Sex workers defend buyers

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      Veteran sex worker Susan Davis wants people to know that her “clients aren’t the bogeymen they are made out to be”.

      “I love what I do,” Davis told the Georgia Straight in an interview at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. “I think the guys are the best; a lot of them are my friends. Some I’ve known for 18 years. How do you not become emotionally attached?”

      Davis, who has been in the business for 23 years, insisted that stability and security for sex workers can only come with decriminalization of prostitution.

      FIRST, a national coalition of feminists who support sex workers’ rights, hosted a lively forum on the subject at the library on November 23. Davis, who was on the panel, suggested that men who buy sex can actually help enhance the safety of those in the trade.

      “I think that clients are our biggest resource in trying to combat exploitation, trafficking, and exploitation of youth within the sex industry,” declared Davis, a member of the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals, in the interview.

      Another panellist, SFU sociology instructor and researcher Chris Atchison, echoed Davis’s sentiments. He revealed the results of an extensive three-year study—called “Johns’ Voice”—that documents the relationship between buyers and sellers of sex in Canada.

      “I wanted to understand how these men engage in purchasing behaviour and what their relationships with sex-trade workers are about,” Atchison told the audience. “I wanted to know whether social and legal intervention such as the Swedish model is warranted by any empirical evidence.”

      Atchison was referring to a Swedish law introduced in 1999 that criminalized johns’ purchasing of sexual services, but not the sale of those services by prostitutes. At the forum, organizers screened a 10-minute video that showed many Swedish sex workers are unhappy with the law. One sex worker featured in the video claimed that things have become much more dangerous for street workers, since they no longer have as much time to negotiate with their customers.

      Atchison was critical of the Swedish law. The men he spoke to were seeking companionship and a connection with the sex workers they patronized, he said, adding that they wanted to engage in a safe and respectful relationship. He also reported that many customers saw the same sex worker for months or years, and that 79 percent said they wished to see prostitution decriminalized and regulated.

      “I’m not here to present a picture of the sex buyer as some wonderful guy or say that they are all great, salt-of-the-earth people,” he said.

      The “Johns’ Voice” project showed that between one and two percent of clients have been brutally violent toward a sex worker. Those are the people the law must address, according to Atchison.

      Jody Salerno, a former sex worker and the director of women’s services for the B.C./Yukon Society of Transition Houses, told the audience that the men who paid her for sex were not criminals or violent. “They wanted to share my time and have consensual sex,” she said. “If men who pay for sex are criminalized, sex workers are unsafe.”

      She emphasized that anyone—including sex workers—who commits acts of violence against women, children, youth, or men should be arrested and prosecuted. “When sex workers are victims of criminal acts, treat them with dignity and respect,” Salerno said.

      Toronto author and investigative journalist Victor Malarek, a staunch critic of legalizing the sex trade, told the Straight in an interview earlier this year that about 90 percent of prostitutes worldwide are not doing this work by choice. “Rather than deal with the drugs, the mental-health issues, the physical-health issues, what led these women away from their reserves and put them on the streets, the only thing these bozos [proponents of legalization] can come up with is to keep them in something they never wanted in their lives in the first place,” Malarek said.




      Nov 26, 2009 at 1:51pm

      I guess I will tell my friend who is testifying today that the man she is testifying against simply wanted a connection and meaningful relationship with her when he raped, robbed, threatened to kill her and robbed her. Oh, I will let the other three women that he raped, robbed, threatened to kill and robbed that he simply wanted a safe and respectful relationship. I don't know how the statistics can show that only 2% of abusers are violent (define violent because simply thinking that someone's body is available for purchase seems violent to me) when there is not a sexually exploited woman out there who hasn't been beaten or assaulted on multiple occasions. And I don't understand how any violence is okay and why we are not talking about providing choices and opportunities for women not to sell themselves to survive.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 2:46pm

      I find this article to resonate with my own experience. While there is a degree of drooling frat boys out there wanting the thrill of a paid-for-fuck there are also plenty of men who want something uncomplicated, plesent and relaxing.

      I have ambivilant feelings about my expierence. But, very little of the negative comes from anything to do with the Johns themselves. It comes from the opinions from other people, the stigma placed on me for my choice, and other such socially negative views. That's what's bothered me, rarely the actual job.

      I've met Sue, she's a great gal, and I totally support her journey and goals. While I may be retired there are still johns I remember fondly. Some of whom were women. Above comment, please chill, what happened to your friend was terrible, there's no denying that. Selling one's self is a choice, and you do it too. Any skill, trade, or whatever that you are paid for is 'selling yourself' I hope your friend heals, and I hope the wounds inflicted on her friends and family can heal in time.


      Nov 26, 2009 at 5:26pm

      While violence against women is ALWAYS unpardonable, the question is whether violence against women would in any way be affected by criminalizing or decriminalizing prostitution. Kimberly means well, but I worry that she's an idealist.

      Prostitution is driven strictly by laws of supply and demand. Simply put, women willing to have sex are in short supply. Theoretically, it would be possible to eliminate all prostitution and I think all violence against women, but collectively women don't want to do what that would take--increasing the supply of sex.

      So we're left with a not very good option: paid sex work. Instead of blaming men for wanting what they're biologically programmed to want, or suggesting yet again that we need to find better professional opportunities for women, (note that women consistently outperform men academically) why not try to find ways of making sex more fun, pleasant and available for both sexes?


      Nov 26, 2009 at 7:08pm

      Is anyone surprised that promoters of brothels would speak kindly of johns and present them with a flattering portrait of themselves, the very one they get for a price in the prostitution sham of a relationship?
      The sex industry and its libertarian shills have been promoting myths about sexual exploitation for centuries. And now they are getting very worried because a growing number of legislatures are recognizing what women (and men) have known for a long time, i.e. that prostitution doesn't correspond to that rosy view, that most of women and youths driven to it are being hurt bad and kept there by poverty, addiction, male psychological and physical violence, early sexual abuse, loss of self-confidence, and other unpleasant realities that somehow don't make ther way into puff pieces like this one.
      May I recommend a new NFB film by Helene Choquette, Avenue Zero, that premiered at a Montreal documentary film festival two weeks ago? Its strongest scenes were shot in Vancouver with a survivor of Robert Pickton's brothel.
      I predict that Ms. Davis and her well-heeled bosses and patrons won't like this film one bit... Truth and prostitution rarely go hand in hand.

      stunned at the denial.

      Nov 26, 2009 at 8:48pm

      So, who is raping, beating and abusing the women I see night after night in my job? I guess all women/men/trans must be being abused by the same attacker.
      When women are in an abusive relationship she will often overlook the abuse and talk about how great he is, how misunderstood he is how no one is able to see him like she does for she sees an "amazing" side of him others don't sounds to me like that is what is going on here.
      Do these people really expect society to believe that we are to "trust" the men who took part in this survey?!
      I hope society is smarter than that.

      legalize it...full stop!

      Nov 27, 2009 at 12:48am

      It will evenutually and should be, there is little time for idealistic arguments to be made, have to look at reality. Besides government can tax it ...they like to tax stuff...there are no doubt extremes and likely always will be, but through regulation the safety would increase for all.

      I know there is no simple answer, but certainly starting with the full legalization process, we could have our own redlight district, those that pimps, or importing women for this...those ones I am sure we can use the saved resources and nail them to the wall, along with the drug dealers that prey on the women and children.


      Nov 27, 2009 at 7:02am

      Seems like Chris Atchison forgot to note some facts about self reporting studies. It is well known, and well documented, that people fail, in the majority, to self-report anything of a defamatory nature about themselves.

      We always want to see ourselves in a positive light, those in social sciences know that people judge themselves based upon what they are going to do, rather than upon what they have done.

      It is disturbing that some men think that paying for sex is having a relationship...but then perhaps they have relationships with their car, boat, or leaf blower too. It is sad to see that some live such a shallow existence where their life is focused below their waist.


      Nov 27, 2009 at 9:33am

      Is a masseuse "selling herself" if her hands start to "roam"?

      How many legalization critics are religiholics?

      "Escorts" advertise all over the internet all over the world.
      They're not going away and most enjoy the life style
      it affords them.

      Sarah M

      Nov 27, 2009 at 8:48pm

      While research says that the top reason johns buy sex is because they "seek companionship," this does NOT explain the prevalence of male violence against women in the sex trade - neither is "loneliness" a justification. Why would there be so much abuse and rape in prostitution if if was all about companionship with a women? Give me a break.

      I urge people like Ms. Davis who thinks the sex trade can be a safe and respectable industry to seriously reconsider. I'm not even talking about morals and whether it's "right" to sell your body. There is NO way the sex industry can ever be entirely safe for women, and there is certainly no way it could ever demonstrate any ounce of respect for the individuals involved.

      In a paper on the legalized sex trade in Nevada, women felt they had to treat themselves as victims in order to increase their feelings of safety. In addition, prostitutes are subject to incredibly demeaning and invasive STI testing, which is routine. Of course, there is very little talk of screening johns. After all, it's all about the customer, isn't it?

      Now, we all must as ourselves: is this an occupation that respects and empowers women as individuals? Will it ever be safe and healthy, physically and psychologically? Let's quit kidding ourselves.


      Nov 27, 2009 at 8:59pm

      So Angie, you think that because these women exchange money for their time that they are a comodity akin to a boat or a car? Nice.
      Newsflash! SPs are actual flesh and blood people with emotions and everything... and so are the men who see them, friendships can develop under said conditions.

      You must be pretty good looking not to understand loneliness, given your winning personality.