January 31, 2014
In cities across Canada, male officers are posing as clients to book appointments with indoor sex workers. Several officers then show up at the worker's door, demanding entry in order to check for signs of trafficking or coercion. Once inside, officers bombard the worker (usually a woman) with personal questions, demand to see ID and search the worker's premises and possessions.
Tragically, such duplicitous and intimidating policing tactics hinder the important goal of surfacing actual cases of exploitation and coercion. "Part of our work as a sex workers' rights and advocacy organization is to support anybody who might find themselves in a coercive situation," shares Phoenix from Maggie's. "I can tell you that these sorts of deceitful and menacing approaches further degrade trust between sex workers and the police, and stop people in exploitative situations from seeking and accepting police assistance."
This policing strategy seems to contradict the recent Supreme Court decision that insisted that the law cannot be used to further endanger the security and safety of sex workers. As Valerie Scott from Sex Professionals of Canada points out, "Police intimidation pushes us further into the shadows, and sets up the same kind of circumstances that the Supreme Court just ruled are unacceptable."
Sex workers express feeling intimidated by the current police tactic and coerced into allowing police into their homes and worksites. Privacy and dignity are compromised. "I understand the importance of identifying and stopping abuse," says Emma, a sex worker in the GTA. "But scaring and intimidating women isn't the way to do it. I mean, several uniformed cops at my door asking to be let in? While I'm standing there in my lingerie and heels? I would likely let them in just so my neighbours and landlord won't know what's going on. The last thing I need is to lose my home. Not to mention it scaring off clients and me losing money. It's not like this is some minor inconvenience."
We urge politicians and law enforcement to recognize the unintended yet serious harm caused by poorly designed laws and tactics intended to fight exploitation. "As Parliament tackles prostitution law reform over the next few months, they should be cautious not to develop laws that, in the name of helping women, actually compromise their safety and well-being," comments Amy Lebovitch, a sex worker and activist with Sex Professionals of Canada. "Otherwise, we will have more of the sort of deception and intimidation we are seeing with this recent policing tactic -- and worse."
Laws that could cause such damage include those that do not criminalize sex workers directly but aggressively target their managers and clients. As Kara Gillies, a sex worker and advocate, says, "The problem is that there is no way to go after our clients and managers without hurting our income and security. And those approaches harm not only us but also the majority of clients and managers who are benevolent, not exploitative."
Sex workers would like to have other strategies developed to decrease exploitation and increase safety. Mz. Scream from Big Susie's explains: "In fact, sex workers are well equipped to work together with business owners to build a better business practices model including a minimum set of health and safety labour standards, and an official complaints process so that we can weed out the bad clients and managers under our own governance."
Collectively we are calling on local and national police forces to stop using deceptive and intimidating tactics against sex workers. As Chanelle Gallant, Spokesperson for Maggie's states, "Harassing over 300 sex workers in this manner is a misuse of police resources, oversteps acceptable police conduct and undermines everyone's right to fair application of the law."
Big Susie's: Big Susie's is a working group by and for sex workers in Hamilton and the surrounding areas. Our purpose is to fight back against the stigma and silence that degrades, devalues and dehumanizes sex workers and their work. Big Susie's is a sex-positive and sex worker-positive organization that advocates for the total decriminalization of sex work to allow sex workers self-determination of their own bodies.
Maggie's: The Toronto Sex Workers Action Project is an organization run for and by local sex workers. Our mission is to assist sex workers in our efforts to live and work with safety and dignity. We are founded on the belief that in order to improve our circumstances, sex workers must control our own lives and destinies. Contact: Chanelle Gallant
Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) is a sex worker activist group whose main objective is to work toward the decriminalization of sex work through political activism and public awareness. Contact: Amy Lebovitch
Sex Workers Action Group Kingston (SWAG) is a sex positive group run by sex workers, people with lived experience, allies, and agency members who strive to improve the lives of sex workers in Kingston and surrounding area.
Stella, l'amie de Maimie (Montréal, Quebec). Stella is Montréal's organization run by and for sex workers. Since 1995, Stella has fought for better working conditions for sex workers working in all sectors of the industry, promoting health and human rights
Stepping Stone is a charitable not for profit organization that offers supportive programs and outreach to women, men and transgender sex workers and former sex workers in Halifax, NS.