Montreal, Whoreganize !

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Montreal, Whoreganize !

Sex Work Autonomous committee

SWAC contingent banner at the IWW protest on May 1st 2022
Like many others, the pandemic has largely  isolated many of us, sex workers (SWrs). Agencies, strip clubs and massage parlours have been mostly closed since the first lockdown; there is no physical place left that resembles a workplace. Many of us have tried our best to offer our services virtually, be it for a few minutes every now and then when our clients can take a break from everyday life. The Onlyfans platform has seen a dramatic increase in subscribers from 7.9 million in 2019 to 85 million a year later.1 Many SWrs have been transitioning to other areas of work, taking advantage of the new opportunity to do accelerated beneficiary attendant training or signing up to help out in the health and social services system. After a break period (or not), many have started seeing clients again while doing their best to reduce the risks of COVID-19 transmission, because they had no other alternatives. Others have made exclusive arrangements with clients, but these have often ended badly; boundaries become blurred, clients start mistaking us for girlfriends, try to push our limits, take over our time, start renegotiating condom use and so on.  As if it wasn’t enough to risk one’s health for a livelihood, the attacks have come from all sides; moral panic over pornography has intensified in the United States2, making it harder to advertise services online and collect payments over the Internet. Many of us have not had access to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. In addition, the Quebec government has extended the curfew introduced on January 9, making repression ever more present in our lives, especially for those working in public spaces. Furthermore, no governmental public health policy has taken an interest in our safety and health during the pandemic, since we are not recognized as workers. One thing is certain, we are still working, but in even more precarious conditions than before and increasingly alone. In other words, the collective power acquired through organizing is being undermined, at this very moment when we need it most. Despite the presence of online communities, we have no place to gather in-person, discuss our working conditions and the ways of improving them. The Sex Work Autonomous Comittee (SWAC) is an autonomous political organizing project initiated by SWrs based in Montreal in the fall of 2019, just a few months before COVID-19 pandemic forced us into confinement. Obviously, everything has been turned upside down since then. During the first lockdown in March 2020, we thought we could wait it out, as it seemed impossible for us to mobilize in the short term. Now we see that we have no choice and that we’re going to have to be creative. After several Zoom meetings and an in-person workshop in a corner of a park, when it was still possible, we decided to write this text to lay the foundations for our organizing, and to outline what an autonomous SWr movement would look like.

Invitation flyer for the very first SWAC meeting (page 1-2)

Autonomous from who and why?

Since our first calls to organize, one question has come up over and over again: “Why create a new organization when there are already community organizations to defend our rights? Aren’t they the best ones to speak for us with many years of experience?”. Let us first establish that the creation of autonomous committees is in no way intended to replace or eliminate any organization or to criticize particular individuals. However, we believe that discussions about the organizational models and structures that are in place in a movement can only be beneficial to the struggle. By creating an autonomous committee, we want to create a space where mobilizations and collective actions are priorities; we believe that we and our colleagues have much to gain by organizing politically.  Since their inception in the 1990s, Canadian SWr organizations, like many others, have always tried to find a balance between providing services and collective action for political change, both at a legislative and public health level. Discussions on the tension between service provision and collective action have been a recurring theme in our conversations at SWAC over the past year. Time and energy being limited resources, we believe that asking this question early in the formation of a political group is essential. “This debate was already present at the founding of the Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes (CORP) in 1983” says Danny Cockerline, a gay activist, sex worker and founding member of CORP:

In its early days, the CORP devoted all its energy to lobbying politicians, governments, the media, police forces, etc. in order to obtain their support for the decriminalization of prostitution. In 1985, Peggie and Chris formed a group to start a self-help project. The idea was that the CORP would only succeed if more prostitutes became involved, and only when their basic needs were met would they be able to devote time to political work.3

This new project was called Maggie’s and is still active today in Toronto. However, the idea of creating new services divided those involved at the CORP, according to Cockerline, since “many feared that they would end up with another social service that prostitutes would turn to for help rather than join us in creating an advocacy movement”4. Since then, the CORP has ceased its activities and Maggie’s continues to offer services. However, the initial idea of being a training ground for SWrs to mobilize is less and less present in SWr organizations. Sarah Beer, a researcher on SWr rights in Canada, is critical of this model:

Funding formalizes organizational structures but tends to bureaucratize mobilization. The outreach services [recrutement practices of these organizations] that are provided can be restricted based on funding criteria (e.g., funding might give money only to do street-based, not indoor, outreach). […] As a consequence, sex workers need to organize on multiple fronts.5

Like Sarah Beer, we believe that if political demands and collective actions are not given priority in the SWrs’ rights organizations, it is because of the requirements of these structures, starting with those of their funders, and the resulting bureaucracy: activity reports and accountability, funding requests, action plans, human resources management and all the administrative paperwork that comes with them. In short, it is not surprising that there is not much time left to mobilize those who aren’t already active! The first SWr organizations’ funding was granted as part of the fight against HIV6. Of course, one can empathize with the fact that at the time, SWrs, like LGBTQIA+ populations and drug users, wanted to create their own health services to fight against an epidemic that was decimating their communities to the government’s disregard. However, as Act-Up activist and writer Sarah Schulman points out, these organizations are often reappropriated by governments to contract out work at a lower cost: 

The distinction between service provision and activism has become elusive. Poor people are very interwoven into state agencies: there’s a lot of surveillance […]. My life has shown me that activists win policy changes, and bureaucracies implement them. In a period like the present where there is no real activism, there are only bureaucracies.7

The bureaucracy of community organizations makes it difficult to have wide spaces to discuss solutions and to mobilize to defend our rights. This is why we believe it is time to organize on an autonomous basis.  The foundations of such an organization still need to be defined. This is what we will try to do here. Of course, this is a work in progress and these principles are bound to be updated. It should also be noted that SWAC activists have varying perspectives and work experiences. These principles therefore serve as a basis of unity, first at a theoretical and then at an organizational level.

Invitation flyer to the very first SWAC meeting (page 3-4)

Theoritical principle:

    1. The recognition of sex work as work and the need to decriminalize it in order to obtain the same labor rights as other workers;
We believe that sex work is work and that SWrs are workers. Furthermore, we believe that sex work belongs to a particular, undervalued category of work: reproductive work. Theorized by feminists from the Wages for Housework movement, reproductive work is defined as all the work necessary to maintain and renew the labour force: domestic tasks, care of children and the elderly, meeting the emotional, physical and sexual needs of the wage earner. This work has traditionally been taken care of by women in the heterosexual family so that men can be fresh and willing to go to work. If these forms of work have become more complex with the entry of women into the wage labour market, they have not disappeared and are increasingly taken care of by racialized women, following the international division of labour, to which we’ll return later. In the 1970s, wages for domestic work activists emphasized the contribution of this largely feminized labor to capitalism and the importance of perceiving oneself as a worker in the struggle against it.  How can we go on strike and refuse this work if we can’t name it as such? There were already links between SWrs and housewives struggling for wages at the time.8 In 1977, Margo St James, SWr and founder of Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics (COYOTE), was invited by the Toronto branch of Wages for Housework to a forum on the decriminalization of sex work. In their opening speech, the collective said, “Our poverty as women leaves us little choice. Hookers get hard cash for their sexual services while other women get a roof over their heads or a night out.”9 However, in addition to being devalued, sex work is also criminalized. This criminalization is an excellent way for those who appropriate our work to control its conditions, be it through a flesh-and-blood boss or an online platform. It is impossible for us to have access to the minimal protections normally guaranteed to workers. These precarious conditions are the source of daily concerns and challenges, ranging from difficulties in getting paid to the impossibility of denouncing clients and employers’ violence through legal mechanisms. Of course, we know that the decriminalization of our work alone cannot guarantee us decent working conditions, as evidenced by difficult environments of the legal sectors of the sex industry such as pornography or strip clubs. The pursuit of sex work decriminalization is therefore not an end in itself, but rather a first step in providing ourselves with the means to obtain better working conditions. We believe that by organizing now in autonomous committees for decriminalization, these committees will be able to serve as a basis for the organization of our workplace.  

2. The recognition that sex work takes place within a capitalist, neo-colonial and cishetero-patriarchal system; the recognition that women, racialized people, trans/queer/gender non-conforming people, migrants and people with disabilities are over-represented in sex work, due in part to the barriers to employment and good jobs in the capitalist system;

The context in which sex work takes place is often ignored by those who are outraged that women are forced to “sell their bodies”10. Instead, we start from the principle that all workers sell their bodies – this is a more interesting starting point in the struggle for better working and living conditions. In other words, starting from the point of view that work should be empowering and free from exploitation seems to be a trap to avoid. The sex industry, along with many others, is filled with exploitation, sexist and racist violence. However, few of us are in a position to refuse this work individually, because the reality is that we have to put bread on the table and pay the rent. Most of us are SWrs because it is the best or the least bad option available to us in this context. We have seen it throughout the pandemic; in Canada, statistics show that job losses have impacted women more severely than men11. In the United States, reports show that Black, Indigenous and Women of Colour are 1.5% more likely to lose their jobs because of COVID than white men older than 20 years old12. In Canada, BIPOC people still have a higher unemployment rate than White people, particularly Indigenous women13. This is also true if you are experiencing employment’s discrimination, whether you are a BIPOC, trans or disabled person. The job market is stratified by class, race and gender and it’s no coincidence that these people are over-represented in sex work. In this context, what options are available to SWrs who wish to leave the industry? Finding themselves behind the cash register of a grocery store or joining a long-term care facility to provide care? Not only do these options not reduce the risk of being exposed to the virus, but the expected decrease in income means that they’ll have to work even harder and lose time flexibility. This flexibility is desired and even vital for many, including, single mothers, students, and those with disabilities or chronic illnesses. Moreover, these work alternatives, often precarious and poorly paid, are not exempt from exploitation and violence. We also live in a time where an international division of labor prevails. The conventional definition of the international division of labour refers to the displacement of industrial production from the countries of the North to the countries of the South, where workers’ wages and protections are lower. Feminist thinkers have also demonstrated the importance of the work exported from the countries of the South to the countries of the North, particularly women’s reproductive work14. This can be seen by the large proportion of so-called essential work performed by migrant women, particularly in hospitals, daycare centers and long-term care facilities. These jobs are often done through employment agencies, causing a deregulation of work and allowing employers to get away with offering poor working conditions. More often than not, they are temporary jobs occupied by those with precarious immigration status, putting the people who work there at risk of deportation, as highlighted by the movement of migrant workers during the pandemic15. Similar logic applies in the sex industry, particularly in stripclubs, where female workers are often considered self-employed rather than employees. However, it is often assumed that women who migrate and work in the sex industry are victims of sex trafficking. This discourse ignores the role that borders and migration policies play in this process. Indeed, many are forced to accept terrible working conditions because of their precarious migratory status, but this reality is not specific to the sex industry, as some anti-prostitution organizations suggest.
Photo by Betty Bogaert at the SWAC gathering on March 3rd 2022

Organizational principles:

    1. The self-representation of SWrs and their right to talk about their own realities, and non-hierarchical self-organization that allows the implementation of direct responses and actions;
The principle of “by and for” has shaped the ways of the SWr movements. From its beginnings, there has been a tendency to place workers at the center of their struggles in order to detach themselves from the interests of those who supposedly want to save us. However, this does not mean that each SWr can speak on behalf of their colleagues and that no power dynamic crosses our work and organizational spaces. Racial, class and gender relations are very much present, and to have only one spokesperson, especially one that  is salaried, only crystallizes and emphasizes this power relationship.  Certainly speaking out when dealing with criminalization and stigma can be a challenge for many of us. But we think that there are ways to get around these barriers with a little bit of creativity. Organizing ourselves into open committees with a flexible structure will already allow us to discuss the demands that need to be put forward according to the context, and to be able to quickly reorient ourselves. In pandemic times, where the context is rapidly changing, this formula will allow those involved to put forward essential demands that would make a real difference in their lives. We want to create a space that is open to all SWrs in accordance with the basic principles of CATS, where we can discuss organizational methods, demands, and actions to be taken in order to achieve gains, without any of the bureaucratic red tape. We also aim to foster a space where involved people get to have more control over the struggle. But all these principles will be nothing more than wishful thinking if they are not backed up by consistent practice. This is why the rotation of tasks within a group is an essential element both for preventing the informal concentration of power that is created by assigning one person to carry out the most attractive tasks and to avoid  having the same people doing the less esteemed but nevertheless essential chores. Although it would be easier to delegate everything to a competent person, we think that in the long term, we have much more to gain by taking our own destinies in hand, and learning to do everything together, without making anyone indispensable.
    1. The mobilization of our colleagues in our workplace is the basis of organizing towards better conditions;
In almost all sectors of the sex industry, we often hear that it is much better to be self-employed and that it is a sign of empowerment to be one’s own boss. The pandemic has exacerbated the current trend to dismantle our workplaces to the disadvantage of the most precarious workers. Far from improving conditions for all, independence at work makes us insecure and, above all, distances us from our colleagues. We are then dependent on platforms that force us into competition with each other, while taking a cut in our salary. This trend is not exclusive to the sex industry and can be referred to as a kind of uberisation of sex work. Last year, strippers in London celebrated the legal victory that gave them the status of employees of their club16, just like the French Deliveroo delivery persons who had managed to get the company convicted of “dissimulating work”17 and the Uber drivers who won the right to unionize18. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult to know what our workplace is like and who our colleagues are, especially since many of us work on different platforms. That’s why we think it makes more sense to have a large committee that welcomes all SWrs and doesn’t divide us according to the type of work we do. This helps counter the tendency towards uberisation that isolates us. Moreover, it prevents us from falling into the trap of whorearchy, a term that refers to the hierarchisation between different forms of sex work. This hierarchy is constructed according to proximity to the client. Those who work only on the internet are therefore less stigmatised and criminalised and those who perform more intimate services are more so. 
    1. Autonomy from government institutions and other institutional donors.
As mentioned above, funding seems to be one of the elements that brings a great deal of complexity to community organizations. It also keeps us away from the activities we want to do, i.e. mobilising our colleagues and taking action to improve our working conditions. It also appears to us that this funding is contrary to the principle of “by and for” since it gives the state and private foundations a great deal of latitude to control our activities. In this sense, we believe that detaching ourselves from these donors is essential to achieving our goals, and that we should not sacrifice our autonomy to obtain funds. We believe that the search for money should be limited to the realisation of those projects and actions aimed at furthering our political objectives.

The crisis: an opportunity to reinvent the struggle!


The current crisis is an unavoidable moment of restructuring. The pandemic isolates us and makes us precarious, but it may also be an opportunity to reinvent our movement and organize ourselves, as it was the case with the HIV epidemic. While we recognize all of the barriers to mobilization, it’s time to be creative and to rethink our strategies.

Photo by Lizo Ginestet at the SWAC gathering on May 1st 2021
This particular context, has led to multiple strippers’ strikes in Portland and  Chicago to demand an end to racial discrimination against Black strippers in their clubs during the summer of 202019. According to Cat Hollis, one of the strike organizers, the closure of the clubs due to COVID-19 has allowed the strike to organize itself when the establishments reopened at the end of the first wave20. We, too, want to channel the anger and despair felt in face of the current circumstances into something constructive. We hope that this collective force acts as a catalyst for the creation of a strong SWr movement to achieve political gains that will have an impact on our lives. While the pandemic is exacerbating inequalities, we also want to turn it into a time of solidarity and struggles for better working and living conditions.  It is said that only the struggle pays off, and we believe that this payout is not only to come from the pockets of our clients, but also from those of the State. The same state from whom we must demand the social protections owed to us in times of crisis, and even more so, the recognition of our status as workers!

1. Axel Tardieu. (2020). Elles posent nues sur Internet pour payer leurs études, ICI Alberta,

2. SESTA (Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) and FOSTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act) are two bills passed in the United States in February and March 2018, supposedly aimed at combating sex trafficking. Under these two laws, web platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Craigslist, Backpage can now be charged with sex trafficking for published content. Thus, overnight, hundreds of SWrs have seen their income and security threatened by the closure of web spaces. Several SWrs also denounce that platforms like paypal or even their bank close their accounts without warning when they discover their activities: Jesse and PJ Sage. (2020). Episode 78: Porn Performers Talk Pornhub and Payment Processing,
In December 2020, following a sensationalist article in the New York Times exposing the presence of underage videos and non-consensual acts on Pornhub, Visa and Mastercard stopped supporting payments on this platform. Several SWrs have denounced the fact that this measure will not affect the adult entertainment giant, basing its revenues exclusively on advertising, but will directly affect the revenues of those who sell their content on this platform. The links between the anti-Pornhub campaign and the American religious right wing have also been strongly denounced by journalist and ex-SWr, Mélissa Gira Grant. For more information: Melissa Gira Grant. (2020). Nick Kristoff and the Holy War on Pornhub,

3. Since we couldn’t find the original version, this quote is translated from the french version of this text in Danny Cockerline, «Whores History: A Decade of Prostitutes Fighting for their Rights in Toronto», Maggie’s Zine, n 1, hiver 1993-1994, Toronto, Maggie’s: The Toronto Prostitutes’ Community Service Project, p. 22-23. Traduit de l’anglais par Sylvie Dupont, dans Luttes XXX, Inspirations du mouvement des travailleuses du sexe, 2011, Les Éditions du remue-ménage.

4. Idem

5. Sarah Beer. (2018). «Action, advocacy and allies: Building a movement for sex workers right», Red light labor: sex work regulation, agency and resistance. p.332

6. In Montreal, Stella was born out of a consultation committee of the Centre d’étude sur le SIDA on which the Projet d’intervention auprès des mineurs prostitués (PIAMP) and the Association Québecoise des travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe (AQTS), among others, sat. The project was intended to be a sister organization to Maggie’s, which had received its first funding a few years earlier from the City of Toronto’s Public Health Department. Claire Thiboutot. (1994). Allocution: appui au projet Stella, Montréal, Association québecoise des travailleuses et travailleurs du sexe (AQTS) et Danny Cockerline, «Whores History: A Decade of Prostitutes Fighting for their Rights in Toronto», Maggie’s Zine, n 1, hiver 1993-1994, Toronto, Maggie’s: The Toronto Prostitutes’ Community Service Project, p. 22-23. Traduit de l’anglais par Sylvie Dupont dans Luttes XXX, Inspirations du mouvement des travailleuses du sexe, 2011, Les Éditions du remue-ménage, p. 48 à 52

7. Sarah Schulman. (2012). The gentrification of the mind: witness to a lost imagination. p. 16

8. See Wages for Housework. (1977). «Housewives & Hookers Come Together», Wages for Housework Campaign Bulletin, vol. 1, no 4, dans Louise Toupin. (2014) Le salaire au travail ménager, Chronique d’une lutte féministe internationale (1972-1977). Les éditions du remue-ménage, p.257

9. Idem

10.The question of “selling the body” is a subject of debate even within the SWr movement. On one hand, it is defended that one does not really sell one’s body, but rather a service or one’s work force. The Girlfriend Experience is an example of this. On the other hand, it is argued that selling the body is present in every field, be it construction, professional sports or even office work, and that all of these jobs wear out the body in one way or another. This perspective also helps to understand how gender performance is expected in certain industries, such as the sex industry, catering or fashion for example. Whether one starts from one perspective or the other, sex work is not fundamentally different in this respect.

11. Radio-Canada. (2020). 3 millions d’emplois perdus au Canada depuis le début de la pandémie,

12. Catalyst, Workplace that Work for Women. (2020). The Detrimental Impact of COVID-19 on Gender and Racial equality: Quick Take,

13. Idem

14. Sarah Farris. (2017). «Les fondements politico-économiques du fémonationalisme» dans Pour un féminisme de la totalité, Éditions Amsterdam, Période, p.189-210

15. Dan Spector. (2021). Quebec Curfew making life even harder for undocumented workers doing essential jobs: Protesters

16. Strippers union United Voices of the World, Decrim Now. (2020). Strippers Union United Voices Of the World (UVW) Wins Landmark Legal Victory Proving Strippers Are ‘Workers’, Not Independent Contractors,

17. Catherine Abou Al Kair. (2020). Livraisons : La condamnation de Deliveroo pour travail dissimulé peut-elle faire tache d’huile ?

18. CBC News. (2019). 300 GTA Uber Black drivers unionize as city mulls regulatory overhaul,

19. To learn more : Haymarket Pole Collective. (2020). Press coverage,

20. Tess Riski (2020). A Labor Movement Demands Better Treatment for Portland’s Black Strippers

The Dark Side of the Looking Glass – Part 2

The Dark Side of the Looking Glass – Part 2

Kiko - Conversations with Céleste

Pictures by Orion
Artistic direction by Orion and Céleste

Céleste: Which pronouns do you use?

Kiko: Honestly, I’m thinking about this. I feel like if I say she/they people will always use she instead of they. I’m gender neutral but call me whatever you want. I would prefer they.

Céleste: So, what is your job? Well, in this case what are your jobs?

Kiko: I’m a stripper. I also work for my university, but I’m quitting that job soon. I’m gonna start an internship with an artist center in January, I’m super excited. And, the residency at the Museum of Fine Arts. I have the feeling that all the efforts I put into my work are paying off.

Céleste: I’m so happy for you! Next question.

Kiko: Oh wait, I’m not done! I’m also a musician, I do contracts for movies or small videos, audiovisual projects. I do concerts here and there.

Céleste: There you go, that’s what was missing! I felt like there was a big part missing. What’s your educational background?


Kiko: I immigrated here when I was 10 years old, and learned French in an integration program. Then, I was in an all-girls private secondary school, and it was very strict. I continued in college, also in a private school, so basically all my life I’ve been in private schools. Even in China, in elementary school, I went to a private school and there the educational system is very broken. Even in a private school that was supposed to be ethical, they would still physically punish kids that didn’t do their homework; something that is very illegal here. When I was in college, I was in art, literature and communication and jazz music. Now, I’m in University and I’m studying electro acoustic. I’m studying cinema also, but I don’t think I’ll pursue it because I want to focus on music. Do you want some tea?

Céleste: Yes, for sure.

Céleste: What are your hobbies?

Kiko: I really enjoy chilling with friends, watching movies, listening to music obviously, thrifting. I have so many hobbies but with work I have less time to put into them. I also like to spend time alone, with myself, it’s different from being at work.

Céleste: What are your passions?

Kiko: Music and art, sound art, visual art, all types of art!

Céleste: What would the decriminalization of sex work change in your life?

Kiko: Honestly, I think it would change a lot of lives. I was thinking a lot about this recently and why are strip club managers so shitty? Well since there aren’t rules, it’s not really regulated, the people that make the rules, well it’s the managers. Generally, they aren’t the most empathetic people, and the rules change often. It’s an environment that can become hard to work in, because we have no protection or security towards our employment. What do you think?

Céleste: I agree with you and the decriminalization in general of sex work would make our work safer and we could be less scared of the police, pimps, clients, managers, big industries, etc. Ideally, we would have access to more resources to do our jobs without so much danger. Is there something you would like to say to people outside of the sex industry?

Kiko: I’m sure that it’s not the same perception for all types of sex work, but when it’s related to stripping, often people will think it’s easy money, and people who don’t do this kind of work will expect you to pay their meal, for example. I’m very generous in life and I like to share with my friends, but it’s not easy money; everything has a price. And if I want to treat myself, that’s my business, but they have no rights to my money. More and more, I find friends that are strippers and/or sex workers and I feel better understood. I believe that the exterior world should learn more about how it works. There is so much stigma attached to this kind of work that I don’t tell everyone where I work, but it is literally a job.

Céleste: Last question I have, why were you interested in doing this photoshoot?

Kiko: It interested me because I feel that not many people are informed about this world, and I think it’s important to demystify it to get a little more empathy from people who aren’t familiar with it. Also, I think that my thoughts can help, or not, and bring connections with people who are in the industry.

Céleste: Thanks Kiko!

The Dark Side of the Looking Glass – Part 1

The Dark Side of the Looking Glass – Part 1

Rose Epiphany Glitch - Conversation with Céleste

Pictures by Orion
Artistic direction by Céleste and Orion

With love

Céleste: What are your pronouns? How do you refer to yourself?

Rose: She/her but f*ck gender, but she/her.

Céleste: Me too honestly. Now, what are your jobs?

Rose: I’m a sex worker in various branches; I do a lot of sex work. I’m a porn actress, a cam girl, a model, and a stripper.

Céleste: Did you go to school or are you going to school right now?

Rose: I stopped college because I didn’t like it. I was in theater and visual arts.

Céleste: Why did you stop school?

Rose: I had more things to learn outside of school.

Céleste: In the end, was it the system that you didn’t like? That it’s so regulated and managed in that specific way?

Rose: I don’t like that they try to shape you into something and that there isn’t a lot of liberty.

Céleste: Otherwise, what are your hobbies?

Rose: I like to write; I write a lot. I like sex. I liked to read before, maybe I’ll get back into it. I like doing my makeup, like I did during the photoshoot; it’s a form of visual art, you know. And I like fashion also.

Céleste: Yes, makeup is a way to express yourself.

Rose: And dancing. Sexy dance.

Céleste: Is it a way to express your sexuality when you dance?

Rose: Yes, express the power and the sex.

Céleste: What would the decriminalization of sex work change in your life?

Rose: People could tell me less shit. And I just know it would be so much better for all of us. And that all of us being better and safer is gonna raise all our vibrations. It’s just gonna make the world a better place. And that’s it.

Céleste: I agree, that was well said. Do you have something you would like to say or not say to people outside the sex industry? Or a message, a little something.

Rose: Everybody’s a whore. So that’s it.

Céleste: Last question I have, why were you interested in doing this photoshoot?

Rose: I like photoshoots.

Céleste: True, earlier you were saying that you wanted to get more into photography.

Rose: I like the whole creating part and putting myself out there to promote myself and stuff. I gotta network for my career and meet people. I’m kinda introverted so I like to participate in every project I can without overwhelming myself. And this seemed like a chill thing, so I was into it. And it was a chill thing!

Céleste: Yes, me too I think this was fun. We wanted it to be relaxed so the person could show us who they are. I liked it a lot!

Rose: Yes, thank you!

Short forms

Short forms


Photo Youssef Baati


Deep within myself, I have no doubt
That feminism brought me to sex work.
That I’m a sex worker who consents to what she’s doing.
That the hardest part of my job isn’t even related to the work itself:
The stigma, the shame, the contempt & the rejection. The ignorance & the judgment
From my own mother.
People don’t understand, or simply refuse to believe
That women’s genitals are not weak.
That women’s genitals belong to women.
I use my body as I see fit
With men who benefit from the services I choose to offer
Whenever and however I want.
I am a sex worker
Feminist, honest & proud. 

Collage by Maxime
Collage by Maxime


In dark rooms
Where  all criticisms emerge
The not enoughs and the too-much-this-too-much-that
Hidden in the bra of a girl high on coke
The roaring tigress
The very one responsible for your insomnia
The tigress of doubt
Chewing on my bones
Stunts my growth
I wish us all the opposite of a tiger 



Deep within myself, I have no doubt
That feminism brought me to sex work.
That I’m a sex worker who consents to what she’s doing.
That the hardest part of my job isn’t even related to the work itself:
The stigma, the shame, the contempt & the rejection. The ignorance & the judgment
From my own mother.
People don’t understand, or simply refuse to believe
That women’s genitals are not weak.
That women’s genitals belong to women.
I use my body as I see fit
With men who benefit from the services I choose to offer
Whenever and however I want.
I am a sex worker
Feminist, honest & proud. 

Collage by Maxime

A Very Brief Overview of American Anti-Sex Trafficking Laws’ Racist History

A Very Brief Overview of American Anti-Sex Trafficking Laws’ Racist History

Jesse Dekel

Jesse Dekel at the microphone at our action on May 1st 2021 for International Workers’ Day

This article was first published in a June 2019 issue of Street Sheet (a street newspaper published in San Francisco). I adapted it from an essay I wrote in 2018, shortly after SESTA/FOSTA passed, which was a law supposedly intended to stop sex-trafficking but resulted in the abolition of a very large amount of sex work advertising platforms including and other ubiquitous online ressources.

Reluctantly talk to any proponent of SESTA/FOSTA, and you can hear how moralistic discourse represents sex workers as precarious, agentless victims. This narrative has come out of sex trafficking discourse, to the extent that these arguments render “ sex work ” and “ sex trafficking ” as one of the same, which consequently creates a self-perpetuating problem wherein moral arguments by reactionaries with Christian Missionary savior complexes.  The “ agentless victim of sex trafficking ” narrative further deconstructs the notion of sex work as a legitimate form of labor, which in turn also reinforces these moral arguments. It is difficult to understand why sex work and sex trafficking are confused with each other, but looking at the social and judicial history of sex trafficking laws provides a lot of explanation.

The history of the concept of “ sexual slavery ” began during the Progressive Era1 in the United States. This coincided with the third wave of immigration that happened in the early 20th century, shortly after the Civil War, and after the passing of the 14th Amendment2. Sex workers were then represented as white American girls who were being trafficked by male pimps, who were in turn represented as Black Americans and Jewish immigrants. White women were also portrayed as being drugged or otherwise coerced to move to larger urban areas for sex work, and the narrative of “ innocence ” emerged as well as “ white slavery ” to describe this farcical phenomenon. The term made a distinction between “ chattel slavery ”, of whom the victims were people of color, and “ white slavery ”, which was a more pressing concern because all white sex workers were “ innocent ” and therefore worthy of protection.

This rhetoric also completely ignored how victims of sex traficking at this time were more likely to be Asian women. This is probably because white supremacy deems sexual violence towards Asian women far less of a human rights issue as they’re allegedly not innocent and civilized, but rather promiscuous and foreign.

The anti-sex work movement also coincided with the implementation of explicit and implicit anti-miscegenation laws, in which state officials could still practice racism below the Mason-Dixon line3. One of the most famous being the Mann Act, aka the white-slave Traffic Act which made it a felony to transport “ any girl or woman for immoral purposes or prostitution between countries or across state lines. ” 4Randal Kennedy writes in Race, Crime, and the Law that the Mann Act was used to soothe racist fears of Black sexuality: “ Proponents of the Mann Act constantly deployed the imagery of race to solidify support. They named ‘ white women ’ as the intended beneficiaries of the legislation. They also mobilized support by evoking the specter of purchased interracial sex. ”5

The Mann Act was used to convict people engaged in consensual interracial relationships, and the women were treated as criminals, forced to stand trial against their will. The infamous conviction of Black American boxer Jack Johnson led to a proposed anti-miscegenation amendment to the House of Representatives, as well as multiple laws that passed. In 2018, Johnson has been posthumously pardoned on the grounds that the conviction was (obviously) racially motivated.

White slavery reformers were often suffragettes, Christian groups and social reformers, including the founder of social work Jane Addams. “ White slavery ” began being amorphous in definition, any sort of “ immoral ” female sexuality from white women, was tacitly understood as being akin to sex work and slavery (particularly when the woman was involved with a person of color). Christian groups represented sex work as “ immoral ”, while many suffragettes and social workers regarded it as the exploitation of women. Jane Addams thought that opposition to “ white slavery ” could be used to garner support for the suffragettes and introduce “ social justice ”. She said “ it is quite possible that an … energetic attempt to abolish white slavery will bring many women into the equal suffrage movement. ”

Social work emerged and gained traction, with a goal of rescuing white sex workers. While this was happening, the social purity and social hygiene movements began working alongside moral reformers, first-wave feminists and social workers to develop laws regulating white slavery and sex work. Jane Addams eventually became a vice president for the American Social Hygiene Association, and the “ vigorous attention to social hygiene moved the prostitution debates out of the religious realm and into the realm of science and politics. ” In other words, many of these movements that were heavily associated with segregation and Christian moralism aimed to change their focus from ending the “ immoral ” behaviors of white sex workers to evidence-based research approaches with the intent to abolish sex work.

Social reformist O. Edward Janney remarked on this shift that “ [t]here are many social workers who should know the facts [of sex slavery], and [should] have presented to them methods by means of which they may assist in the suppression of the evil.” In short, with the medicalized model of the Victorian-era, the Christian moralists who used to condemn homosexuality and promote social purity were reworking their discourse into diagnosing “ feeblemindedness ”. Social workers used this diagnosis to explicate sex work and provide evidence as to why sex workers should be ostracized.

It is clear from the history of anti-sex work and “ white slavery ” that moral arguments have been heavily politicized around racist intent and Christian morality. These exact same moralistic arguments have been reworked into SESTA/FOSTA, without even a hint of change. And sex workers are the ones paying the price.

Works Cited

Gillian M. Abel. (2014). “A Decade of Decriminalization: Sex Work ‘down under’ but Not Underground .” Sage Journals, Criminology & Criminal Justice

Nicole F. Bromfield. (2015). “Sex Slavery and Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States.” Sage Journals 

Edward Janney.  (1975) The White Slave Traffic in America. Microfilming Corporation of America.

Randall Kennedy. (1998) Race, Crime, and the Law. Vintage.


1.“ The Progressive Era (1896–1916) was a period of widespread social activism and political reform across the United States of America that spanned the 1890s [after the Civil War] to World War I . Progressive reformers were typically middle-class society women or Christian ministers. The main objectives of the Progressive movement were addressing problems caused by industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and political corruption. “ Wikipedia. (2021). “ Progressive Era ”

2.“ The Fourteenth Amendment (Amendment XIV) to the United States Constitution was adopted on July 9, 1868, as one of the Reconstruction Amendments. Often considered as one of the most consequential amendments, it addresses citizenship rights and equal protection under the law and was proposed in response to issues related to former slaves following the American Civil War. ” Wikipedia. (2021). “ Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution ”

3. “ [D]emarcation line separating four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (part of Virginia until 1863). Historically, it came to be seen as demarcating the North from the South in the U.S. ” Wikipedia. (2021). “ Mason-Dixon line ”

4.Nicole F. Bromfield. (2015). “Sex Slavery and Sex Trafficking of Women in the United States.” Sage Journals, Affilia, p. 132

5.Randall Kennedy. (1998) Race, Crime, and the Law. Vintage.

Sex workers strike against violence

Sex Workers Striking Against Violence!

Interview with Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes

Cari Mitchell is a former sex worker and a member of the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a network of sex workers in the United Kingdom working both outdoors and indoors campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. 1 

In 2000, the ECP organized a sex workers’ strike that was part of the Global Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day. The Global Women’s Strike is an international network campaigning for recognition and payment for all caring work. A sex/work strike was organized again at that date in 2014 and 2019, on these occasions, with other sex workers’ organizations. We asked Cari Mitchell to share her experience as one of the organizers of the strike.

Affiche Pas de féminisme sans les putes
Rally for the decriminalization of sex work in Montreal on March 3, 2022, photo by Youssef Baati

SWAC: Your collective has existed for many years and used many political strategies to obtain rights for sex workers. How did the strike come up as a tactic to obtain decriminilization of sex work? 

C.M.: Our collective which started in 1975 was founded by immigrant sex workers. From the beginning we demanded the abolition of the prostitution laws and for money in women’s hands from governments so we can get out of sex work if and when we want.  It was and still is mostly women that are doing sex work, mostly mothers, mostly single mothers, doing our best to support our families. In the ECP we also fight legal cases against criminal charges such as loitering and soliciting and brothel keeping. Whatever people come to us with, we help them.  We are an organisation of different nationalities, races, ages, sexualities and all genders.

We work closely with other organizations. We are part of the Global Women’s Strike and the campaign for a Care Income Now2. Like other women we want our work of giving birth and raising the next generation to be counted, valued and paid for. And as sex workers we know that if we had that money for the work we are already doing, most of us wouldn’t have gone into prostitution in the first place. We wish that those people who complain about the number of women who have to go into sex work because of poverty and lack of economic alternatives, would instead press the goverment for that money. 

We are based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in London and work closely with Women Against Rape, which is an anti racist, anti-violence against women organization. We also work with disability organizations – we have a number of women in our own network who have disabilities or who have children with disabilities, which is why they are working to get the money to cover the extra costs of dealing with a disability.  Queer Strike which is part of the LGBTQ movement in the UK are also allies as is Support Not Separation which fights against children being taken from their mothers – which is happening here at frightening rates, the excuse being given that mothers are not protecting children against poverty or domestic violence.  This is so outrageous. We know of sex workers who only started working to support their children and then have had them taken away by social services saying they are unfit mothers!  

We have an international network so we learn from everyone’s experiences. Our sister organization in San Francisco is USPROS (The US PROStitutes Collective) and  EMPOWER is our sister organisation in Thailand – who are involved at the moment in the massive struggle for justice in that country. 

We campaign for decriminalisation along the lines of the law that was introduced in New Zealand in 2003 which has been shown to improve sex workers health and safety.  The law removed consenting sex from the criminal law which means that the police now have to prioritise our safety rather than prosecute.    

Women going on strike to demand recognition for their unwaged and low waged work has quite a long history. In 1975, all the women in Iceland went on strike and the whole country ground to a halt.  It was fantastic! There are photos of thousands of women out in the streets. Newscasters had to have their children with them in the studio while they were reading the news about the women being out on strike!

People have always known that withdrawing our labour is a way of bringing attention to the issues we want to raise. On International Women’s Day in 2000, the Global Women’s Strike was organizing a women’s strike in many countries calling on governments to recognise and value all the unwaged work women are doing in the world.  UN figures at the time showed that women are doing two thirds of the world’s work for just 5% of the income and 1% of the assets.  We were already working with sex workers in Soho, London – one of the most well known red light areas in the country. Sex workers there had been part of our network for decades and we had fought a number of campaigns with them against the local Westminster Council trying to close down flats – trying to gentrify the area. Many of the women working in Soho are migrant women and the police targeted them in particular for raids, arrest and deportation but used as an excuse the claim that women were trafficked and needed saving.  When we spoke with them, sex workers from Soho said they wanted to join the International Women’s Day strike. Women there work in walk-up flats – the clients come and knock on the door and wait.  On the Strike day those doors were closed and Soho sex workers came together with others who worked in different places and ways.  We all joined the Global Women’s Strike. 

So that no-one could be identified, all the people on the march wore masks.  No-one could tell who was a sex worker and who wasn’t, it was a fantastic success and there was a lot of publicity. 

In the ECP we try to bring out the truth about sex work-  about who we are and why we are doing it so people can have more of an understanding.  We talk about the effects of criminalization on our safety and how we are workers just like any other workers, that most of us are supporting families both in the UK and in other countries as well. There are so many migrant sex workers sending money home to countries all over the world. These messages came across in our demands in the Strike in 2000 which was a great leap forward. 

We continued to work with sex workers in Soho as Westminster Council continued to pursue them. Some flats were closed and women were driven out onto the streets. Tragically, one woman was murdered in 2000, shortly after the Strike.  She was very well known within our network, we knew all about her. Her name was Lizzie and she was murdered while working on the street shortly after being forced out of a Soho flat.  No sex worker has ever been murdered while working in a Soho flat.  It is 10 times more dangerous to work outside than it is to work indoors with others.  

The prostitution laws make it unlawful for sex workers to work together for safety, they drive the industry underground and so make us all vulnerable to violence.  Under loitering and soliciting laws – just standing on the street and talking to a client, sex workers can be taken to court and convicted on the word of a single police offier.  Once you have a conviction you have a criminal record under sexual offences and it’s pretty much impossible to get out and get another job.  So you’re stuck. The police now often use civil orders which also force women to move out of areas they are familiar with and into darker side streets. If you work in a group for company and safety your colleagues can take your client’s car registration number when you get in the car and you can make sure he knows this.  But that’s not possible if you have to work by yourself in a dark area to avoid coming to the attention of the police. Where police continue to crackdown, violence and murder of sex workers rises. 

Indoors, it’s not illegal to exchange money for sexual services, but everything you have to do to work with others is against the law. More than one woman working from a premises is a brothel and arranging for people to work together, advertising, paying the rent is all unlawful under brothel keeping legislation.  It is  basically illegal to work safely in this country.  Working together means people can look out for each other and learn from each other not only how to work more safely but also for instance to get the money first, how to deal with clients, how to do the job in the quickest time. One of the problems with continued police crackdowns is that most sex workers in this country are now having to work on their own. 

Things have changed though – years ago sex workers used to be described in the press as vice girls, but that doesn’t happen anymore. The press is much more respectful and the public is much more aware of who sex workers are. They know that a lot of us are mothers, migrants, trans, women of color; they know that we are vulnerable women who have few alternatives to sex work. The strikes have been a really effective contribution towards this change. The more recent International Women’s Day strikes were organized by other sex workers organizations but we were very prominent in them, especially in the 2014 and 2019. We did a lot of organizing to get people out and we were very much out there and they were both a great success. It doesn’t always feel like it but things are moving along.

SWAC: Your movement is in favor of decriminalisation and not legalisation. Can you explain why you think this model is the best option for sex workers?

C.M.: Decriminalisation which was won in New Zealand in 2003 has been a verifiable success. It was introduced under health and safety legislation and sex workers there say that they now have more legal and other rights and more protection from violence – they know they will not be prosecuted if they come forward and report violence to the police and under these circumstance violent men are more aware they will not get away with it.  This makes an enormous difference to sex workers safety and is a standard we think should be everywhere.

Legalisation is completely different. It’s state-run prostitution. People have to register with the authorities to work legally and most people are unable to do that.  Legalisation creates a two tier system where if you can afford to be known to be working you’re ok and you can work in the legalised areas or premises – but most of us can’t come out as sex workers.  Who knows what might happen if your child’s school or a social worker or health authorities find out. It’s simply not something most people can do.  In those countries where there is legalisation the prostitution stigma remains, most sex workers don’t register with the authorities and continue to work unlawfully.  In the well known areas where people work outdoors, someone just walking into the area can be identified as a sex worker.  Who can afford that?  Internationally, sex workers are not campaigning for legalisation, we’re campaigning for decriminalisation.  We want all consenting sex to be removed from the criminal law 

SWAC: Your strike was part of a broader women strike in the UK and internationally on International Women’s Day to bring attention to labor exploitation in all aspects of women’s lives. How do you think being a sex worker can compare to other feminised labour or unpaid work such as caregiving and cleaning?

C.M.: In lots of ways it’s similar work. Clients come to us not only because they want sex, but also because they want someone who is sympathetic to them, who will listen to them. Maybe it’s for fifteen minutes, maybe it’s for half an hour, maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s for longer but they want the personal contact, that they are at the center of someone’s attention for that time. 

In fact, one of the women in our network did sex work with a client but  was also working with him as a care worker. She did both jobs with the same person and said it was much more work doing the caring work then it was doing the sex work. 

In 2017, we did a survey which found there were many other jobs that women describe as exploitative and dangerous.3 Sex work is one of the most dangerous jobs women do purely because violent man know that they can get away with being violent to us – they know we’re not going to report anything to the authorities because we don’t want to get prosecuted. That’s how it is.  

That survey was really illuminating. We launched it in the House of Commons and it’s been very useful to show there are many other jobs that are described by women as being particularly exploitative and dangerous – that sex work is not uniquely exploitative. 

In sex work, you can earn a bit more money in a bit less time and that’s very important especially if you’re a mother or you’re doing another job, maybe you’re working in a bank or working another way and you’re doing it to top up your low wages. A lot of people are doing that. Also, if you are a migrant, you don’t have access to jobs in this country in the same way at all. For instance if you’re an asylum seeker you don’t have the right to look for jobs. A lot of people are living in poverty and suffering discrimination - for instance trans people and women of color face racism and other disrimination all the time in the job market - that’s why so many people are driven into the sex industry.

SWAC: How is a sex work strike organized concretely? How can you make sure everyone can participate, even the more precarious ones? The whorearchy (the hierarchisation of different types of sex work as some being more respectable such as stripping or camming then full-service sex work, particularly those who work outside) is one of the factors that affects the amount of criminalization someone will experience. Was this an issue while organizing the strike and how can you address this? 

C.M.: We’ve been going for a long time and have a really big network around the country – as well as internationally.  We’re in touch with people who work outdoors and indoors in many different places and we invited everyone to come to join the 2000 Strike. The organizing meetings were with people who were not only working in Soho but in other places as well.  We sat down and made sure that everybody was able to put forward their suggestions. We were very careful to make sure everybody knew that they would not be public on the day, they would not be recognisable and would be able to take part  without compromising their security in any way.  That they were not going to be identified because everyone would be wearing masks. 

People who worked in many different ways including strippers and people working online took part.  We were really determined not to be divided.  We are all affected by the laws in some way, however we work, but it was very important to us to make sure that people knew we start with the situation of people who work on the street who are most up against the law, are most stigmatised and therefore most vulnerable to the police and to other violence.  So people knew we were not going to have any slagging off of anyone about the way they worked, that’s just not on the agenda. We are all doing it for the money because we need that money and we choose to work in different ways, whichever way fits our lives the best.  I think that’s one of the reasons why we were successful in organizing the 2000 strike and the subsequent ones. Because people knew that we’re not going to be divided against each other.

SWAC: Here in Montreal and Canada, most unions and mainstream feminist organizations are still in favor of the Nordic model. How was it organizing a sex work strike within a bigger feminist movement? How did you find alliance in the left and the feminist movement?

C.M.: Feminists who take a moral stand against prostitution have always been around, but back in 2000, they were not really interested in coming out against us and neither were the unions. Since then Nordic model has been more of an issue and we take every opportunity we can to address it – like going to trade union conferences, speaking out when we’re interviewed with feminists in the press. When you point out that criminalizing clients is going to increase the stigma and drive everybody underground so undermining safety, it’s obvious why we’re against it. Every country where the Nordic model has come in has shown an increase in violence against sex workers. Those women who call themselves feminists and are pressing for the Nordic model are in fact the biggest obstacle to getting decriminalization.  If they would go to the government and say ‘Well, we don’t think women should be in prostitution, but we think that women should have money in their hands so they don’t have to do it’, that would be great !  But they don’t – they take a moral standpoint against prostitution and often make a career out of opposing it as politicians or journalists or academics.  At the 2000 International Women’s Strike, there were thousands and thousands of women marching. There was the odd group of feminists standing on the edges with some odd placards, but they were never in a position to counter what sex workers were saying publicly. 

Women’s safety is something that the government shouldn’t be able to argue about.  We have here a prestigious government committee which spent a year doing an enormous piece of research into prostitution and in 2016 recommended that it be decriminalized, both outdoors and indoors.  Also, crucially that prostitution records be wiped clean so that sex workers can get other jobs. It also recomended prostitution not be conflated with trafficking. But their recommendations were not taken up – the government saying it needed more research which just meant more money in academic’s hands. But even those academics who did do further research were not able to come up with the kind of counter report they had so wanted to produce.  

The laws have to change and they will change.  A divorcee used to be called a “scarlet woman” but not nowadays- things are changed, there has been a women’s movement and decriminalization will happen because sex workers are a key part of that international women’s movement. 

Affiche travailler c'est faire la pute
Rally for the decriminalization of sex work in Montreal on March 3, 2022, photo by Youssef Baati

SWAC: The criticism of borders and the way they are almost always excluded in the trafficking discourse seems to be a big part of your campaign. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

C.M.: We have a lot of immigrant women in our network and a lot of them are seeking asylum, running from other countries and trying to survive. Under UK legislation, people making claims for asylum have to live off of 37 pounds a week4 , a pittance!  So in order to survive and maybe to send some money home, sex work is one of the options people have. 

We also know from our experience not only in Soho but also in cities around the country that the police target migrant sex workers under the guise of saving women from traffickers. We have made it a priority to counter that.  For instance, in Soho, women say ‘look we are not being forced, we are working here because we need to survive and to send money home to our family. Every penny we earn, we send it home to our family’. The only force sex workers are under is the force is not having enough money to survive without doing it.

The best research has shown that less than 6% of migrant sex workers are trafficked. So when we speak publicly we make sure that we counter the publicity that police get when they raid. And it’s clear that these raids don’t have anything to do with saving any women from trafficking but to aid the immigration agenda of the government – which is to deport as many migrant people as possible. Women who are picked up are often sent to immigration centers and deported against their will. Terrible.

SWAC: Now what do you think are the next steps for the sex workers movement in the UK? How does COVID impact the way you mobilize?

C.M.: I’m sure it is the same in your country, but COVID has exacerbated everything. At first, everybody did try to stop working. People were and still are in this horrendous dilemma of either stopping working so you’re not making your family vulnerable to the virus – but then you’ve got no money to feed them. And you can’t pay your landlord if you work indoors.  Or you can decide to continue working and have a bit of money  but then you have to be very very careful with clients – and the police may come after you.   

People who have continued working have taken very careful precautions with clients. During the lockdown, most people have basically stopped because they feared their neighbors or the police or other authorities are going to catch up with them in some way, they will get in trouble with the law and then you have another whole story to deal with.   

Some sex worker organizations were doing a great job of raising money for sex workers who were unable to continue working, and we helped distribute that money around to people in our network who needed it. But we decided that as that good work was going on, we would focus on pressing the government to recognize sex workers as workers, to demand an amnesty from arrests, and to demand that sex workers are able to easily access emergency payments. But the government hasn’t done one single thing to enable sex workers to get that money. We made sure with our public campaigning that this point was very prominent and it did bring together some members of parliament.  We asked everyone on our mailing list to write to their local MP and press them to raise these matters in parliament, and some MPs did do that. The government got back saying ‘Well people can access a benefit called Universal Credit’ which is a benefit that is very hard to access, takes ages to get to you, and isn’t enough to live on.  People in general are much more aware about these very low benefits – so many people in this country are having to rely on them one way or another in order to survive right now. 

The pandemic has clarified a lot of issues, starting with how much caring work women are doing, making sure people in communities have enough food, that they are okay. It also clarified the brutality of the government. For example in care homes, elderly people were not protected from the virus at all. They sent people who were positive with the virus from hospitals and into care homes so then of course, hundreds and thousands of elderly people died. But the government was happy – they haven’t got to pay their pension!  The government recently announced that billions of pounds are going to the military, so we know that they have the money.  They have had to organize a furlough system whereby people get 80% of their salaries if they are temporarily laid off. So we know that the money is there and we know that they have been lying to us when they say there is no money. It is very clear now they didn’t organize to make sure hospital and care home workers had all the protection they needed.  It’s the same with sex workers, they don’t really care if we live or die.  I think people have even more scepticism about the government than before. 

Governments want to keep criminalisation of sex work because they want to keep us all divided, they want to divide us into good girls and bad girls. But we refuse that in the same way that we refuse to be divided as sex workers depending on the different ways we work. In New Zealand, decriminalization hasn’t resulted in an enormous increase of people doing sex work because that depends on the financial situation in the country. It’s just that you are not criminalized for earning money in that way.  Governments have to contend with the international sex worker movement and based on safety and rights, we will win. 

1. You can learn more about the ECP at

2. Care Income now is an international campaign led by the Global Women Strike that advocates for a care income for all those, of every gender, who care for people, the urban and rural environment, and the natural world. For more info:

3. The report of the survey – What’s A Nice Girl Doing In A Job Like This: a comparison between sex work and other jobs commonly done by women, can be found on ECP’s website:

4. Equivalent to 64$ CAD

Open letter – “We don’t want to be saved! We want rights!”

« WE don't want to be saved! we want rights!»

Sex Workers Demands Full Decriminalization of their Work

Criminalization Sex Work Sign

Sex workers cannot be ignored anymore. In unceded territories that we call Canada, like elsewhere around the world, they continue to be targeted by harmful policies that criminalize sex work and sex workers, under the guise of saving them from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. Far from reaching their goals of eradicating the sex industry, these policies instead marginalize and isolate sex workers from social and legal services, and increase their vulnerability to violence. In response to this repression, sex workers organize to demand better working conditions and equally, worker status with the rights and social protections that comes with that. We argue that it isn’t the nature of the work itself (the exchange of sexual services for money) that exposes sex workers to violence, but rather the repressive laws that govern it. 

The implementation of the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) in 2014 made sex work illegal for the first time in Canada. The PCEPA prohibits communicating for the sale of sex in a public space; prohibits advertising the sexual services of another person; prohibits profiting materially from sex work; and criminalizes the purchase of sexual services in any and all contexts. This legislative regime, advocated by many anti-prostitution feminist groups, claims to eliminate demand by criminalizing clients and third parties in order to abolish the sex industry. In fact, since its passage, this law has made sex workers more precarious and vulnerable to violence. By representing sex workers as victims, these laws normalize rather than combat violence against them.

Indeed, these laws create unsafe and exploitative work environments and maintain substandard working conditions. These conditions are the source of sex workers’ daily worries, ranging from difficulties in getting paid to the impossibility of denouncing violence by clients, employers and law enforcement through legal procedures. For those who work independently, criminalization remains an issue, as clients are less likely to provide important security information such as their real identity. This makes it difficult for sex workers to create and maintain important safety mechanism at work, and has led to the murder of several sex workers. For those who work on the street, the prohibition on communicating for the sale of sexual services in public spaces (near parks, schools and daycares) means that they end up working in secluded, poorly lit areas – out of reach of being witnessed – putting them at greater risk of violence. Immigration laws in addition to criminal provisions around sex work encourage more surveillance of migrant sex workers in the industry, and as a result, they may face loss of status, detention, and deportation if their work is discovered – even if they work in legal sectors of the industry such as licensed massage parlors and strip clubs. 

 Decriminalization was implemented in New Zealand 20 years ago, and as a result, sex workers are able to put safety mechanisms into place for their work and seek recourse when they experience violence on the job. This government has just started to initiate its mandated task of studying the impacts of PCEPA, even though it should’ve been done five years after its implementation. Time is running out, as sex workers continue to suffer the impacts of criminalization!

We need to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act and decriminalization of sex work now! 

Protest Militantes
Sign the open letter here!

This letter was signed by 77 individuals and 56 organizations, all over the unceded indigenous territories that we call Canada, in different sectors: unions, academic, arts, harm reduction, STI prevention, women, migrant, indigenous and trans rights.


  1. Tables des organismes montréalais de lutte contre le sida (TOMS)
  2. Stella, l’amie de Maimie
  3. Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC)
  4. Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (SWWAC)
  5. Answer Society
  6. HIV Legal Network
  7. Peers Victoria Resources Society
  8. Projet LUNE
  9. Solidarité Sans Frontière 
  10. Après l’Asphalte
  11. Tout.e ou pantoute podcast
  12. Closet space Winnipeg
  13. Defund the police
  14. Plein Milieu
  15. Centre Associatif Polyvalent d’Aide hépatite C (CAPAHC)
  16. Chapitre Montréalais des Socialiste Démocratiques du Canada 
  17. Projet Intervention Prostitution Québec (PIPQ)
  18. Fondation Filles d’Action
  19. AlterHéros
  20. 2fxflematin
  21. Syndicat des travailleuses et travailleurs en intervention communautaire (STTIC-CSN)
  22. Aide aux trans du Québec (ATQ)
  23. No Borders Media
  24. Queer McGill
  25. Midnight Kitchen
  26. Collectif Un Salaire Pour Toustes les Stagiaires (SPTS)
  27. Collectif Opposé à la Brutalité Policière (COBP)
  28. REZO -santé et mieux-être des hommes gais et bisexuels, cis et trans
  29. BRUE
  30. PIAMP
  31. Pivot Legal Society
  32. Réseau d’aide aux personnes seules et itinérantes de Montréal (RAPSIM)
  33. Sphère – Santé sexuelle globale
  34. Dopamine
  35. AIDS Community Care Montreal (ACCM)
  36. Defund Network 604
  37. Projet de Travailleurs de Soutien aux Autochtones (PTSA)/Indigenous Support Workers Project (ISWP)
  38. Indigenous Sex Work and Art Collective (ISWAC) 
  39. Game Workers Unite Montréal
  40. Rue Action prévention (RAP Jeunesse)
  41. Sex Worker Aotearoa Network
  42. Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project
  43. PIECE Edmonton
  44. Moms stop the harm
  45. Collectif NU.E.S
  46. Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity
  47. AGIR: Action LGBTQ+ avec les et les réfugié.es
  48. Comité d’intervention infirmière anti-oppressive (UdeS)
  49.  Les 3 sex*
  50. Quebec Public Interest Research Group (QPIRG) Condordia
  51. Association des travailleuses et travailleurs de rue du Québec (ATTRueQ)
  52. Sex Workers Industrial Movement (SWIM)
  53. Collages féminicides Montréal
  54. IRIS Estrie
  55. HIV Community Link Society
  56. Syndicat Associatif des Autonomes du Québec (S’ATTAQ)


  1. Maria Nengeh Mensah – Professor
  2. Dr Gary Kinsman
  3. Kamala Kempadoo – Professor
  4. Dr Mary Sherman – Co-coordinator of the Indigenous Support Worker Project
  5. Mollie Bannerman – Director of Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative
  6. Louise Toupin – Ally
  7. Marlihan Lopez – Coordinator of  Simone de Beauvoir Institute et vice-president of the Fédération des femmes du Québec (FFQ)
  8. Ted Rutland – Professor et writer
  9. Kiki Lafond – Coordinator of the sex work programm at RÉZO
  10. Robert Paris – Director of Pact de Rue
  11. Audrey Monette – Criminologist
  12. Mary-Anne Poutanen
  13. Christine Wingate – Director of Moms Stop The Harm
  14. Petra Schulz – Cofounder of Moms Stop The Harm
  15. Fadwa Bahman – Communications coordinator for Queer McGill
  16. Dr. Jess Rowan Marcotte – Community organizer and artist
  17. Émilie Roberge – Community organizer on overdose prevention at TOMS and student in social work
  18. Laura Augustin –  Researcher
  19. Pam Plourde – Sexologie doctoral candidate
  20. Alexandre Lamontagne – Student in social work
  21. Chacha Enriquez- College professor
  22. Marie LaRochelle – NPO consultant and podcaster
  23. Laurence Bouchard – Special educator
  24. Seeley Quest – Activist
  25. Ana Vujosevic – Coordinator of the Women and HIV/AIDS Initiative (WHAI) Coordinator at Moyo Health and Community Services
  26. Jean-Philippe Bergeron – Outreach worker at Dopamine
  27. Dr. Nathan Dawthorne – Anthropologist, male sex work researcher, mental health advocate
  28. Angela Carter – Outreach worker
  29. Donny Basilisk – Sex woker
  30. Zakiyyah Boucaud – Student and sex worker
  31. Dawn-Marie – Community helper
  32. Megane Christensen – Outreach worker
  33. Amélie Ouimet – Sexologist
  34. Anaïs Gerentes – Candidate à la maîtrise en travail social
  35. Tonye Aganaba – Musician and community worker
  36. Britany Thiessen – Union officer
  37. Rosalie Vaillancourt – Comedian
  38. Mallory Lowe – Visual Artist
  39. Léo Mary- Communication coordinator at TOMS
  40. Anne Archet- Writer
  41. Sandrine Blais – Counselor
  42. Josée Leclerc – Counselor
  43. Melina May – Sex worker and activist at SWAC
  44. Adore Goldman – Sex worker and activist at SWAC
  45. Samantha Knoxx – Sex worker
  46. Pandora Black – Sex worker and activist
  47. Kristen Wiltshire – Activist
  48. Jelena Vermilion
  49. Francis Sheridan Paré
  50. Maxime Holliday
  51. Sam Funari
  52. Magdalene Klassen
  53. Jesse Dekel
  54. Lana Amator
  55. Rida Hamdani
  56. Gaëlle Anctil-Richer
  57. Ellie Ade Kur
  58. Valérie Comeau
  59. Mason Windels
  60. Lysandre M.G.
  61. Éliane Bonin
  62. Nadia Duguay
  63. Moriah Scott
  64. Virginia Potkins
  65. Chanelle Deville
  66. Sophie Hallée
  67. Ivy Sinclair
  68. Catherine Desjardins-Béland
  69. Jonathan McPhedran Waitzer
  70. Rev David Driedger
  71. Roxane Barnabé
  72. Raphaëlle Auger
  73. Mallory Bateman
  74. Juliette Pottier-Plaziat
  75. Charlie Fraser
  76. Geneviève Smith-Courtois
  77. Heather Day

Crusade Against Pornography, From Yesterday to Now

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Crusade Against Pornography, From Yesterday to Now

Adore Goldman et céleste

Translated by Melina May

Women holding a sign written "Support your local pornstar" on it : ...
Photo from the film The Naked Feminist. Marlene Willoughby is seen demonstrating in front of Ms. Magazine.

On August 17th, a bomb was dropped on sex workers (SWers): OnlyFans is banning pornography! For many, it’s an income to make ends meet that has just disappeared. The whole thing is even more shocking considering that the platform enormously benefited from the shift to online sex work  during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of subscribers increasing from 7.9 million to 85 million in one year of the pandemic.1 A few days after the announcement, the site eventually announced its suspension. Through the grapevine, we hear that the credit companies were behind the censorship of SWers on Onlyfans. In fact, changes to Mastercard’s adult sites conditions coincided with the date of OnlyFans’ terms of service.2

Behind closed doors, capital is buddy-buddy with the guardians of morality. Those who crusade against pornography would apparently be motivated by the fight against sex trafficking, “ revenge porn 3 and child exploitation. You can’t be against virtue after all. The Traffickinghub campaign’s spokesperson, Laila Micklewait, even proclaims herself a feminist! Along with the National Center On Sexual Exploitation, these groups are leaders of this holy war on porn and have great  credibility: they are invited to testify in parliament, or even in the New York Times, without anyone ever questioning their motives as they are so virtuous. Yet, hell is indeed paved with good intentions! Good intentions that could turn out to be particularly destructive for the working conditions of SWers!

It is sometimes difficult to understand why, as SWers,  we always get kicked around from one website to another, even though we are an important source of income for these platforms and credit companies. We propose in this article to explain the genesis, certainly incomplete, of these anti-pornography groups, their struggles, victories and defeats, in order to understand the forces at work. Because after all, you need to understand your enemies in order to fight them! 

80’s – 90’s: Sleeping With the Enemy
The Rise of the Anti-Pornography Movement

The anti-pornography movement was born in the late 70s and crystallized in the 80s. At the time, a certain fringe of the feminist movement fought – rather ironically – alongside the Christian conservative right to ban sexually explicit content. While seemingly sharing similar goals, both movements fought through separate organizations, although they did collaborate on a few occasions. However, they oppose each other on other issues – think abortion – and fight pornography for different reasons. Nancy Witthier and Kelsey Burke, both experts on the relationship between religious and feminist anti-pornography movements, call them “ strange bedfellows   or “ friennemies .

Like radical feminists, but for different reasons, groups organized around the American religious right seek to eradicate the sex industry. They see pornography as a threat to the traditional family. The group Morality in the Media, still active as the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE), campaigns not only against pornography, but also against a variety of visual material it considers as obscene, ranging from erotic novels to Walt Disney, alleging a crisis of values. Even in 2018, NCOSE was campaigning to have Cosmopolitan magazine removed from Walmart shelves. According to the organization’s website, the group was formed following an incident in which an unidentified individual placed pornographic material just a few meters from a school playground. Parents, distraught at the thought of their children being exposed to this material, turned to their local priests, and the organization was born. One of their first campaign was to put up stickers everywhere that said “ SAVEOURCHILDREN and a local phone number.   Their concern is therefore more about exposure to pornography – by a very broad definition – and the supposed moral decay that follows than it is about sexual exploitation.

While Christian conservatives attempted legal battles at that time, radical feminists were relatively more successful in this domain. For them, pornography was seen not only as encouraging violence, but as a form of violence in itself that was against women’s rights. Several feminist groups dedicated to its abolition were formed in the late 70s and were active in the 80s in several American cities, such as Women Against Pornography, Women Against Violence in Pornography and Media, Women Against Violence Against Women and, Feminists Fighting Pornography. Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon are prominent figures of this movement. Together they signed the Anti-Pornography Ordinance, a legal proposal to make pornography a violation of women’s rights. This proposal was adopted in the cities of Minneapolis and Indianapolis, and then considered as being contrary to the right to freedom of expression by the federal Court.

Within the feminist movement, pornography, as well as sex work and sado-masochistic relationships, are breaking points between radical feminists and the so-called pro-sex feminists. This clash of values is often referred to as the feminist sex-war or the porn-war. Among those who defend the right of women to watch and make pornography are lesbian authors and activists Gayle Rubin and Pat Califa.

Thus, in the 80s and 90s, radical feminists succeeded where the Christian right failed: censoring pornography at the legal level, although these victories were short-lived. In Canada, the Supreme Court, in R. v. Butler, used MacKinnon’s legal analysis in its definition of obscenity. The latter allows pornography to be included in this legal category on the grounds that it would undermine gender equality and, thus, should be censored. Ironically, although it has had little impact on heterosexual pornography, this law led to the seizure of a significant number of gay and lesbian authors’ books at Canadian customs. The Little Sisters bookstore in Vancouver, which specializes in gay and lesbian literature, sued the Government of Canada following the seizure of several books on the ground of obscenity, and the Supreme Court recognized in 2000 that this was a breach of freedom of expression.

The Years 2000-2010: Right-Wing Feminists
The Rebranding of Right-Wing Groups and their Political Influence

In the early 2000s, the anti-pornography feminist movement lost traction. Ironically, according to Nancy Witthier and Kelsey Burke, this decline enabled the revival of right-wing Christian groups who were, at this point, ” rebranding “. For example, the group Morality in the Media became the National Center On Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) in 2015. Sex trafficking then became the focus of these groups’ campaigns, alongside the fight against LGBTQ+ rights and against abortion rights.  Consequently, the decline of the anti-pornography movement allowed religious right groups to appropriate the discourse and strategies of the 1980s feminist movement.

Driven by Benjamin Nolot, the group Exodus Cry was formed in 2007 as a Christian prayer group affiliated with the International House of Prayer Kansas City (IHOPKC).  It is now a major player in the fight against pornography. This group prayed for an end to sex trafficking and human trafficking. These Dominionist Christians are known for their homophobic and anti-abortion views, among other things.  Behind these vain wishes, the real intentions of Exodus Cry are to abolish the commercial sex industry completely, including full service sex work and pornography, as written verbatim as their mission in their tax declaration. In their mind, helping  human trafficking victims means saving all the allegedly exploited SWers. To achieve their aims, their methods are diverse and include: lobbying governments throughout North America to push legislations in line with their ideologies, rehabilitating SWers, establishing media campaigns – which are supposedly against human trafficking, producing seemingly progressive films that are actually tainted with religious propaganda and right-wing conservative ideologies, etc. Melissa Gira Grant, American journalist and author of Playing the Whore explains that the actions of these not-entirely-transparent religious groups are detrimental to the lives of the SWers they claim to save:

As a result of their years spent building influence, “ fighting trafficking ” as defined by these groups has also led to policies to defund AIDS programs that worked with sex workers and instead support programs mandating abstinence over condoms. Catholic groups used fighting trafficking to block funding to anti-trafficking programs that offered referrals for birth control and abortion.

To achieve their goals, these groups have gained notorious political influence over time and rally both conservative and liberal fringes of American politics. In order to build their credibility, Exodus Cry denies any affiliation with IHOPKC. However, as Gira-Grant reports, these two groups were still organizing partnered events as recently as March 2020.

Collage by Maxime



It must be said that the rise of Internet has changed the face of the sex industry, from pornography to escort services, giving way to new moral panics. In 2018, Backpage, a site that published classified ads and famously hosted sexual service advertisements, was seized by federal authorities on the pretext of facilitating sex trafficking and exploitation of minors on its platform. The site’s founders now face charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering, but there is no question of sex trafficking. In September 2021, the judge declared a mistrial because prosecutors alluded too much to the exploitation of minors on the platform, while the defendants were not facing such charges.21

Nevertheless, Backpage’s lawsuit is a first: the Communications Decency Act, passed in 1996, provides for platforms that primarily publish content created by third parties not to be responsible for what the latter publish.22 In other words, Backpage was not considered responsible for the content published by its users. A few days after Backpage was seized in 2018, the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) were passed by the U.S. Senate to correct this legal loophole. From now on, platforms that knowingly host content that facilitates prostitution will be held responsible.23 These laws, which are supposed to tackle sex trafficking, cast a much wider net: they criminalize any site hosting content associated with prostitution. It is therefore no surprise that several social media platforms, such as Tumblr and Instagram, have decided to change their standards to no longer accept SWer content on their platform.24 25

Since then, SESTA-FOSTA has had devastating effects on SWers. A survey conducted by the Hacking/Hustling Collective following the passage of the law shows that 72.45% of respondents attributed their economic instability to the closure of many ad sites and 33.8% of respondents observed an increase in violence from clients.26 This is because economic insecurity makes SWers more vulnerable to violence and, ironically, to sex trafficking. As pointed out by Caty Simon of Whose Corner is it Anyway, a group of low-income sex workers who experience residential instability, work on the street and/or use opiates and stimulants:

I think one of the many myths […] is this idea that there is a straight binary between trafficking and consensual sex work. It’s just like saying that because labor exploitation exists, all labor is somewhat coercitive, which it is […] under capitalism. There is a spectrum of choice and coercion in every single employment decision that everybody makes. But the problem is that you create an environment that rife trafficking whenever criminalization intensifies. […] [When] Backpage went down, what happened […] is that consensual sex worker became vulnerable of being trafficked. Cause if you don’t have those tools in order to be an independant sex worker […] you have people that had to find their parties.27

Thus, the closure of Backpage and SESTA-FOSTA acted as a catalyst for violence against sex workers. Yet for groups like NCOSE and Exodus Cry, these events paved the way for a new campaign to abolish pornography…


Would you sign a progressive, modern, and inclusive-sounding petition that presents several true stories of sex trafficking, human trafficking, and exploitation of minors that wants to hold Pornhub accountable for facilitating these criminal activities? I would, but it’s too good to be true.

The campaign against Pornhub, called Traffickinghub, was released in February 2020.28 Its spokesperson is none other than Laila Mickelwait, who was herself an employee of IHOPKC from 2011 to 2014.29 The words “Powered by Exodus Cry”, which were written at the bottom of Traffickinghub‘s website until mid-November 2021, tarnish this fine image of a supposed social justice advocate. The fact that this phrase is no longer displayed on the Traffickinghub website demonstrates, once again, the meticulous efforts implemented to seemingly distance themselves from these religious groups. However, It should not be forgotten that they are intertwined nonetheless.

Under its noble and authentic image, Exodus Cry is pushing for more than just reprisals against MindGeek, which owns several pornography sites like Pornhub, YouPorn and Redtube.30  Moreover, this kind of campaign is just a continuity of the war against sex work started by the same american conservative groups in the early 80s. Still, they have added a very effective weapon to their already powerful arsenal: mimicking their secularism and feminist concerns to rally as many people as possible to their noble struggle to save the sex trafficking victims. They know that by copying progressive rhetoric, they can rally more people to their cause and pursue their hidden agenda.

For its part, NCOSE runs a similar campaign, the Dirty Dozen, publishing on their platform each year twelve sites accused of promoting and profiting from sexual exploitation.31 The 2020 edition included sites used by SWers to advertise their services online or in person, such as Twitter, OnlyFans, Massage Envy, Reddit, and Seeking Arrangement but also sites accused of publishing representations of sexual acts like Netflix, or ones that are known for collaborating with Mindgeek like Wish and Visa.

Their popularization techniques are working quite well since the Traffickinghub campaign went viral; it has collected just over 2 million signatures and has caused quite a stir.32 Indeed, the article The Children of Pornhub by Nicholas Kristof, a columnist for the New York Times, shook many as it presented detailed stories of young victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation.33 This article mentioned the Traffickinghub petition, giving it more traction. This is just one of many examples where violence experienced by children, women and SWers is used against them. These so-called saviors end up establishing conditions and measures that further disadvantage the victims and/or workers. Samantha Cole, in her article on this subject, summarizes the phenomenon quite well: “ TraffickingHub’s arrival tapped into something sex workers have been talking about for some time, but has only recently reached mainstream conversations. ”34

Indeed, it is important to hold the porn industry giant accountable for its faults: SWers have been complaining about Pornhub’s moderation problems for several years, which allows stolen and non-consensual content to end up there. However, this is not a problem that belongs only to adult sites: it is also the case with  all sites that allow third parties to import content. According to data from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 95% of child sexual abuse content is found on Facebook, with 21,7 million incidents reported.35 By comparison, Mindgeek reported 13,229, which is less than Twitter, Google, Snapchat and TikTok and more than a 1,000 times less than Facebook.36

Undeniably, the concrete consequences of these campaigns fall on the workers of the porn industry and not on  big companies. This kind of viral campaign caused Visa and Mastercard to stop supporting payments on Pornhub a few days after the New York Times article was published.37 This measure had no impact on the company, which makes the most of its revenues from advertising. On the other hand, verified creators suffered, as all programs allowing to monetize content on the platform have been abolished. It was also after these events that Mastercard decided to put more restrictions on adult websites, which was behind the OnlyFans fiasco.

These campaigns have also driven the Canadian government to take actions. The House of Commons’ Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics launched a commission of inquiry into MindGeek in the winter of 2021.38 Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, denounced the committee’s refusal to hear testimonies from SWers, saying that they were only interested in non-consensual videos. The committee did, however, allow Laila Micklewait to speak, despite her ties to the religious right.

The recommendations that may follow this parliamentary commission are likely to impact  SWers, who may be asked for more and more information by sites that host their content. Such measures could be particularly disadvantageous for those who use adult content creation as a means of survival. After all, pornography is part of platform economy and the vast majority of porn production now consistutes of individuals or couples with a camera or smartphone. By asking them for more and more paperwork, they will force them to no longer be able to meet the ever-more-complicated terms of service. On the other hand, such policies would favor the return of the big studios in the industry who have the money to pay for lawyers.

Although still a speculation, the Conservatives are seizing the opportunity to achieve their goals: Senator Julie Miville Dechênes and Conservative MP Arnold Vierssen have both introduced Bills S-20339 and C-30240 in the House of Commons. These laws would make Internet providers and producers of pornography legally liable if minors are able to access sexually explicit content or even advertisement of such content. It should be noted that once again, the Conservatives are hiding behind progressive concerns: the purpose of Bill S-203 is to “ protect Canadians — in particular, young persons and women — from the harmful effects of the exposure of young persons to sexually explicit material, including demeaning material and material depicting sexual violence ”.41 The preamble to this bill states that “ the consumption of sexually explicit material by young persons is associated with a range of serious harms,including the development of pornography addiction, the reinforcement of gender stereotypes and the development of attitudes favourable to harassment and violence — including sexual harassment and sexual violence — particularly against women ”42, although these claims are contested by many researchers. While these proposals died before they could be passed into  laws  when the last federal election was called, there is no reason that they could not be brought back to the table.

This kind of legislation has precedent: in France, the Avia Law and  the Law on Domestic Violence in 2020 both made porn sites responsible for verifying the age of users.43 The simple fact of checking that one is of age is not enough; it is now necessary to import files of proof of identity. The law authorizes the Conseil Supérieur de l’Audiovisuel to block sites in France that do not comply with it. These laws have been strongly denounced by the Syndicat du Travail Sexuel (STRASS), which argues that this law greatly penalizes SWers working on the Internet who do not have the resources necessary to implement these kinds of verifications. Once again, these laws are passed in the name of women’s rights! However, they betray the right-wing vision of sexuality: instead of investing in the sexual education of young people, they decide to blame the porn industry and repress SWers at the same time!

Collage by Maxime



Far from achieving the utopia imagined by radical feminists in the 80s, they have instead encouraged the censorship of pornography that continues to unfairly target the working conditions of thousands of individuals, especially women and trans/queer people. The #AcceptanceMatters campaign, launched by adult content creators in response to the announcement of Mastercard’s intended changes, reminds, quite rightfully, that LGBTQ+ people are overrepresented in the porn industry because of the barriers to traditional employment, and that these changes will only make their living conditions worse.44 By making our lives more precarious, these campaigns are exposing us to more violence, not the other way around. Let’s remember that this repressive shift taken by credit companies like Mastercard is directly linked to the right-wing religious lobby. It is therefore not surprising that the attacks on pornography crack down on those whose sexuality is the most taboo, the ones that we try to hide behind the bedroom’s doors.

It may seem unusual that credit companies would allow the moral standards of the new religious right to disturb their profits. After all, they are not themselves known for their love of morality and the common good when it comes to making money. The analysis of intellectuals Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis on this subject is interesting: 

Today, the institutionalization of repression and self-discipline along the line of the Moral Majority and the New Christian Right is required for both ends of the working-class spectrum: for those who are destined to temporary, part-time subsistence level of wages (accompanied by long hours of work or a perennial quest for jobs), as well as for those who are elected to a “meaningful wage,” working with the most sophisticated equipment capital’s technologists are now able to produce. […] From Wall Street to the Army, all of capital’s utopias are predicated on an infinitesimal micropolitics at the level of the body, curbing our animal spirits, and redefining the meaning of that famous Pursuit of Happiness that (so far at least) has been the biggest of all constitutional lies.45

Understood in this way, the morality of the radical Christian right-wing fits perfectly with capitalist ideology, which always seeks to further discipline and rationalize bodies, especially in regard to sexuality. This is why “ The dangers of sexuality are emblematic of the obstacles that capital encounters in the attempt to create a totally self-controlled being ”46. The repression of pornography is therefore necessary to create docile and disciplined workers and  make sure that sexuality does not go beyond the restricted framework we assign to it in our lives: between four walls, preferably those of the bedroom, between two people, out of sight. To achieve this ideal of advanced capitalism, it is essential to make sex disappear from all public spaces, whether on the Internet or in our streets. Understood in this sense, fighting pornography cannot be a feminist or leftist project! On the contrary, it is well and truly a capitalist project, and SWers are “ deviant bodies ” that capital cannot allow. We are only the first victims, and our struggle goes hand in hand with those who, like us, fight against it.

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No One Left Behind: The Fight to decriminalize Migrant Sex Work in New Zealand – Interview with Dame Catherine Healy from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

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No One Left Behind: The Fight to decriminalize Migrant Sex Work in New Zealand – Interview with Dame Catherine Healy from the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective


In 2003, the Prostitution Reform act was passed which decriminalized sex work for New Zealand citizens as well as permanent residents. However, decriminalization was not extended to migrant sex workers. This has resulted in two decades of exploitation, with coercion and criminalization for migrants who choose to participate in sex work in New Zealand, because they can’t access the same working rights available to other sex workers. This year, a parliamentary petition was launched by sex worker and organizer Pandora Black in order to repeal Section 19 of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 and apply the same labour rights and protections that citizens and permanent residents enjoy to Visa-holding migrant sex workers. I talked to Dame Catherine Healy, founder of the New Zealand Sex Workers’ Collective (NZPC), about the current legislation and how it came about, as well as sex worker organizing around this issue in Aotearoa1. Catherine Healy is also a sex worker’s right activist, a field reasercher and a former sex worker. This is what she had to say.

Jesse: In 2003, the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalized sex work for citizens and permanent residents, but not for migrants sex workers. How are migrants treated under the current Prostitution Reform Act?

Dame Catherine Healy: I want to say that we were absolutely devastated when that was a condition for decrim which was put in at the 11th hour by then minister of immigration Lianne Dalziel who had been lobbied by anti-trafficking activists. She made her support conditional on the fact that migrants wouldn’t be able to come to this country with the intention of becoming sex workers, and it made no sense to us. And as a consequence, everything you can imagine that would happen in terms of sex work criminalization has happened and continues to happen. Migrant sex workers are sometimes targeted because it’s common knowledge that they’re working in breach of our sex work legislation in terms of immigration and are therefore forced to work in a criminalized way.

Also, authorities look for them with the pretext that they’re trying to see if migrant sex workers are victims of trafficking, and this is really terrifying. Immigration authorities will go out several at a time, and in one scenario that I heard described about 20 officers surrounded a particular brothel to look to see if there were trafficked sex workers in there. Its extremely scary for people in this situation who have elected to be sex workers, and who have the right to work in any other way in this country, bar sex work. So, it is of grave concern. And of course, if you are deported you are served a “ deportation liability notice ” which can document the fact that you’ve been a sex worker in this country and linked in breach of that legislation, which is incredibly stigmatising for people who have been deported back to their own countries where frequently and often enough, sex work is not suported.

So, the law is if you come to this country with the intention of being a sex worker and require a work visa, you are not allowed to be a sex worker. It causes a lot of harm. And we’ve had sex workers who have been assaulted and who have been afraid to report these assaults to the police. We’ve had staff in hospitals contact us and say “ Look we’re dealing with someone and they need your support ” and then we find out that the person is a migrant sex worker who has been beaten up or robbed or worse. And these are direct consequences of a law that continues to criminalize them as they’re directly exposed to harms that they shouldn’t be exposed to as a consequence of this legislation.

Jesse: How has working as a migrant sex worker in New Zealand changed since the advent of the Prostitution Reform Act?

Dame Catherine Healy: Prior to the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003, the sex workers who were arrested predominantly weren’t migrant sex workers, they were New Zealand citizens. So, we had that experience throughout our different communities of being arrested and taken to court.The law didn’t impact previously on migrant sex workers as much as it does now. They are the population who are exposed to being tipped to immigration on searches for victims of so-called trafficking.

Jesse: Yeah, anti-sex trafficking legislations are steeped in these racist reforms and it’s the same all over the world. I was thinking about that earlier this year when, in the UK, the parliament was considering passing the Sexual Exploitation Bill and all these liberal NGOs who are of course funded by billionaires and complicit in the military industrial complex and actually do participate in egregious acts are fronting against so-called  “ sex-trafficking ” while they themselves are involved with these atrocities. It’s quite hypocritical and disgusting.

Dame Catherine Healy: It is. I think that’s the thing. You have a groundswell of people who are earnest about labor rights, and they are attracted to talking about reform in this respect. The terminology “ modern day slavery ” has come up on the back of anti-trafficking discourse. There’s quite the eclectic group of people with an interest in unions and with an interest in improving labor conditions that have been attracted into these discussions but we’ve got to be so careful in developing legislation in which sloppy words like “ exploitation ” are really defined carefully so that we’re not adding and causing harm.

This is our lot in this country as people concerned about the rights, and safety, and health, and well-being of sex workers, that there not be legislation that’s going to contribute even more harm. We need to get political action to repeal the legislation that is causing harm against migrants in this country. We’ve been waiting since 2003 for a balance in the parliament where we think we could garner enough support to see the repeal of this legislation, but even so we feel that the politicial support is going to be very hard to build so its a real struggle to get understanding in relation to how things could improve so dramatically with good labour rights and with good immigration rights for sex workers who are migrants.

Jesse: What is the government’s narrative for decriminalizing sex work for New Zealand citizens and permanent residents but still not allowing it for migrant sex workers? How do you answer to that?

Dame Catherine Healy: At the time in 2003, when the vote went through, 120 politicians were allowed to vote and one politician abstained. He felt so conflicted that he was unable to vote for or against and so it passed into legislation by one vote but it was a very contested piece of legislation. It wasn’t promoted by the government of the day as it was just one member of the parliament who took it through as a private member bill and then prime minister Helen Clark supported it. There were people in her own government and party who opposed the bill and there were people in the opposition parties who supported it (the Green Party for example supported it entirely) and we do believe they would support the repeal of the migrant legislation entirely today as well. The government also thought to couch the legislation with a moral code: they said that while they supported the decriminalization of prostitution, they didn’t morally endorse it. So there was an attitude that the legislation wasn’t a quite comfortable fit with the government and I think a part of that rational for the particular wording used had to do with government not wanting to be in the position of ever being accused of coercing people into sex work. For example, some people ask why can’t Work and Income (which is our big government welfare agency and a part of the Ministry of Social Development) promote the fact that brothels have spaces for sex workers to work in? And the government would claim they don’t allow that because they could be accused of saying “ Get off your job seekers benefit and go work in a brothel ” and that would morally compromise the government.

So I think the fact that the legislation places sex workers at its heart proves that the aims of the Act are to protect the human rights of sex workers, et cetera and that is a good thing, but we had a lot to do with the writing of the legislation that we couldn’t control as it went into the political environment and was pulled in so many different directions by the debates that occurred in that context. Including the debate that the politicians had to vote on inside the full committee of the parliament, and that’s where a lot of the changes occurred. We couldn’t control the fact that the anti-migrant clause was put in there; we could say that we didn’t agree with it, but we ultimately couldn’t control it once it was in that context. So yes, I think while fighting for the law in respect to sex workers there’s always going to be something on the horizon. It’s a long, long process and we can make choices, but it’s always going to be hard to get exactly what you want. Some people will hold out until they get exactly what they want, but we chose not to. We chose to go with what we could get and push as many people onto the bus as we could.

I can’t speak for the government as a whole, but I know that there are still people inside our government who really believe that part of the legislation that is anti-migrant has actually curbed the potential for people to be trafficked. I don’t understand how they believe that knowing that the evidence doesn’t show that at all, and that the evidence in fact shows the reverse to be true. It shows that the existing legislation which is anti-migrant creates an environment where migrants can be exploited, and are indeed targeted and are victims of horrible crimes because of that vulnerability. Because they are not able to work here with the legal support available to all other sex workers. It’s really hard, people dig in and they form these opinions, and I think sometimes they just cannot see the wood for the trees with issues that impact sex workers. There’s this perception that migrants are not fully fledged in some way, that they’re not particularly able to make their minds up. I think there’s a racist undercurrent which happens in relation to our biggest migrant population who are coming in from Southeast Asian countries where the perception may well be that they are victims of gangs or being trafficked around the world against their will. The notion that these are actually people making their own minds up to move here, and are also making certain decisions in relation to their circumstances about the way in which they navigate different systems and how they move around the world, is a foreign concept to a lot of the lobbyists who are determined to conceive of these migrants as trafficked and vulnerable.

Jesse: NZPC has existed since the 80s. How did sex work organizing address issues relating to migrant sex workers? How do you create alliances with the broader movement for the rights of migrant people?

Dame Catherine Healy: Going back to our history, I think in 1987 we started, but in 1988 we contracted with government and also coincidentally that’s when noticeably a lot of sex workers were coming to work in New Zealand from Southeast Asian countries. Airfares had become cheaper and there were a lot of patterns of migration. Auckland for example has become a big city where I think a fifth of the population are people who would identify as coming from that cluster of Southeast Asian countries and inevitably building alliances there similar to what’s happening in wider societies. So it’s not acceptable to think there is just a certain response that’s going to be one size fits all, you’re going to have to build alliances and work out.

For us back then we were setting up clinics in our community bases, and we were working closely with the sexual health team as they established an outreach service with us so we could provide outreach that was culturally appropriate and was led by people with sex work experience from Thailand, and similarly there were clinics set up specifically for sex workers from Thailand and this was also the case later on with sex workers who were coming in from China and different countries in that region.

And yes, I think that you have to build alliances and of course we have a migrant education information project with a worker who is involved with that and who is from those communities and can reach out and provide support. I think there are definitely other issues that affect migrants, for example contract work to be an independent contractor if you’re a student and you’re coming to study in this country. You’re an international student so it’s not possible to be an independent contractor, which sex workers are and are regarded to be and so there’s a push to allow for people to be independent contractors. As a student you can work for 20 hours a week here if you’re a migrant or an international student but some people would say “ Okay that’s very difficult to work just as an employee ” And they prefer to be independent contractors so I think it’s important to support movements that affect other populations.

We’ve worked on different issues. For example the process we went through with other organizations around the non-governmental CEDAW2 report, we worked with Shakti who represent migrants in the broader context. When we got to do the presentation at the UN, Shakti carried our message through about sex workers and supported us on this. So there’s all sorts of ways you can connect to other organizations, you look for the themes and concerns in common and you support each other. There’s some broad umbrellas like the National Council of Women of New Zealand for example who provide a broad umbrella of support and there’s rainbow organizations and lots of ways in which we can collectivize with like-minded organizations who are able to support, or for whom we could provide some support.

Jesse: How have these issues changed since the Prostitution Reform Act 2003?

Dame Catherine Healy: I think we’ve become more conscious about the vulnerabilities there and now people are more intolerant and more impatient for migrant communities to have better rights and better conditions. Oddly enough, I think that some of the anti-trafficking discourse has really exposed a lot of the appalling labor conditions that happen in these contexts. And that’s been a good thing.

Jesse: In Canada, sex workers are currently suing the government to repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, the law that criminalized sex work in Canada in 2015. Though if this Constitutional challenge is won, migrant sex workers still won’t be able to work legally in Canada. Before the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 was the issue of sex work and migration talked about? Are there things you wished you did differently looking back?

Dame Catherine Healy: I think, yes. For us the parliamentary process and seeing a bill go into parliament and come out with 3 intense debates and then being voted into law with flipping support was a new environment and it’s hard in retrospect to say if we should have been acting differently. We were quite noisy at the time, but we were so jolly grateful to get any change whatsoever as well and as I said it wasn’t the migrant community in those times that was being affected as harshly as the Māori population and street based sex workers in particular. So yes, maybe we would have said “ No we can’t go through with this ”, but I think we were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t. It was a very difficult call that we didn’t feel was ours to make as we felt it was beyond our control as well, it was in the parliamentary environment.

I think in regards to the issues related to migrant sex workers, some of the discourse that was around at the time and still is was to do with trafficking and “ sex slaves ” and that offensive way of describing a population of sex workers who migrate for a variety of different reasons to work in other countries. Fortunately, I think, at least in this country, that it is quite rare to hear sex workers described in that way because there is a sensitivity in some of the anti-trafficking circles here not to do that and to be a bit more respectful.

Yes, it’s ongoing. We made a recommendation to the CEDAW Committee who picked it up and made a recommendation back to our government so we’re hanging onto that as a lever to really get some action. We’ve been building support to have this piece of legislation amended on that recommendation. And we’ve been really heartened to see the number of different organizations who have just in a few weeks signed on to support us in this call. We are hoping that a member of parliament who has approached us and had discussions about sponsoring a bill through will be mad enough and really angry or passionate enough to do this because it is a rough injustice that sits there like a scab, not only on the laws that govern sex work but on the laws of our country as a whole. I mean it’s not a piece of legislation that should be endorsed here, it’s hostile, it feels racist, and really it should be utterly repealed.

I’m not sure, we were fighting hard all the way through and there were so many issues to fight for and in that context things moved quite quickly in the final analysis and I don’t know what we could have done differently really. Some say we should have withdrawn our support, but I don’t think that actually occurred to us. We wanted to fight to achieve what we could achieve so if we were back in those times with the knowledge that we have today then maybe we would have had lots of evidence (which we do today, we have lots of research that shows and speaks to the harm thats caused to the migrant sex worker communities if they’re exposed to criminalization) but we didn’t have that, we just knew that sex work should be decriminalized, that sex workers’ rights as a whole should be upheld, and people should have access to speak up if they’re in positions where theyre being harmed. And yes it’s an ongoing battle, there’s stigma, there’s discrimination. We knew about that, we knew that we wanted to address that as well, but we couldn’t in the context of the private members bill at that time because it would have involved another piece of legislation in the Human Rights Act, and we didn’t really know how to tease that out. So there was quite a lot of stuff that we now know that we could have done but we didn’t know at the time.

Jesse: Is there anything you would like to add or say?

Dame Catherine Healy: I think the international raising of the profile for migrant sex workers is really important. Sex workers travel everywhere and work eveywhere just like people from all other occupations so it’s great to work on this fundamental right, the freedom to travel.

1. Aotearoa – The Te Reo Māori name for New Zealand, translated to ‘land of the long white cloud’.

2. The CEDAW Committee (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) shadow report can be found at

Whores Against Prisons : What can penal abolitionism bring to the sex workers’ rights movement

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Whores Against Prisons : What can penal abolitionism bring to the sex workers’ rights movement

par adore goldman et melina may

“ If sex work was decriminalized, we could more easily report the violence that we experience! ; “ Criminalization makes it so that SWers can’t go to the police! ; “ There are already laws in place to criminalize the violence we experience without having to rely on the criminalization of sex work.

These affirmations are often heard from the mouth of activists advocating for the decriminalization of sex work. This is because we need to convince our opponents of the validity of our demands and that we care about women’s safety. Yet, we know that these are only half-truths; that even with decriminalization, many SWers will never be able to go to the police because they are at the intersection of other oppressions; because the response of legal institutions is often unsatisfactory when it comes to sexual and gendered violence; because the State will always find other tools to criminalize and stigmatize us, especially the most precarious among us.

While Black women theorists like Angela Davis have been questioning the role of the penal system in cases of violence against women for decades, the white, mainstream feminist movement has only begun to ask these questions. In the case of sex work, we believe that these questions could provide important and fruitful reflections to end violence against sex workers and all women. Moreover, the criminalization of sex work has always been based on racist assumptions and an effort to control the migration of racialized women.

When faced with cases of violence, many will choose to report to the police and to resort to the criminal justice system because it is the only way to ensure their safety. We do not pass judgment over these individual cases. We do not believe that the use of the criminal justice system is ever an individual failure. However, we do believe that it is a collective failure when imprisonment and punishment constitute the only answer to violence. 

The theories surrounding the abolition of prison, and more broadly, of the penal system as a whole, can be used to think about the decriminalization of our work in a way that takes into account the plural needs and realities that run through our stories as SWers, both at work and elsewhere.

A Brief Political History of Abolitionisms

Penal abolitionism brings together different theoretical analyses inspired by a vast activist praxis. Gwenola Ricordeau, a researcher of contemporary feminist critiques of the penal system, breaks down abolition into three fields: crime, punishment, and prison.1 She presents crime as a social reality, constructed by the State and defined by the Criminal Code whose historical and political evolution reflects the mentalities of the time. Punishment consists of all the means taken by the State to punish and sanction a person judged to be criminal, ranging from ticketing to imprisonment. In her work, Ricordeau proposes to question the penal categories as they are imposed by the State, which, according to her, divert our attention from the worst harms perpetrated by the most powerful and the most linked to the relations of domination and structural inequalities; let’s think about white supremacy, environmental destruction, and state crimes.

Many activists and writers analyze the continuum between slavery and the contemporary prison. Robyn Maynard, a Black feminist and Canadian activist for the abolition of the penal system reminds us of the important role of slaves in the official abolition of the institution of slavery, and today, of the role of activists in the struggle against mass incarceration and surveillance of Black people.2 After the abolition of the slave trade in the United States in 1865, the passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits slavery, but explicitly authorizes the forced labor of convicted persons. The “ prison-industrial complex3 ” then became a means of socially organizing racial segregation, and “ mass incarceration is, metaphorically, the new Jim Crow4 ”, as Michelle Alexander states5. The term “ abolitionist ”  is thus carried on in the struggle to abolish the prison system by African American activists as an echo to the struggle of abolishing slavery.

The use of the term “ abolitionism ” is also claimed by some feminist currents to designate their position towards prostitution. Since the 1980s, campaigns and organizations against women trafficking have grown in number and have been massively funded. Jo Doezema has been interested in exploring the historical precedents of today’s abolitionist movements in the campaigns against the “ white slavery ” that occurred in the late 19th century.6 She analyzes the mythical construction at that time of the paradigm of the innocent, pure, white victim, and of the evil, foreign trafficker. It would be with the beginning of massive immigration and the movement of women that the panic around the European woman recruited and exploited for sexual purposes in the colonies was born. However, the existence of this phenomenon has never been proven. This panic, combined with moral and public health crusades to end prostitution, provided the impetus for international conventions and proposed laws in the early 20th century to address the problem of  “ white women’s slavery ”. The protocols that were then put in place internationally were based on paternalistic, sexist and racist conceptions; the mobility of women was considered dangerous and destructive to the social order. 

A recent research report supported by the HIV Legal Network and Butterfly, an organization that works with Asian migrant sex workers, found that Canadian immigration policies have historically closed the borders to sex workers by introducing several categories of prohibited persons into the Immigration Act.7 For example, the category of “ women and girls coming to Canada for ‘immoral reasons‘ ”8 was introduced in 1910. This category was retained and expanded in 1976 to include “ prostitutes, homosexuals or persons living on the avails of prostitution or homosexuality, pimps or persons coming to Canada for these or any other immoral purpose ”9. While the criteria of rejection that currently regulate migration are no longer as explicitly based on criteria of sexual normativities and moral desirability, they are mostly couched in the language of public safety.10 Nevertheless, the racialized figures of the pimp and of the white trafficked woman remain in the white collective imagination and continue to influence sex work policies.

Today, ambassadors against human exploitation use the racist narrative of transatlantic slavery in their call for greater criminalization of clients and pimps. As Maynard argues, these groups 

co-opt the horrors of slavery to justify racist state practices and create conditions that keep Black women in general and Black sex workers, in particular, vulnerable to harassment, profiling, arrest, and violence.11

Hidden behind the anti-trafficking rhetoric is also the racist myth of the Black male rapist and trafficker. Denounced by Angela Davis in her book Women, Race & Class12, this myth remains alive today. This is evidenced by the abusive conviction rate and the overrepresentation of Black men that are judicialized. In Canada, Black people make up only 3% of the population, but account for over 9% of those incarcerated in federal institutions.13 Although provincial prisons do not disclose their racial statistics, the available data shows similar rates as the federal level, and often worse.14 This stereotype is also reflected in the racialized figure of the pimp. By rehashing dishonest comparisons to slavery, anti-prostitution advocates hijack the discussion of working conditions to voice their moral concerns about sexuality, race and migration. It is millions of dollars that are invested in these organizations15  who are then invited to the table when the criminalization of our work is discussed.

Criminalizing us to protect us

The conflation of sex trafficking and sex work puts sex workers at risk. In Canada, this has resulted in a patchwork of federal, provincial and municipal laws that aim to target and eliminate sexual exploitation. The supposed goals of this criminal and repressive approach are to protect vulnerable women by prohibiting them from working in the sex industry and by reducing demand through criminalization. In practice, there is very little evidence that these laws protect victims of trafficking. On the contrary, several studies show that criminalization has significant negative impacts on the quality of life of the people that its defenders pretend to “ save ”.16

In Canada, the criminal code specifically includes a criminal category and some offenses that prohibit human trafficking. According to a Statistics Canada report, between 2009 and 2018, out of 1708 incidents of human trafficking, 97% of the victims are women and girls with a high prevalence of sexual exploitation cases.17 Such statistics are the result of a very limited definition of trafficking and very little response to abuse in other non-sexual labor sectors such as domestic work or agriculture.

In addition, the criminal code includes specific offenses related to prostitution. Under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, it is prohibited to communicate in certain public places18 to offer sexual services, to obtain sexual services, to profit materially from sex work and to promote such services. From the same report, we learn that 63% of police reports of trafficking involved secondary offenses involving a sexual service related offense. This statistic demonstrates how these laws are deeply connected to narratives that entrench sex work as naturally abusive and how very often the criminalization of human trafficking is primarily used to target SWers. 

The sex industry is also monitored and criminalized by provincial law enforcement’s “ victim rescue ” projects and action plans. In Ontario, Operation Northern Spotlight coordinated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police has been strongly criticized by sex worker groups.19 Under the pretext of fighting exploitation, police officers, posing as clients, entered massage parlours and hotels to trap, intimidate, search and arbitrarily detain sex workers. Not only do these operations traumatize and make sex workers more suspicious of the police, but they also do nothing to help the alleged victims of exploitation. Project Crediton, an initiative led by the Ontario Provincial Police Anti-Human Trafficking Investigation Coordination Team, in 2020, did not result in a single charge of human trafficking, yet 7 people were arrested and prosecuted for 32 sex work-related offences.20 

In addition to federal laws and provincial policies, municipalities are increasingly using zoning and licensing bylaws to target and close massage parlours. In Toronto, many workers have denounced the abuse of municipal bylaws by police forces. For example, some workers have testified that they have been ticketed for locking their workroom door, as many city bylaws prohibit locking any door in massage parlours.21 For people who receive clients in their apartments or massage parlours, locking the door is an important way to ensure their safety and to screen clients who come to their door. Some massage parlours in Toronto have also been subject to the most stringent zoning requirements, allowing them to locate only in “ industrial employment zones , which are usually reserved for manufacturing, warehousing and shipping businesses. Similar tactics were used in Laval in 2018 to shut down strip clubs, sex shops and massage parlours on major thoroughfares and relegate them to industrial zones.22 These areas are extremely isolated, sparsely populated and poorly lit, leaving workers particularly vulnerable to theft and violence.    

Those who work on the street are also targeted by police officers, as one person testifies: “ They came out of nowhere and stopped me because they said I was crossing on a red light. It was winter, and nobody was on the street, but they gave me a ticket as well. They were very rough, very – very insistent to get rid of us from the street back then 23

Law enforcement officers use a variety of tools to target criminalized, racialized and marginalized communities, which can prevent them from accessing the justice system:

if they sell drugs or live with people who do, they may fear the risk of trafficking charges; if they have been abused in sex work and are HIV-positive; they may fear the risk of aggravated sexual assault charges for not disclosing their HIV status; if they have precarious immigration status, they may fear losing their status and being deported.24

And so, homeless sex workers, who use and sell drugs or who are HIV-positive are all more likely to have bad experiences with the police – whether directly related to sex work or not – and thus, less likely to press charges when assaulted. This is also the case for our migrant colleagues who are exposed to police repression who act under the guise of saviorism.  

Borders, what’s up with that ?25
Sex trafficking and control of women’s migration

By all means possible, law enforcement is scrambling to judicialize sex workers. Through the constellation of laws, the criminalization of migrant women workers can result in significant penalties: under section 36 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, anyone, including those with permanent residency, convicted of an offense  punishable under federal laws can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and deported. In 2012, the Conservative government reformed immigration law to prohibit migrants who are issued work permits from working in the sex industry, even in legal sectors such as licensed massage parlours and strip clubs, and even if they are non-sexual jobs (cook, janitor, bartender, etc.). The Canada Border Services Agency also plays an important role in controlling the immigration of SWers. Indeed, it has been widely documented that border officials use their discretionary power to deny entry to individuals deemed to be involved in the sex industry, particularly women migrating from Eastern Europe or East Asia, who are often profiled as vulnerable and passive.26

If the anti-prostitution discourse is rooted in xenophobia and racism around white slavery, it is not surprising that the laws surrounding sex work, even today, serve to repress migrant sex workers. In 2001, the Canadian government introduced specific penalties for trafficking in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. Contrary to their claim to protect victims of exploitation, these laws rather serve to protect Canadian citizens from migrants seen as undesirable. 

In 2000, as international concern over human trafficking grew, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.27 While this protocol provides a framework for signatory states to implement their own system of laws in terms of human exploitation, it remains unclear as to the definition of sex work. In 2012, the federal government announced a National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking. The most recent formula, the National Anti-Trafficking Strategy, allocates $75 million for the period of 2019 to 2024.28 Despite all the resources and money invested in the fight against human trafficking, it is reported that between January 1st, 2006 and July 13th, 2020, the Canada Border Services Agency recorded a total of 8 charges laid for human trafficking and no convictions.29 Human trafficking investigations, profiling and raids rarely, if ever, uncover “ traffickers ”. There is no doubt that these repressive practices and policies are primarily used to maintain a climate of fear among people in a migration context.

We too: victims of criminalization

The Canadian legal model of prostitution is generally justified under the guise of helping victims of sexual exploitation and eradicating the sex industry, which is presented as a perfect example of patriarchy and the exploitation of women. Supported by carceral feminist groups, the preamble to these laws portrays sex workers as victims who must be rescued at all costs from the pimps and clients who encourage this exploitation. 

It is impossible to deny that sex workers experience violence in their work. Moreover, it must be recognized that this violence is gendered, racialized, and class-based: poor, racialized, migrant, indigenous, trans, and street-based sex workers are more likely to experience this violence and to experience more severe forms of it.30 31 However, rarely do we question the real capability of the prison and penal model to protect sex workers.

It is a truism that the justice system is ineffective in dealing with gendered violence: in Canada, an estimated 3 out of every 1000 sexual assaults result in a conviction. With a 5% rate of reporting to the police, it is the least reported crime. It is also the only violent crime whose proportion has not decreased since 1999.32

Such statistics are obviously shocking. Faced with these numbers, various trends in the feminist movement are demanding more justice, new laws, recognition of feminicide as a legal category, a special court, harsher sentences, etc. But the ability of the justice system to deal with this violence is rarely questioned.

In her work, Gwenola Ricordeau shows that not only are victims often revictimized33 in court, but that the nature of the trial in itself is contrary to the needs of the victims. Indeed, by submitting to the justice system, victims undergo a sort of “ theft of their harm 34. They will be questioned about the veracity of the alleged acts, and the accused will have every advantage in not acknowledging the harm caused in order to avoid being found guilty. This is often contrary to the victims’ need for recognition of their suffering. Moreover, they are expected to fulfill the role of the perfect victim. For example, poorer women, racialized women, sex workers and women who use drugs are less likely to see their abusers punished.35 

Even when a conviction is handed down, it does not mean that SWers are protected. In 2020, in Quebec City, Marylène Lévèsque, a sex worker, was murdered by her client. He was on parole after serving a prison sentence for the murder of his wife. His parole officer was aware that he was involved with sex workers and felt it was normal and healthy for him to obtain sex in this way, despite his extremely violent past and the high rates of victimization among SWers. This intervention was defended by the parole officers’ union.36 The coroner’s report, released in November 2021, recommends the use of the electronic bracelet, but does not in any way interrogate the working conditions of SWers and the impact of criminalization on them.37 Thus, the context of criminalization does not prevent dangerous and violent men from accessing the services of the SWers – this is even what was encouraged in this case, and defended by the prison institution! The reason is that sex workers are perceived as collateral victims, supposed to protect other women from violent men by serving as their outlet.

Women’s self-defense is also criminalized when they fight back against acts of violence. Because surely, women do not remain passive. A 2005 U.S. study estimated that 67% of women incarcerated for the homicide of a loved one were first victimized by them.38 For SWers, self-defense is often a reason for criminalization and imprisonment. The case of Cynthoia Brown is particularly telling in this regard. A minor at the time of the crime and forced to sell sex by an abusive partner, she was sentenced to 52 years for shooting a client who had threatened and assaulted her.39 After spending 15 years behind bars, Cynthoia was released, after her case was brought to the media with the hard work of Black Lives Matters activists and was then shared by Kim Kardashian and Rihanna. While the accused was successful in obtaining clemency, the majority of SWers who use self-defense do not receive this media coverage, in part because they are adults or are in the industry of their own volition. In July 2021, Nichole Hover, an Ottawa sex worker, pleaded guilty to one count of manslaughter after being charged with second degree murder.40 She was with a client who refused to pay her, claiming that he was unable to reach orgasm. A dispute broke out and Hover’s client became violent. She was sentenced to seven years in prison. While it is unclear why Hover chose not to go to trial and whether she had access to legal representation, the outcome of this case should not surprise us: in Canada, an estimated 90% of accused persons enter guilty pleas.41 Those held in pre-trial detention are also more likely to plead guilty than those released on bail. Pre-trial detention has been described as a “ strategy to extract guilty plea 42 in some research. Indeed, vulnerable people experiencing mental health or addictions issues, cognitive impairments, poverty, or homelessness may face added pressure to plead guilty. 43

In addition, violence against SWers is often used to push laws that criminalize them even more. The latest massage parlour killings in Toronto in 2020 and Atlanta in 2021 are a few examples. In the first case, the alleged killer of Ashley Noelle-Arzaga was charged with terrorism after police discovered the mysogynistic and violent motives associated with “ incels 44”.45 These charges may look progressive on the surface; it’s not every day that a white man is charged with terrorism. However, that is not how they were perceived by the community targeted by the outrage. According to Elene Lam, the founder of Butterfly, “ law enforcement is the biggest terrorist [for sex workers] ”.46 According to a survey produced by the organization, half of the respondents reported that a law enforcement officer had been abusive, oppressive or humiliating towards them.47 Rather than charges of terrorism, sex workers would prefer decriminalization of their work and access to labour rights.48 Red Canary Song, a New York-based organization working with Asian and migrant sex workers, echoed this sentiment following the shooting at an Atlanta massage parlour that led to the death of eight women:

We reject the call for increased policing in response to this tragedy. The impulse to call for increased policing is even greater in the midst of rising anti-Asian violence calling for carceral punishment. […] Policing has never been an effective response to violence because the police are agents of white supremacy. Policing has never kept sex workers or massage workers or immigrants safe. The criminalization and demonization of sex work has hurt and killed countless people-many at the hands of the police both directly and indirectly. Due to sexist racialized perceptions of Asian women, especially those engaged in vulnerable, low-wage work, Asian massage workers are harmed by the criminalization of sex work, regardless of whether they engage in it themselves. Decriminalization of sex work is the only way that sex workers, massage workers, sex trafficking survivors, and anyone criminalized for their survival and/or livelihood will ever be safe.49

Since it is the same apparatus that criminalizes them, appealing to the police or the entire prison system therefore makes no sense for these women, especially migrant women who live under the constant threat of deportation if their occupation is ever discovered. 

One argument often used to defend the decriminalization of sex work is that abusive clients and pimps could be more easily reported to the police. When you think about how the police and the entire criminal justice system treat victims of gendered violence, you might second-guess the use of this argument. So if not enabling them to go to the police, what would decriminalization do for SWers?

Outlaw poverty, not prostitutes!

In 2020, following the murder of African-American man George Flyod at the hands of the police officer Derek Chauvin, activists across North America began calling for the defunding – or even the abolition – of the police.50 At the same time, these activists are demanding that the budget of the police, and more broadly the entire criminal justice system, be reinvested in social and community resources. We think this is a promising proposal to reflect on the decriminalization of sex work. Because what sex workers really need is not more criminalization, but rights and resources.

The decriminalization of sex work would, among other things, allow SWers to have access to labor rights. We believe that access to these regulations would lead to many improvements in our working conditions. These include the ability to demand that employers provide a safe work environment, ban problematic clients, provide the ability to report harassment and violence in the workplace, to obtain compensation in these cases, and the ability to report racial discrimination in hiring. Situations of violence could also be more prevented if clients were no longer afraid of criminalization, as this would facilitate the use of screening methods.

As laws to regulate sex work are rooted in migration control, we believe it is also essential to pay particular attention to the conditions of migrant sex workers in our demands for decriminalization. Even in New Zealand, a country often held up as an example of decriminalization of sex work, migrant sex workers still do not have the right to work legally nearly 20 years after the laws were changed. The fight against sex trafficking is directly linked to Western countries’ efforts to limit migration. We believe that the only solution to the abuse of migrants in the sex industry is to abolish detention and deportation, open borders and grant status to all. This would allow migrants working in the sex industry, or any other industry that circumvents labor rights, to access social protections.

However, legal reforms alone cannot address the different forms of structural violence that sex workers are often at the intersection of. Women, migrants, racialized people, trans people and people with disabilities are all overrepresented in sex work and among the victimized ones. Barriers to traditional jobs, difficulties in accessing decent priced and adequately sized housing, increasing difficulties in accessing free and universal health care, childcare, and more broadly, structural poverty and growing inequalities, are all factors in the increase of violence. These structural barriers mean that a person may be forced to remain in an abusive situation, whether it be violence from a spouse, pimp, or employer. Prison, criminalization, stigmatization and repression are all factors that exacerbate these inequalities and not solutions! If we want to fight violence against sex workers, women and gender-oppressed people, we need to demand more resources, money in our pockets and a roof over everyone’s head. We will take that money out of the same budget that is criminalizing us!

1. To learn more about penal abolitionism and the analyses surrounding it: Gwenola Ricordeau. (2019). “ L’abolitionnisme pénal ”, in Pour elles toutes. Femmes contre la prison, Lux éditeur.

2. Robyn Maynard. (2015). #Blacksexworkerslivesmatter: White-Washed ‘Anti-Slavery’ and the Appropriation of Black Suffering, accessed from

3. The concept of “ prison-industrial complex ” was developed in the late 90s. It highlights the development of the prison and the punitive system in the post-Cold War context, at a time when the military-industrial complex was looking for a new market. This concept was promoted by Angela Davis and the organization Critical Resistance, which she was an important co-creator of. Founded in 1998, Critical Resistance is one of the main abolitionist movements active in the United States. Gwenola Ricordeau. (2019). “ L’abolitionnisme pénal ”, in Pour elles toutes. Femmes contre la prison, Lux éditeur, p. 47-48.

4. Term designating the set of laws promulgated from 1876 onwards by the Southern states which served to organize racial segregation in public places and services. These laws were not completely abolished up until 1964 following the civil rights movement. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Jim Crow laws, Retrieved from

5. Michelle Alexander in Gwenola Ricordeau. (2019). “ L’abolitionnisme pénal ”, in Pour elles toutes. Femmes contre la prison, Lux éditeur, p. 38.

6. Jo Doezema. (1999). “ Loose Women or Lost Women ? The Re-Emergence of the Myth of “ White Slavery ” in Contemporary Discourses of “Trafficking in Women ”, International Studies Convention, Washington, Commercial Sex Information Service, retrieved from

7. Judy Fudge, Elene Lam, Sandra Ka Hon Chu et Vincent Wong. (2021). Caught in the Carceral Web : Anti-Traffiking Laws and Policies and thier Impact on Migrant Sex Workers, retrieved from

8. Immigration Act, 1910, p. 5. Sections of the act are available here: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. The Immigration Act, 1910. Retrieved from .

9. Immigration Act, 1952, p. 250. Sections of the Act are available here: Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. Immigration Act, 1952, retrieved from

10. Rachelle Daley. (2017) Canada’s Relationship with Women Migrant Sex Workers : Producing ‘Vulnerable Migrant Workers’ through “Protecting Workers from Abuse and Exploitation ”, retrieved from

11. Robyn Maynard. (2018) “ Do Black Sex Workers’ Lives Matter? ” in Red Light Labour : Sex Work Regulation, Agency and Resistance, UBC Press, p.288.

12. Angela Davis. (1981). Women, Race & Class, Random House Inc.

13. Translation from Robyn Maynard. (2018). “ Déni de justice : De la rue à la prison ” in NoirEs sous surveillance : Esclavage, répression et violence d’État au Canada, Éditions Mémoire d’encrier, p.149.

14. IDEM

15. Mike Dottridge. (2014). Editorial: How is the money to combat human trafficking spent? Retrieved from

16. Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform. (n.d.). Infosheets : Impacts of Sex Work Laws (PCEPA/C-36), retrieved from

17. Adam Cotter. (2018). Trafficking in person in Canada, 2018. Retrieved from

18. Under the law, no person shall communicate “ for the purpose of selling sexual services in a public place or in public view that is a day care centre, school ground or playground or that is located adjacent to a day care centre or any of those places.’’ Government of Canada. (2014). Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Retrieved from

19. Judy Fudge, Elene Lam, Sandra Ka Hon Chu et Vincent Wong. (2021). Caught in the Carceral Web : Anti-Traffiking Laws and Policies and thier Impact on Migrant Sex Workers, p.21, retrieved from

20. Lake Superior News. (2020). “ Seven persons charged with running commercial sex trade organization ”, Lake superior News, Retrieved from

21. Bylaw C 545-343 of the Toronto Municipal Code, retrieved from

22. CTV Montreal. (2018). “ City of Laval to rein in strip clubs, sex shops, massage parlours ”, CTV News, retrieved from

23. Judy Fudge, Elene Lam, Sandra Ka Hon Chu et Vincent Wong. (2021). Caught in the Carceral Web : Anti-Traffiking Laws and Policies and thier Impact on Migrant Sex Workers, p. 55, retrieved from

24. Stella, l’amie de Maimie. (2021). “ Intersecting Forms of Criminalization ” in Read Between the Lines, p. 14, retrieved from

25. Subtitle inspired by the lyrics of the song Borders from M.I.A (2015)

26. Judy Fudge, Elene Lam, Sandra Ka Hon Chu and Vincent Wong. (2021). Caught in the Carceral Web : Anti-Traffiking Laws and Policies and thier Impact on Migrant Sex Workers, p. 49, retrieved from

27. Rachelle Daley. (2017) Canada’s Relationship with Women Migrant Sex Workers : Producing ‘Vulnerable Migrant Workers’ through “ Protecting Workers from Abuse and Exploitation ”, retrieved from

28. Public Safety Canada, National Strategy to Combat Human Trafficking 2019-2024 (n.d.), retrieved from

29. Judy Fudge, Elene Lam, Sandra Ka Hon Chu et Vincent Wong. (2021). Caught in the Carceral Web : Anti-Traffiking Laws and Policies and thier Impact on Migrant Sex Workers, p. 18, retrieved from

30. Nora Butler Burke. “ Double Punishment. Immigration Penality and Migrant Trans Women Who Sell Sex. ” in Red Light Labor. Sex Work Regulation, Agency and Resistance, 2018, UBC Press, p. 203

31. Naomie Gelper. (2021). “ Criminaliser les clients ne protège pas la travailleuses du sexe, selon une étude récente ”, Métro, retrieved from

32. Mathilde Roy. (2017). “ 3 agressions sexuelles déclarées sur 1 000 se soldent par une condamnation. Pourquoi ? ”, L’actualité, retrieved from

33. Secondary victimization refers to the negative effects that a victim and those around them may experience in dealing with the criminal justice system. For example, while in court, victims must prove the harm they have experienced, detailing very personal contextual elements in front of an audience they did not choose, while risking that their word will not be recognized and validated. Inspired by Gwenola Ricordeau. (2019). “ La victimisation des femmes et son traitement pénal ”, in Pour elles toutes. Femmes contre la prison, Lux éditeur, p.83

34. IDEM

35. IDEM, p. 65

36. Kathryne Lamontagne. (2020). “ Meurtre à Sainte-Foy: ils défendent la “ stratégie ” qui lui permettait d’assouvir ses besoins sexuels ”, Journal de Québec, retrieved from

37. Isabelle Ducas. (2021). “ Les travailleuses du sexe auraient voulu qu’on parle de leur sécurité ”, La Presse, retrieved from

38. Gwenola Ricordeau. (2019). “ La victimisation des femmes et son traitement pénal ”, in Pour elles toutes. Femmes contre la prison, Lux éditeur, p. 76

39. Molly Smith et Juno Mac. (2018). “ Prison nation: The United States, South Africa and Kenya ”, Revolting Prostitutes. The Fight For Sex Workers Rights, Verso, p.264-265

40. Gary Dimmock. (2021). “ Ottawa sex-trade worker who fought off and killed bad John sentenced to four more years ”, Ottawa Citizen, retrieved from

41. Department of Justice. (2018). Guilty pleas among Indigenous people in Canada, retrieved from

42. IDEM

43. IDEM

44. Contraction of involuntary celibate. See Lux Alpatraum. (2018). “ Sex workers cannot solve the problem of angry, misogynistic men ”, Vox, retrieved from ​​

45. Radheyan Simonpillai. (2020). “ Charging incels with terrorism won’t protect sex workers ”, Now Toronto, retrieved from

46. IDEM

47. IDEM

48. IDEM

49. Red Canary Song. (2021). Red Canary Song Response to Shootings at Gold Massage Spa, Young’s Asian Massage, & Aroma Therapy Spa, retrieved from

50. Scottie Andrews. (2020). “ There’s a growing call to defund the police. Here’s what it means ”, CNN, retrieved from