ACTIVE SEX TRADE WORKERS VOICES LOST in EXPLOITATION of INDUSTRY
I have come under fire recently in a local online zine, Orato, for expressing my thoughts to the senior editor. Originally, when I sent my first post, I raised concerns that one of their citizen correspondents as they call these pseudo reporters, had stated in one article that all sex workers lie. She went on to say that we lie to ourselves about what its like being involved in the sex trade. I was aghast over this comment and chastised the editor for not exercising some editorial control since not all sex trade workers are the same. To blanket us as being the same does a great disservice and saying we all lie clearly shows a lack of respect for individuals involved in the sex trade.
The senior editor wanted me to write something in response in their comments section but I chose not to since I didn't want to inflame the issue or speak derogatory of the citizen correspondent. In fact, it should be noted that this senior editor had asked me a few months back to contribute a piece on my thoughts regarding the trial to date. I obliged and wrote a piece which looked at the issue from a safety perspective.
Back to the present. The editor and I had a series of email exchanges and since two of their citizen correspondents ( an oxymoron if you ask me) purported to have long ago been involved in the sex trade. I stated in one of my posts to the editor that I didn't think these faith- based girls (they often speak or refer to God) should be speaking on behalf of active sex trade workers. Of course, the editor shared these private emails with these women and this resulted in a public attack on me.
At no time did these two women come back to assist those who often find themselves trapped somewhere in which they don't desire to be nor did they surface anywhere while the serial crimes were being committed. They only surfaced after the Pickton trial started and I thought it was their role to write about the trial as it unfolds.
It seems the Orato editor and these two women think they know what its like being in the sex trade. Let me say, the sex trade today is nothing like it was 15 or 20 years ago. I don't think those involved that long ago and re-moved from it can truly understand and articulate what its like for active sex trade workers in this day and age. Having said this, I believe society has a role to play around this important issue especially if empathetic toward those involved in the world's oldest profession.
The matter of sex trade safety and how we incorporate it into society in the least destructive and harmful way has to be led by those most impacted by it. This of course, in my opinion, should be by those directly involved in the sex trade or recently out of it or even off again. They are the women and men who have the most to lose regarding how we address this explosive issue. How we address prostitution at least for the past century has been dictated by those without direct involvement. Usually they have been moral groups, temperance leagues, shame the johns campaigners, resident associations, businesses, the attorney general, judges and so forth. And I must say, we haven't gotten anywhere on this front so why not give sex workers the opportunity to determine what our own needs are?
Recently a forum was held which was sponsored by the Living in Community project (LIC). this group received $200,000 of funding through the Vancouver Agreement. The LIC forum had 140 participants but only two were actively involved in the sex trade. LIC was hoping that their manifesto for change would be the sex trade blueprint for change. It failed big-time. Nowhere did it call for the De-criminalization of the sex trade, yet it called for brothels to be implemented. Hello, anyone realizes that you must have De-criminalization first before legalized brothels can be opened and operated. In this regard, I believe the LIC report was insincere.
Most active sex trade workers that I know stay away from groups purporting to represent sex trade workers. The reasons most of my friends cite is that these groups do not offer tangible programs or outcomes for those actively involved in the sex trade. However, it needs to be clarified that these groups do their best in supporting those who desire to exit the sex trade. They feed poor marginalized women who often are drug addicted. Staff at times are those formerly in the sex trade although in recent years there has been a trend of hiring staff without direct or former experience in the sex trade. Boards of these groups are filled by those without former or current sex trade experience.
Its long overdue that active sex workers are provided a forum where we can capacity build and be able to discuss our issues and the harmful conditions which exist which create untold harm to us. Moreover, aboriginal women who are severely over-represented in the street-level sex trade must have a group which has traditional programs and where approaches to the sex trade are explored from a holistic and traditional perspective.
Finally, I must say that while its interesting that Orato is providing a forum for the Pickton trial, I question their ethics. As a new start-up company, are they merely jumping on the sex trade bandwagon and trying to cash in as they exploit an issue which has had dire consequences for those directly involved as active or on-again sex trade workers? It must be noted that at no time has Orato taken an editorial stance regarding the De-criminalization of the sex trade as other mainstream press have.
It seems to me that the two women who Orato chose as correspondents are willing to sell themselves out to the lowest bidder for their stories but they shouldn't expect those active or on-again sex workers to follow the same path.
We are worth more, way more.
Jamie Lee Hamilton