Alex Sangha and Velvet Steele: It's time to break the chains that bind sex workers

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      By Alex Sangha and Velvet Steele

      When will Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reform Canada’s sex-trade laws? How can sex workers carry out their business legitimately? In layman’s terms, the current law states that it is “legal” to be a sex worker but it is “illegal” for a client to hire a sex worker.

      The current law very clearly drives the sex trade deeper underground and makes the working conditions of sex workers dangerous and unsafe. Sex work is work, and it is about time the Canadian government recognized this fact and set a precedent for other countries and jurisdictions to follow.

      Those in the sex trade are providing a valuable service. They are fulfilling a natural human need. So, why is this a bad thing? Why is it a crime for sex workers to be paid for their labour, earn a living? This is, essentially, the definition of work. Folks need to understand, there is a demand for the services of sex workers. Sex workers know that and are providing that service.

      Like any therapist, Sex workers are not volunteering their time. They appreciate their clients, and although they may not be sexually attracted to their clients, they may also not enjoy having sex all the time, traits found common to any other job on the planet.

      While this may be true in some instances, it is not the primary reason most sex workers enter the profession. They are interested in earning a living, having a roof over their heads, food on the table, clothes on their backs, enjoying leisure activities, supporting families, and paying their bills like everyone else. Schooling, for example.

      Furthermore, it is true that not all people in society can find a regular sexual partner, but should they be deprived of having a fulfilled sex life? Regardless of the range of factors?

      Shame on the people that pass judgment and look down upon sex workers and/or their clients. What gives those people the right to force their morals, values, beliefs, and personal ethics onto adults who are engaged in mutual, consensual, sexual activity? It is a violation of their personal rights, liberty, and freedoms, basic human rights. These are value judgments that have led to the stigmatization and neglect of sex workers by those with influence and power in society—judgments from false claims, ideologies, and studies suited for their own selfish wants.

      Sex workers, literally, have no labour rights, no union, nor a professional association. Many would say no agency. If they get injured on the job, they do not qualify for any worker’s compensation, disability, or employment-insurance benefits. They were also excluded from any CERB or COVID-19 recovery benefits. For, truly, how would government explain supporting sex workers during this time, human beings during this pandemic?

      If we can effectively regulate alcohol, tobacco, gambling, and, most recently, marijuana, then why not the sex trade? But the sex trade is not a product; it’s a service. Lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, and many other professions have their own colleges, associations, and unions. These are professions that have the power to decide for themselves how they want to forge their destiny and set their own regulatory standards.

      Sex workers should be afforded the same right and to have their voices heard. As a result, those “anti zealots” have effectively silenced their voices. Bullying those they purport to help while bellowing the rhetoric, “We’ll handle this; we’ve got your back”. In actuality, they know nothing about the industry, manipulating facts to suit hidden agendas. Sex workers have been left with little to no “self-determination” as to how their ‘own” profession should evolve.

      I have worked as a social worker in Metro Vancouver for more than 20 years and run a growing nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ people. One of the social coordinators of my nonprofit, January Marie Lapuz, was tragically and brutally stabbed to death in New Westminster in 2012. The killer stated they had an argument over the cost of a sexual encounter and got a slap on the wrist.

      I am convinced that the health and safety of sex workers would improve if the industry was aboveboard and self-governed, led by, and for, sex workers. We already know sex workers share insight and knowledge they have in regards to human trafficking and child sexual exploitation with law enforcement and governments. But their voices, knowledge, and insight are again silenced by those zealots. Sex workers have already developed a violent-client registry and, in some cases, apps to protect each other. A professional association would be free to ensure the health and safety of those in the industry.

      Sex work has a vibrant periphery of offshoot businesses, but the current legislation also makes it illegal for those involved in that periphery to earn an income or benefit from this occupation.

      I understand the sex trade can do harm to some people. However, I feel the status quo does more harm! A decriminalized sex-trade profession would provide sex workers with a mechanism to put forward grievances to their governing body and seek remedies and resolution. A mechanism to stop stigmatizing and discriminating against those who see themselves as a “social grease for society”.

      It's time to stop thinking of sex as dirty, to get minds out of the ethical gutters of those who believe they know what’s best, to stop associating sex workers as living a “high-risk lifestyle” associated with drugs and alcohol—the media rhetoric continually being force-fed to the gluttonous masses.

      It’s time to break the chains that bind sex workers and bring them into the modern era with the dignity, respect, and humanity that all people working for a living deserve.

      Alex Sangha is a registered clinical social worker and registered clinical counsellor in B.C. He is the founder of Sher Vancouver and an award-winning documentary film producer. He is a recipient of the Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada. For more information, go here.  Velvet Steele defines herself as a “woman with a transsexual medical history”. She is a fetish service provider of 25-plus years, known for her appearance on the documentary series Kink, filmed in Vancouver. She is an advocate and activist for transsexual and transgender rights within and outside the sex-worker community. She is a sensitivity facilitator, contracted with the City of Vancouver and the VPD. For more information go here.