Criminalization and Violence Against Sex Workers: the Context Behind the Pickton Trial

canada’s disappeared have a gender:
pictures of women who have gone missing

On January 26th CKUT’s radio show Off The Hour interviewed Sue Davis of Prostitution Alternatives Counseling and Education Society and Jenn Clamen of the International Union of Sex Workers.

Sex trade workers’ struggles against violence and criminalization make them a potentially key section the emergent radical female working class, but sex work and violence against sex workers remain under-theorized (or worst) by both the left and feminist movements.

So this interview, while just an interview, is worth listening to. It is available from the National Campus and Community Radio Association (you’ll have to sign up – it is the second segment) and i have mirrored it here.

Here are some highlights:

It comes down to homelessness, poverty, and tax cuts to great programmes, you know this is the result, and people have to understand that all of us are responsible for the dangerous environment that is created by crimiinalizing sex work. (Davis)

In Edmonton the police in response to a lot of the serial murders out there put together a project called Care, but what it means is that they’re running around chasing sex workers down the street and they’re trying to identify sex workers through their DNA but they’re not actually protecting sex workers but they’re sort of keeping a tab on them… they started this DNA bank so that they can identify sex workers as they go missing, but they actually haven’t put any measures into place that will say they’ll stop chasing them down the street or provide better security when they are working. (Clamen)

Absolutely – they tried the same thing here in Vancouver. They cataloged us all with some little polaroid picture and that kind of thing and tried to take notes of us or catalog us in some way so they would know us when they found us… they’re crossing where we are, noting where the strolls are, trying to criminalize us… (Davis)

The man who tried to kill me was acquitted, he didn’t even have a lawyer with him in court, he got to cross-examine me himself, and then the judge threw out the whole case based on my testimony because I’m a sex worker so I must be a liar. This concept, and this betrayal of sex workers by the upper echelons, by the justice system, by everybody, has led men to, or predatory people in general – because it’s not only men as we know, Homolka – has led them to think that this is ok, that nobody will care, and in truth nobody does care. This is the tragedy that comes from a badly written law and a total social outlook of class separation where because you’ve made this choice, you are less than us somehow, and this makes it ok to kill you. (Davis)

When we talk about violence here and around the world we’re not just talking about violence from potential clients or when clients turn too aggressive, but we’re talking about police violence as well, and police are responsible for a lot of the violence that happens, and a lot of the harassment. And the government is responsible in the sense that they just spent 3 years going over, speaking to sex workers speaking to people who are in touch with sex workers trying to make the situation more safe but they actually decided to do nothing in the end and yet they’re not claiming any responsibility for what happens – who are they suggesting changes the conditons and what are they suggesting is meant to happen? Nothing. So they’re essentially leaving sex workers in all areas of the trade basically to ourselves, and with no recourse. (Clamen)

This is not localized to the downtown eastside of Vancouver. There are women missing in every single city in this country, the Higway of Tears will attest to that, even rural communities are missing sex workers. This is systematic, and we need to all stand up and do something about it. (Davis)


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