Sex Work Law Reform – HIM Position Paper
Recent changes to Canada’s laws governing sex work criminalize individuals who are involved in the sex industry, with broad implications for sex workers in Vancouver and beyond.
In addition, there is a general lack of awareness and understanding about the realities of male sex workers involved in the sex industry in Vancouver.
Health Initiative for Men calls for the removal of all criminal penalties associated with adult sex work.
The following article is adapted from the recently released HIM position paper, Sex Work Law Reform: Implications for Male Sex Workers in Vancouver and Beyond.
Bill C-36: Summary
In previous Safety Tips, we have covered the Bedford decision and the related provisions in two articles: The Bedford Decision and Bill C-36. Bill C-36, or the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA), signaled a shift toward the Nordic Model of sex work criminalization.
The new provisions to the Criminal Code introduced by Bill C-36 have created new dangers for sex workers, including risk posed to men involved in independent sex work – with the continued criminalization of sex work comes increased stigma and fear of what enforcement could potentially look like. It is a difficult and contradictory system to navigate – there are prohibitions against paying for sexual services, communicating, advertising (including online), and supporting others financially or hiring them. Prohibition against paying for sex – in essence, criminalizing the buyer instead of the worker – makes it riskier and more difficult to pre-screen clients. When any part of sex work is criminalized, be it for clients or workers, there is the creation of risk. Client communication is criminalized in all circumstances (in person, phone, and online), creating an obstacle when it comes to negotiating terms and a sex worker’s ability to make decisions about their services.
Independent sex workers who offer their services via the phone book, newspaper publications, or online may find more and more of these platforms limiting or outright restricting the ability to advertise. Businesses could be held liable for any ads explicitly referencing sexual services. This makes it more likely for negotiation of terms and safer sex to happen in person – most male sex work is outcall or independent, and this could lead to an increase of vulnerability to violence if there is a disagreement with a client, or if the client has different expectations of who the worker is or what services they provide. Trans and male sex workers could be especially impacted by this – with the ability to speak freely of their work online restricted, so too is the ability to share crucial information about safety or bad dates with each other, or to access health and peer support online. This could powerfully impact male and trans workers, as a large part of the community is now inaccessible on platforms where it used to be.
The criminalization of any aspect of sex work reinforces stigma and alienation, in addition to violating the rights of sex workers; framing it as an illegal and immoral activity, and discouraging sex workers experiencing violence from reaching out to police. This is especially true for men involved in sex work, who may be reluctant to seek help from enforcement agencies out of concern for the criminalization of themselves or their clients, and fear of potential attitudes about masculine stereotypes or homophobia from police.
Decriminalization: The Evidence
Decriminalization of sex work is endorsed by recommendations from the World Health Organization, UNDP, UNFPA, UNAIDS, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law; and Amnesty International has formally adopted a policy advocating for the decriminalization of all aspects of adult sex work as the best way of protecting sex workers’ health, safety, and human rights. Evidence, published as part of the Lancet Sex Work and HIV series in January 2015, found that even in diverse and different settings, the decriminalization of sex work could have a significant impact on HIV prevention – it is possible that 33-46% of new HIV infections among sex workers could be avoided through the removal of violence, police harassment, and increased access to safer working conditions.
Peer reviewed research and The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Report has shown that criminalization increases stigma and discrimination toward sex workers, creating huge barriers in reporting violence and accessing critical health and social supports. Criminalization of any aspect of sex work – targeting clients, sex workers, or third parties – is an obstacle in the way of safety, health and legal protections – effectively, a violation of the human rights of sex workers to receive equal protection under the law.
During the Bedford proceedings, the Supreme Court of Canada identified client screening as one of the most vital tools available to sex workers in protecting their safety and health; fear of police surveillance impedes sex workers from performing these screenings. Clients and third parties as the subject of enforcement guidelines continues to reproduce the violence and health risks for sex workers by continuing to indirectly target them. Sex workers are still forced to work in isolation, and put in a position of having an adversarial relationship with police and enforcement agencies. The VPD amended its policy in 2015 with an explicit statement that enforcement of the laws in the case of sexual exchange between consenting adults is not a priority, acknowledging the historical lack of trust between sex workers and the police.
Next Safety Tip, we will look at the different studies conducted by HIM partners and the findings, as well as a summary of recommendations put forward in the position paper.