Traffic jam

Friday, August 13, 2010

Question

The combination of a number of factors has thrust celibacy upon me for the past 18 months. I haven't given up on finding someone to have intimate relations with, but sometimes, dammit, I just wanna have some fun on short notice. That should be easy enough, since there are hundreds—hell, thousands—of escort agencies and massage parlours out there, but what has held me back from engaging their services is the knowledge that some (or even most?) of these businesses have people working in them who were brought here by human trafficking. I would like some tips on how to avoid places like these. If what I'm asking is impossible, I suppose porn isn't that bad.

Answer

I know that given the disproportionate media attention paid to trafficked sex workers, it's hard to believe that anyone working in the industry does so willingly. Please believe me when I tell you that they exist, and in far greater numbers than those who are trafficked.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the long and devious arm of the law has reached out to further promote the apparently unremitting and vicious impact of organized crime on the sex industry.

Recently, the Conservative government made changes to sentencing regulations that make keeping a bawdy house a "serious offence"—one that now carries a penalty of imprisonment for five years or more. As a press release from sex work support group Maggie's states, "This decision stands against both sex workers' experiences and considerable re search that has shown that the criminal laws work to create unsafe working conditions for sex workers, leaving them vulnerable to violence."

The change has serious consequences for sex workers who work together for enhanced security. "With the changes to the law, sex work ers will now be faced with much harsher penalties and more severe jail time if convicted," writes Dr. Emily van der Meulen of the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael's Hospital and board member at Maggie's. "In addition, sex work ers who work together out of concern for safety risk being treated as organized criminals, a possibility that may deter sex workers from working indoors and out of isolation."

As is so often the case, the government made no effort to consult with those most directly affected by these new regulations—neither sex worker organizations nor advocacy groups were questioned about the negative effects the change would have on workers, and the impacts of increased criminalization of sex work. Maggie's board chairperson, Elya Durisin, says, "For the government to make such a significant change to the Crim inal Code with no public debate or scrutiny is unacceptable, particularly when the constitutionality of the bawdy house provisions is being considered by the court."

Now, even despite the compelling reasons outlined above, perhaps you're thinking, "Thanks for the relentless updates on the sex industry, Sasha, but what does this have to do with my desire to make sure my hook er wasn't smuggled into Canada rolled in a Persian rug?"

Well, Randy, the stated reason for the legislative change may have been to address organized crime and presumably, by extension, the issues faced by trafficked sex workers: long-term incarceration, the spectre of unrestrained authority, criminal stig ma, and a complete lack of agency over their lives and careers. But what this new piece of legislation actually does is create these conditions for all sex workers—and paid for by your tax dollars, to boot.

It is getting fucking boring that organized crime is constantly associated with sex work. This is not to say there isn't some crossover. I can think of at least four "legitimate" industries where this is the case, too. But it is called organized crime because it is organized. So you can rest assured that those actually involved in it will find ways to circumvent these new regulations, leaving those trafficked in an even more precarious position than they were in before and forcing thousands of willing sex workers to deal with regulations that could have massive impacts on their lives forever.

Thanks again, Stephen Harper, for continuing to make autocratic decisions that obliterate people's fiscal options and personal freedoms and actually reduce those denied them even further.

And, hey, Randy, since you have some time on your hands, I'd love you to read Sex At The Margins: Migration, Labour Markets And The Rescue Industry, by Laura Maria Agustin, a book that presents a nuanced and realistic view of labour migration and the sex trade.

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