New prostitution law leaves sex workers “invisible and anonymous”, advocate says

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      The woman identified only as Jessica cares a lot about her clients. Her eyes glowed behind the mask she wore when she talked about them.

      Two are in their 80s. “One of them, I have been seeing him for five years,” Jessica told the Georgia Straight after a news conference regarding the passage of a new prostitution law. “I started seeing him once a month or one every two months. Now I see him every two weeks.

      “He’s single,” she continued. “His wife died many years ago. He had a second marriage. It didn’t work out. He lives alone. I’m his only kind of source of companionship. I see him for an hour-and-a-half once every two weeks.”

      Jessica has been providing sexual services for almost 15 years. She is now over 50 years old.

      “Every time he comes to see me, he tells me that he loves me about five times,” Jessica said of the aforementioned client. “We do massage, you know, whatever an 85-year-old man can do. He’s mostly there for hugs, companionship, friendship, and he talks. Sometimes he stays, and talks for an extra half an hour.”

      There are also much younger men, in their 20s.

      “The 25-year-olds, some of them are interested in…the older woman…and some of them…they have no clue what to do with a woman, so they come because they need to figure it out,” Jessica said with a giggle.

      Some are husbands who are caring for a sick wife. In some case, their wives are sick with cancer.

      Couples also avail themselves of her services. “They come because they want to do something to fix their marriage, and they don’t want to break up,” she said.

      In some cases involving couples, Jessica brings along a male worker for the job.

      “So they come as a couple either to see me alone or to see me with another man, and we both massage. He massages the woman. I massage the man in the same room, so they’re having a joint experience. I have a few people like that,” Jessica related.

      She’s got all sorts of clients, from businessmen to plumbers to waiters.

      “I have two clients that are also sex workers that come because they need some, you know, compassionate touch,” Jessica said.

      In all her time as a sex worker, Jessica said that she has never been hurt or harmed.

      “I have never had any violence,” she said.

      Clients all seek warmth. “They just need some affection,” Jessica said. “And of course for men, usually the affection will include a sexual release.”

      The mask and her use of the name Jessica are symbolic.

      Kerry Porth, chair of Pivot Legal Society, argues the new law pretends to protect sex workers but does the opposite.
      Carlito Pablo

      As Kerry Porth, chair of Pivot Legal Society, explained in a press conference, Canada’s new prostitution law has rendered sex workers “invisible and anonymous”.

      Bill C-36, also known as the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, received royal assent today (November 6).

      The new law criminalizes the purchase of sex, rendering as criminals the clients of Jessica and the other masked sex workers who appeared and spoke using first names only at the media event held at the Downtown Eastside office of Pivot.

      Reading from a statement, Porth, a former sex worker, said: “They have told us over and over again that this bill is intended to protect sex workers but let me read you a quote from Conservative senator Donald Plett from this summer’s pre-hearings on the bill: ‘Of course, we don’t want to make life safe for prostitutes; we want to do away with prostitution. That’s the intent of the bill.’”

      The new law also criminalizes the advertisement of sexual services. “Advertising is a critical form of communication for sex workers where they can set boundaries with potential clients...they will no longer be able to do so,” Porth said.

      After the news conference, Jessica spoke to the Straight about Bill C-36.

      “Isn’t that absurd?” Jessica asked. “I said to a friend of mine that automatically one million men in Canada will be considered criminals. And he said, ‘Oh no. It’s more like three million.’ I said, ‘Oh okay, maybe you know men better than I do.’”



      Pay your taxes

      Nov 6, 2014 at 5:43pm

      When I attended a debate on this subject, the sex workers wanted protection but no regulation???? So you want the government to provide services to sex workers funded by tax money but you guys don't want regulations so you can continue to make money without paying income tax etc. Too greedy.

      Ian Coutts

      Nov 6, 2014 at 8:12pm

      I find it odd that through the whole debate about prostitution no one has mentioned that Terri-jean Bedford is not a prostitute.

      She might have been at one time, but now she's a dominatrix.

      If I allow a woman to spank me are we criminals? If I pay a woman, or a man, to lay down with me fully clothed are we vile?

      What's the measure of "prostitution"?


      Nov 7, 2014 at 6:14am

      Wait a second, "Pay your taxes" isn't opposing prostitution--all (he?) is saying is that prostitution should be a regulated business.


      Nov 7, 2014 at 7:29am

      Ian and Pay your taxes make an excellent points. Some people (myself included) have some level of discomfort with the commercialization of intimacy. Intimacy should not be for sale. However, for most people, selling sex/comfort is better than the alternative: giving it away for free.

      So really, we have two choices--a pro-capitalist model where intimacy is bought and sold, and we accept, however reluctantly that this is a business and subject to taxes and regulation and potentially price controls, or we work harder--a lot harder--at being better humans to each other and providing touch/therapy/intimacy for free.

      The third alternative--banning what falls under the banner of "prostitution," is not only stupid--because it's so hard to define what exactly "prostitution" is, but also counterproductive, in that humans will have sex and seek out intimacy/touch regardless of strictures placed upon it.

      Personally, I find much of the discussion around "prostitution" distressingly simple-minded. The "sex objectifies women" banner that feminists and conservatives so happily flock to, and that is behind this legislation is so is glowingly hypocritical that it's practically gone supernova.

      Sunny Dee

      Nov 7, 2014 at 11:32am

      France and now the UK have both had similar legislation come up, and they were defeated. What is the difference between those countries, those attempts to criminalize clients, and Canada? The Canadian govt completely dismissed, ignored and attempted to discredit the sex workers themselves. And the SCC ruling of last year.

      Steller's Jay

      Nov 7, 2014 at 11:53am

      "Not regulated" doesn't mean "pay no taxes". If my neighbour asks me to rake their leaves, that's not regulated but I have to pay taxes on it same as any other earned income. Examples of regulated would be doctors or lawyers. Or the "escort services" that pay substantial municipal license fees and used to advertise in the Yellow Pages.

      Incidentally, "regulated" can mean "pay no taxes". An example is TFSA's.

      Norma Jean

      Nov 7, 2014 at 12:03pm

      Regarding 'regulation' in a decriminalized system: What sex worker rights activists like myself want is to be subject ONLY to the SAME (and NOT special laws) which regulate every other business and working situation. Not wanting regulations specific to prostitution is because of the historic problems with giving any branch of government the power over the lives and bodies of sex workers. When prostitution is illegal, law enforcement officers tend to use the laws to obtain sexual favors from us. is a list of but a few of the many cases in the US of cops raping/ extorting/ pimping/ abusing sex workers.

      The idea that prostitution is ever going away is so far off base, precisely because cops are human and use our services (either by cash payment or by threat of arrest) as much as the rest of our clients. By removing the criminal aspect of prostitution and treating it like a business (which it is) means that those 'regulations' which apply to every other worker and employer also apply to us and our business. Criminal laws, civil and business laws- all of them apply, so it is not like we are going to go unregulated.

      Norma Jean

      Nov 7, 2014 at 12:20pm

      Hazlit, understandably not everyone is comfortable with others providing comfort and sexual intimacy for a fee. That is your right. I think you don't understand human nature though when you say "or we work harder--a lot harder--at being better humans to each other and providing touch/therapy/intimacy for free." The clients I had who were elderly or infirm and needed companionship did not want 'pity
      or 'charity' because they did not feel they could call me whenever they were lonely- as they may have worn out their welcome. Part of the experience with us is that we allow them to keep their dignity in paying for our time, so they never felt obligated to us for the time we spent with them. That's really what they are paying for- our time.

      No doubt everyone would love it if doctors and lawyers gave away their time and services rather than charge exorbitant fees… but if you needed to speak to a lawyer on a regular basis, and needed lots of his or her time, would you really feel comfortable asking them over and over again for their time for free? Giving away one's time and services once in a while is one thing, but eventually, the service provider begins to resent the person who constantly calls them and gives them nothing in return.

      Many of us have had clients who became attached to us and wanted to come back to see us - because the services we offered suited their needs better than anyone else. I had clients who remained with me for years- up until they died. I retired years ago, and when I did, some clients were devastated because I could not refer them to anyone else 'like me' due to the laws which made such a referral a felony. They felt abandoned, but I had no choice.


      Nov 7, 2014 at 4:24pm

      @ Pay Your Taxes

      Unregulated doesn't mean that an business owner doesn't want to pay taxes.

      There are many self-employed individuals who carry on a business and file personal tax returns and are not governed by any regulatory body. All they need is a Social Insurance Number.

      Generally, nobody likes regulation or too much of it.

      Don't label sex workers as greedy.