Need to rethink laws, attitudes

Elizabeth Hudson
For the Calgary Herald

Saturday, July 28, 2007

When I do a presentation on the street sex trade, the majority of listeners are surprised to learn prostitution is legal in Canada.

What is illegal is for either the sex-trade worker or the client to speak of it. This seems to be a unique and most Canadian way to deal with this social problem. Yes, do it, but don't dare speak of it.

I am tired of silence and I am speaking of it. The mounting deaths of sex-trade workers began in the early 1980s when the communicating law was enacted. John Lowman, a criminologist at Simon Fraser University, discovered the death rate in British Columbia alone climbed a staggering 500 per cent in the year after the law was passed.

Its effect in Alberta has been no less grim with the murders of dozens of women in Edmonton and the appalling regularity of newspaper headlines marking the deaths of sex trade workers all across our province. Each death is a red flag that something is terribly wrong with our system.

Courageous MP Libby Davies spearheaded action to raise awareness and to help reduce the harm, and the horrific slaughter on our streets.

I had the honour of presenting to her parliamentary committee. I felt for the first time there might be hope for some positive re-thinking of our laws and how they impact this largely voiceless segment of society.

Unfortunately, there have been no new laws to protect or shelter those involved in the sex trade. In Alberta, there is just another punitive law. Since police now have the authority to seize johns' cars, it should not come as a surprise that sex-trade workers have disappeared into trick rooms. There, we cannot even offer outreach programs. Unseen, they become even more vulnerable to attack and abuse.

If you wish to approach harm reduction in another way, it must be noted in Calgary there is a critical lack of treatment beds. For those seeking a way out of the sex trade, there are even fewer agencies than treatment beds working with this population.

If one is over the age of 29, there is only one agency with a long wait list that might consider them. When I was involved in the sex trade, I thought escape was impossible. With inadequate resources, underfunding to outreach agencies, lack of easy accessibility to treatment facilities, and hobbled by the communicating law, I believe I would think the same today.

If prostitution is legal in Canada, then we must begin discourse and move towards harm reduction for those seeking escape and those still engaged in the sex trade.

We need to begin by looking at our laws and their unforeseen negative impacts on this population. To do this successfully, we must also examine our own attitudes that perpetuate marginalization, degradation, deprivation and stigma towards those in the sex trade, and we must remember that sex-trade workers have paid with their lives for our silence and our inaction.

Elizabeth Hudson is the author of Snowbodies: One Woman's Life of the Streets. She has been published in Maclean's and Avenue Magazines. She is a public speaker and activist.

 The Calgary Herald 2007


Missing Pieces - Snow Bodies
Painted Lady - by Elizabeth Hudson on Outfront - CBC
Beating the Mean Streets



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