9:58pm

      Sex is not an entitlement or a 'right' just because you have money. Your pleasure should not come from the trauma and damage it causes to another person. I know first hand as I sold myself for close to a decade.
      Attempts at legitimatizing oppression are nothing but backward steps for true women's equality.