Friday, March 4, 2011

Nothing About Us Without Us

Dear Human Rights & Justice Activists,

It has come to our attention that Gunilla Ekberg and REED (Resist Exploitation, Embrace Dignity) are coming to town. REED believes that "prostitution is violence against women" inherently. Ms. Ekberg is a proponent of the "Nordic Model" of law whereby sex work is still illegal but only the buyers are charged criminally. Another presenter at the event, Trisha Baptie, is a well known abolitionist in Canada. The event will take place at the Victoria Public Library on Tuesday March 8 at 6pm.
We are asking for your support in attending this event and challenging their claims.

PEERS disagrees with REED's perspective and believes that it is not a rational or useful approach to sex work. Criminalizing the sex industry as a whole without distinguishing between the wide variety of sex workers' experiences helps no one. It is crucial to differentiate between those who are forced into sex work through trafficking, those who are in the trade through circumstances such as poverty and those who choose the work from a position of empowerment. Further, making it legal to ply your trade but illegal to have customers is about as reasonable as saying that it is legal to trade sexual services for money, but illegal to talk about it, which is what current laws state.

Many sex workers have criticised the Nordic model, including most sex workers' rights organizations across North America and Western Europe. Some sex workers in Sweden are reporting now they are being set up as 'bait' by the police against their will. This model of sex work law both patronizes and disempowers sex workers.

PEERS believes that the only truly feminist and approach to sex work is to respect the voices and experiences of actual sex workers. We do not believe in creating laws that assist a small number of sex workers - those trafficked and exploited - and leave everyone else out. Although issues of exploitation, trafficking and violence are very real in the sex industry, they are not universal. Classifying sex work as inherently exploitative is overly simplistic, and fosters the idea that all sex workers are victims.

Within that framework, the only difference that is acknowledged between them is their degree of victimhood. The hierarchy of who will be listened to and who won't in debates around sex work laws has to stop. It has no place in the lives of those in the sex trade, no matter how they got in, where they want to go and whether or not they want out.

REED says " The sexual exploitation of girls and women in the commercial sex trade is a human rights crisis and a direct hindrance to women's equality. Some argue that prostitution is a harmless commercial transaction between consenting adults. We refute this. Prostitution is violence against women. It is driven by the male demand for sexual access to the bodies of women and children and must be treated as a form of gendered and often racialized violence.“ (italics mine)
PEERS is very clear about the difference between the commercial exploitation of children and the adult sex trade.  The laws that Gunilla Ekberg refers to do not address the exploitation of youth and children, but only adult sex workers.  Although the exploitation of youth and the adult sex trade are sometimes linked, they are not universally nor are they one and the same. These must be kept separate in order to address each issue effectively.
We ask you to consider how issues around criminalized sex work are intrinsically tied to other social injustices such as insufficient housing and harm reduction services, and to support us in challenging REED's position, which we believe to be oversimplified to the point where it is harmful.

Please come out and join us in insisting that the voices and experiences of a variety of sex workers are heard and taken into account when discussing the laws and policies that affect everyone.  Please do pass this on to everyone who might be interested. For more information call PEERS.
-Megan Lewis