SHOP releases campaign targeting stigma against sex workers

It’s time we turned the tide on how we talk about sex workers.

The right words can make a huge difference. They can help enforce self-worth, respect, and humanity — especially when it comes to the lives of sex workers. Words count.

The Safe Harbour Outreach Project (SHOP) exists to advocate for the human rights of sex workers in and around St. John’s, and across Newfoundland and Labrador. The women we serve have continuously identified that stigma creates huge barriers to accessing their basic human rights. The collective fight for the human rights of sex workers is a new phenomenon in this province and there are still many challenges to changing the discourse and public perception around the people who engage in sex work.

June 14 has been recognized as a National Day of Action for Sex Worker Rights in Canada to combat dangerous laws and narratives, and today we launch ‘Words Count,’ a bold awareness campaign to make people stop and take stock of the language used to stigmatize sex workers and deny women their agency. Whore, hooker, prostitute, slut. Would you want to be called these words? These and many other weighted words bear down on women in our community every day – women who are parents, volunteers, students, neighbours, teachers, artists, safer sex experts, advocates, and members of our community.

Heather Jarvis, SHOP’s Program Coordinator, on sex work stigma:
“Sex work stigma has real world consequences. It is used to justify actions that infringe on the human rights of sex workers every day, making women’s lives more hazardous and unjust, and at its worst making sex workers disposable. The people we work with are intelligent, resourceful, critical, funny, kind, loving, creative, and come with skills and knowledge. Sex workers are a part of our community. Sex workers belong in our community.”

What can you do?
Challenge discrimination, stereotypes and misconceptions against sex workers, their families and partners. Download and print our campaign poster and help spread awareness in the community. Start a conversation about what you can do to support sex workers in your city. Purchase a ‘Words Count’ t-shirt, with proceeds going to support the work of SHOP. Watch the ‘Words Count’ video below and share it on social media with #EndTheStigmaNL.

CW: This video contains harsh language around sexism, sexuality, stereotyping, and violence and might not be suitable for all ages or individuals. Please engage with it at your own pace.

Vanessa V., local sex worker, on the ‘Words Count’ campaign:
“This is a perfect collage of the stigma that sex workers get because this is how we’re treated by society in general – overwhelmingly negative and with judgment, putting us down as if we’re ‘nobody’ or making us into a ‘bombshell,’ ‘trophy’ stereotype. Ultimately, we’re still made to be a punchline and not seen for the real people we are. The people who say these sorts of things aren’t sex workers, they aren’t my clients, they’re people who are looking at sex work from the outside.”

Take responsibility for your words and your actions. Help end the stigma. Support the Safe Harbour Outreach Project.

Media Contact
Heather Jarvis
Program Coordinator
Safe Harbour Outreach Project
Tel. 709.771.1077
heather@sjwomenscentre.ca

Safe Harbour Outreach Project: Women’s March 2018 Statement

SHOP provided a statement to be read at the St. John’s Women’s March on Saturday, January 20, 2018:

Safe Harbour Outreach Project is a program of the St. John’s Status of Women Council, where our two-woman team supports and advocates for sex working women and their rights, in and around St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador. Our work is rooted in harm-reduction, human rights, social justice, and decriminalization.

We at SHOP are eager to participate in the St. John’s Women’s March 2018. The involvement of sex workers is incredibly meaningful; it was only last year that sex workers endured the erasure of their lives and rights at the Women’s March on Washington. We are proud that our city recognizes that sex workers belong here, because we know that sex workers have been historically left out of international women’s movements.

We know that sex workers are strong advocates, policy makers, and labour rights activists. Sex workers are mothers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and fierce business women. Sex workers have been pivotal in the work against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and must be included in this work. Sex workers have been pioneers of women’s rights, civil rights, and LGBTQ2I rights.

Sex working women must be included in our feminisms. Incarcerated women, Indigenous women, women of colour, immigrant and refugee women. We must look for these voices in the Times Up movement, and in the Me Too movement – and if they aren’t included, we must ask why, and do better. In the name of sharing sex workers voices, and honouring the role sex workers play in the women’s movement, we champion their words:

Last month, trans sex worker Hailey Heartless in B.C. eloquently said, “when we speak about violence against sex workers, we need to tie it back to the core reasons why we’re at risk. Stigma, on top of slut shaming, and whorephobia, is piled on top of other oppressions we disproportionately face: sexism, transphobia, ableism, racism, colonialism and homophobia, to name a few… As an ally, it’s your responsibility to create spaces, not movements. Please speak with us, not for us. Stand beside us, not in front of us. Include us in your movements and let us tell you what we need. Nothing about us, without us.”

And a sex working woman in our city of St. John’s said, “We pay income taxes. We vote. We promote and project equality, empowerment, independence, and self-worth. Our work is consensual. Our work is real work.”

Sex workers have been part of the women’s movement throughout history, even when their work and presence hasn’t been recognized. But let it be known,

We hear you.
We see you.

For Immediate Release: TURN OFF THE SPOTLIGHT: Sex workers and allies urge an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

Posted on behalf of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform – 

For Immediate Release
TURN OFF THE SPOTLIGHT: Sex workers and allies urge an end to Operation Northern Spotlight

October 19, 2017, Canada – As part of the hunt for people who “exploit” or purchase services from sex workers, police forces across Canada held their yearly raids between October 11 -15 on sex work establishments that they call Operation Northern Spotlight. These operations include intrusive and intimidating visits to sex workers to their homes and hotels and other places of work, under the auspices of an antitrafficking initiative. In their press release on October 18th (http://www.rcmpgrc.gc.ca/en/news/2017/operation-northernspotlight-vi), the RCMP announced that “police interviewed 324 individuals” who they “suspect to be working in the sex trade against their will, or at high risk of being trafficked”. The criteria by which police assume or determine coercion or risk is unknown, but the proportion of police interviews to the “number of people of people removed from exploitative situations” highlights not only misguided police resources, but
problematic over surveillance and a violation of sex workers’ rights.

Sex workers across the country have reported to our member groups that Operation Northern Spotlight compromises their safety and dignity. The interactions begin with a male or female police officer posing as a client and booking an appointment with a sex worker. Several police officers then appear at the sex worker’s place of work, ostensibly to ensure that no coercion is taking place, but with the impact of intimidating sex workers, violating their right to privacy and putting their confidentiality and safety at risk.

Sex workers across Canada who are victims to this Operation also report feeling confused, frightened, stressed and traumatized after these interactions with police, followed by intense feelings of mistrust in the overall police system.

Operation Northern Spotlight has also undermined sex workers’ health and safety. To avoid the greater scrutiny and law enforcement surveillance, interrogation, harassment, detention, deportation and arrest associated with such campaigns, sex workers are forced to work in greater isolation and secrecy, reducing their capacity to earn money and their ability to negotiate safer working conditions with clients and with third parties.

Campaigns such as Operation Northern Spotlight have intensified an already hostile relationship between sex workers and the police and deterred workers in the sex industry from turning to law enforcement if violence or exploitation occurs. In a survey of Asian sex workers in Toronto and Vancouver, 95 per cent of respondents indicated that they never seek help from law enforcement — even if they experience violence, abuse, harassment or exploitation. In Toronto, not a single respondent indicated that they trusted the police. By alienating sex workers, Operation Northern
Spotlight discourages workers in the sex industry from reporting actual cases of human trafficking to law enforcement, frustrating the ultimate objective of such campaigns. It also diverts much-needed resources to antitrafficking investigations rather than place resources into other forms of services and supports that sex workers need.

Canada’s new criminal sex work laws introduced in December 2014 under the Conservative government’s Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), that wrongfully equate sex work with sexual exploitation and human trafficking have reinforced antagonistic relationships with the police, interfered with the safety mechanisms that sex workers use to stay safe on the job, and increased stigma and discrimination against sex workers. Operation Northern Spotlight perpetuates the faulty logic of PCEPA and continues to perpetuate great harms on sex workers.

Police repression is one of the primary factors that creates vulnerability to violence. A context of repression makes it equally difficult to report crimes for which sex workers are targeted in an environment of impunity. It contributes to a climate of fear and disdain for sex workers that promotes violence and discrimination. Antitrafficking campaigns that conflate sex work and human trafficking impact all sex workers, and particularly target Indigenous women and migrant sex workers, who already have entrenched antagonistic relationships with law enforcement, and sex workers who work indoors.

The Alliance urges law enforcement to put an end to Operation Northern Spotlight. In addition we ask that police:

• Stop using anti-trafficking programs as a pretext for the intrusion of law enforcement in sex work establishments, including indoor sex work businesses and hotels and on the streets with Indigenous sex workers;

• Review existing anti-trafficking policies and programs that equate sex work with human trafficking, and revise policies to remove assumptions that sex work is a form of human trafficking or sexual exploitation; and

• Provide support for Access without fear/Sanctuary City policies that allow migrants to receive essential services such as health care, without fear of deportation.

If law enforcement is genuine in their efforts to support victims of human trafficking, they must work in collaboration with sex workers to develop best practices to help and support trafficked persons while protecting the safety, dignity and human rights of all individuals in the sex industry.

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform formed in 2012 and is composed of sex worker rights and allied groups and individuals in cities across Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton,
London, Longueuil, Montreal, Kingston, Québec, Sault Ste. Marie, St. John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria, and Winnipeg. Members work together to fight for sex work law reform, sex workers’
rights, and community well-being.

Member Groups of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform:
Angel’s Angels (Hamilton)
Action Santé Travesties et Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ) (Montréal)
BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (Vancouver)
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network (Toronto)
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (Toronto)
Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) (Vancouver)
Émissaire (Longueuil)
FIRST (Vancouver)
Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project (Toronto)
Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Workers Drum Group (Toronto)
Migrant Sex Workers Project (Toronto)
PEERS (Victoria)
Projet Lune (Québec)
Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE) (Edmonton)
Providing Alternatives, Counselling and Education (PACE) Society (Vancouver)
Rézo, projet travail du sexe (Montréal)
Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.) (St. John’s)
Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) (Toronto)
Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS) (Sudbury)
Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montreal)
Stop the Arrests! (Sault Ste. Marie)
Strut! (Toronto)
Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN)(Vancouver)
HIV Community Link, Shift Program (Calgary)
West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) (Vancouver)
Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (Winnipeg)

Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform
Sex Workers, Organizations and Individuals Advocating for Sex Workers’ Rights and Community Well-Being
Web: www.sexworklawreform.com
Email: contact@sexworklawreform.com