Safety in Sex Work

It’s time to provide sex workers with the basic rights afforded to other professionals 

Alexis Zygan // Contributor 

Sex work in Canada has a long history of criminalization, and yet it’s a service that fulfills a need within society. Paying for an orgasm should not be a crime if experienced by two consenting adults—especially when there are half-naked models plastered on billboards. We’ve all heard the idea that sex sells. Strippers dance on film screens, while the internet has led to the widespread accessibility of porn and hookup apps. Sex is everywhere.  

According to Bill C-36, the act of selling sex is exploitative and dangerous, but it’s the bill itself that makes it so. It strips sex workers of the ability to advertise their services safely by criminalizing the purchaser and erasing online communities that have formed to advocate for said safety. 

The only thing risky about sex work is the treatment of sex workers. Bill C-36 erases harm-reduction efforts that have formed a safety net of resources to ensure protection and security. Removing the online storefront forces sex workers to seek clientele on the streets, increasing the likelihood of violence. Making something illegal does not mean fewer people are seeking out sexual services. In fact, between 1991 and 2014 alone, 294 deaths were recorded among sex workers. 

One shortcoming of Bill C-36 lies in its failure to differentiate between exploitative sex and consensual sex. While many individuals forced into the trade are victims of rape and abuse, viewing all sex workers as victims is inherently misogynistic. Failing to acknowledge a woman’s right to choose what to do with their bodies, and treating sex workers all as unskilled victims is problematic. Of course, it is important to acknowledge that not all sex workers are women—many are members of the LGBTQ+ community. Transgender and other marginalized folks enter the trade due to discrimination in traditional workplaces. 

Advocacy groups vouch for decriminalization and autonomy to give sex workers the rights of business owners and entrepreneurs. Like any other business, sex workers need to invest money to make money—they purchase hotel rooms for calls and sex toys for camera work. Decriminalization would also mean adhering to both health and security rules and employment standards, ensuring safety on the job. Third-party sites allowed sex workers to veto clients with a background check. They required from the client government ID and at least two references from coworkers. The structure set-up by community-based outreach protects the dignity and equality of all sex workers more than Bill C-36. 

Sex work could be the reason someone can sit in a university classroom, eat a meal, sleep in a warm home or pay their bills on time. Bill C-36 demeans the person providing the service, while also banning sex workers from using third-parties to advertise their services. 

It’s time that the government changes its narrative towards sex work. With films like Hustlers representing sex workers on the big screen, and celebrities like Cardi B, Chris Pratt and Amber Rose speaking openly about working in the sex industry, sex work is becoming increasingly normalized. Instead of pushing sex workers into dangerous situations and providing hefty fines for the buyer, the Canadian government should follow in the footsteps of Las Vegas by decriminalizing and treating sex workers as the business owners and independent contractors they are. When a sex worker faces harm, they should have the right to acquire services from WorkSafeBC just like anyone else. People deserve safety in their workplace regardless of whether they are part of the sex trade, serving tables or working construction.  

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