For more than a century, prostitution in Vancouver, British Columbia has been at the centre of legal and political debate, policing, media coverage, and policy-making. From 1975 to 1985, a heterogeneous, pimp-free community of sex workers lived and worked on and around Davie Street in the city’s emerging ‘gay’ West End. Their presence sparked a vigorous backlash, including vigilante action, from multiple stake-holders intent on transforming the port town into a ‘world class city’ and venerable host of the World’s Fair, ‘Expo 1986’. In this article, drawing from interviews and archival material, I examine the abolitionist strategies adopted by Vancouver’s residents’ groups, business owners, politicians, and police to criminalize street solicitation and evacuate prostitutes who, in small numbers, ‘whorganized’ to fight back. The collective disavowal of sex workers as citizens was premised on the ‘cleansing’ of the zone under siege, which became whitened and made safe for bourgeois (queer) capitalism, with lethal consequences for outdoor sex workers in the city.
The research presented in this article examines women’s perceptions of how the criminal laws relating to prostitution affect the experience of working in the off-street Canadian sex industry. The results of interviews with 10 women indicate that the criminalization of prostitution has numerous effects on the health and safety of indoor workers: the workers are alienated from the protective services of police; they are often misinformed about their legal rights in Canada; they face personal, legal, and social consequences for association with a criminalized activity; their abilities to mitigate risk are severely limited by the criminalization of ancillary activities related to prostitution; and their health is directly affected by the isolation and stress that accompany marginalized labour. The participants share their advice for future regulation of the sex industry in Canada and strongly encourage the removal of adult consensual sex work from the realm of criminal behaviour in Canada.
Lazarus L, Deering KN, Nabess R, Gibson K, Tyndall MW, Shannon K. Occupational Stigma as a Primary Barrier To Health Care For Street-Based Sex Workers in Canada. Culture, health & sexuality. 2012;14(2):139-150. doi:10.1080/13691058.2011.628411.
Individuals working in the sex industry continue to experience many negative health outcomes. As such, disentangling the factors shaping poor health access remains a critical public health priority. Within a quasi-criminalised prostitution environment, this study aimed to evaluate the prevalence of occupational stigma associated with sex work and its relationship to barriers to accessing health services. Analyses draw on baseline questionnaire data from a community-based cohort of women in street-based sex work in Vancouver, Canada (2006–8). Of a total of 252 women, 141 (58.5%) reported occupational sex work stigma (defined as hiding occupational sex work status from family, friends and/or home community), while 125 (49.6%) reported barriers to accessing health services in the previous six months. In multivariable analysis, adjusting for socio-demographic, interpersonal and work environment risks, occupational sex work stigma remained independently associated with an elevated likelihood of experiencing barriers to health access. Study findings indicate the critical need for policy and societal shifts in views of sex work as a legitimate occupation, combined with improved access to innovative, accessible and non-judgmental health care delivery models for street-based sex workers that include the direct involvement of sex workers in development and implementation.
This article conducts a comparative analysis of prostitution control in four Canadian cities using police enforcement policies as the independent variable. Most recent Canadian prostitution research has centred on assessing the adequacy of the existing law, and the majority of analysts have concluded that most prostitution offences ought to be decriminalized. However, the analysis in this article assumes that the law is unlikely to be changed in the near future, and instead argues that Canadian police already possess sufficient legal discretion to decide when and where they will enforce the law. The article conducts a qualitative analysis of police enforcement policies (in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto) ranging from strict enforcement of the law against prostitutes, customers and both prostitutes and customers through to various forms of selective toleration and negotiation among the various affected groups. Based on this analysis, the writer concludes that the most effective way of reducing both the nuisance and the political conflict associated with prostitution involves selective toleration, combined with negotiation between prostitutes and other affected groups. The article concludes with a feminist oriented discussion of the reasons why attempts to suppress prostitution will not work and why the prostitutes themselves must be part of any discussions regarding the control of prostitution.
While it is well documented that the criminalization of sex work increases harm and violence, the specific effects of criminalization on the organization of labour within the sex industry is considerably less documented. (5) As Becki Ross argues, “sex-free labour studies alongside work-free sexuality studies within Canadian social history has meant that the rich registers of ‘sexuality’ and ‘labour’ have rarely been placed systematically in relation to, and in tension with, one another.” (6) As such, this article broadens the scope of analysis related to sex work and criminalization by looking at its labour-related consequences.
Sex work and its relationship to trafficking is one of the more divisive policy issues of our times, as seen in the ongoing debate in Canada over a bill that views prostitution as inherently dangerous, affecting vulnerable women and offending their dignity.At the risk of over-simplification, the two perspectives on sex work are: i) it is seen as a cause or consequence of, or akin to, trafficking, exploitation, and violence: ii) it is seen as consensual sex between adults for money or other valuable consideration, distinct from trafficking. Although there has been an impasse resulting from the divergence of these views, there is increasing recognition that the reality is complex and individualized; people experience sex work across a spectrum between compulsion, constrained decisions, and choice.
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This essay examines surveillant practices that subject sex trade clients (“clients”) to socio-legal control. In particular, I employ the concepts of the gaze, voyeurism, and exhibitionism to unpack the surveillant dynamics, and consider how power and pleasure are harnessed, produced, and thwarted in the increasing scrutiny of the sex trade’s demand side. I further examine my own research of the regulation of clients within this analytical framework. Following David Lyon’s insights on the scopophilic dimensions of surveillance (2006), I argue that the instrumental goals of surveillance are interconnected with a voyeurism that gratifies the pleasures of looking at, categorizing, defining and making sense of, clients. Yet, bearing in mind the multi-directionality of the gaze, I also analyze the controlled exhibition of sex work signifiers, as information is not just gathered, but also displayed and performed.
Cet article examine les pratiques de surveillance qui assujettissent les clients de l’industrie du sexe (les « clients ») à un contrôle sociojuridique. En particulier, j’emplois les concepts du regard, du voyeurisme et de l’exhibitionnisme afin de révéler les dynamiques de surveillance, et d’examiner comment le pouvoir et le plaisir sont canalisés, produits et entravés par l’examen de plus en plus minutieux de la demande dans le commerce du sexe. Dans ce cadre analytique, j’approfondie ma propre recherche sur la réglementation des clients. En m’appuyant sur les idées de David Lyon portant sur les dimensions scopophiliques de la surveillance (2006), je soutiens que les objectifs fondamentaux de la surveillance sont liés au voyeurisme, donnant ainsi plaisir à regarder, classer, définir et donner un sens aux clients. Toutefois, compte tenu du caractère multidirectionnel du regard, j’analyse également l’exhibition contrôlée des signifiants propres au travail du sexe, puisque l’information n’est pas seulement recueillie mais aussi exposée et représentée.