3 min

A face to the movement

Andrew Sorfleet leads the Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver

THE END OF AN ERA? Andrew Sorfleet says the sex workers' industry needs reform, but he's not sure legalization is the answer. Decriminalizing sex work could drain the adventure right out of the profession-and replace it with a regular 9-5 grind, he warns. Credit: Xtra West files

“There is a sex trade culture,” begins Andrew Sorfleet, “a very vibrant sex-workers rights movement, especially internationally, and there’s been wonderful sparks of it in Canada.”

Sorfleet is spearheading a consultation for the Law Commission of Canada in preparation for what he anticipates will be the legalization of sex work in Canada.

Right now, he’s designing a web survey to canvass sex workers about the laws that govern their work. A sample question reads: Would you prefer to work: 1) in a small business, in an office, with two other people; 2) in a traditional whorehouse with a Madam; 3) in a mega-brothel like they have in Australia; or 4) in a hotel with hourly rates, security and towel service?

“I think we’re very clearly on the road to legalization,” Sorfleet says. New Zealand has already done it, he points out. And besides, it’s an industry the government would like to tax. “It may still be another decade but times have changed.”

Putting himself through art school in Toronto in 1989, Sorfleet became a street prostitute before moving into escort services work for better pay. It’s a field that’s been very good to him, he says, noting that he was originally drawn to its sense of adventure. He hasn’t been disappointed.

Now, the 39-year-old is retired from sex work. “The Sex Workers Alliance of Vancouver (SWAV) is my primary thing now,” he says.

SWAV is prominent on the web, answering questions on everything from the laws on opening an escort service to starting up a live web cam. It also offers links for more information on sex work. “We’re really against government funding because we don’t ever want to compromise what we say,” Sorfleet notes. That’s why SWAV is volunteer run, foregoing any funding.

“I call myself a front man because there’s a lot of people who can’t come out and put their face on a movement, but a movement needs a face. The front man is the one who takes the bullet. Most people don’t feel they can. Maybe they’re not out to their family about their work.”

Though Sorfleet predicts sex work will someday be legalized in Canada, he says not all sex workers would welcome such a change.

“My biggest worry now is that we have these academics and theorists pushing for decriminalization but the girls who work on the North Shore, running ads quietly and not having any problems, they’re terrified of decrim! They think that it means they’ll have to work in a brothel-and nobody’s asked us. Nobody’s said, ‘Well, what happens when we take down that fence?'” Sorfleet predicts the entire status quo will change. And he’s not necessarily happy with the prospect.

Though he says the current state of affairs needs some kind of reform for harm prevention, he has misgivings about the form legalization might take. Right now, sex work can be incredibly independent, he says. Legalizing it might drain the independence and adventure right out of it. “It’ll be the end of an era,” he warns.

“I wanted to do this consultation because it may be that the prostitutes don’t want decriminalization,” he continues. “We might prefer the status quo with the problems and the violence. Decrim will turn sex work into a job, with somebody making sure that you’re at your shift on time and all those things that we didn’t want in the first place.

“A lot of us end up in the sex industry because we’re not really good at holding down regular jobs,” he explains. “I don’t like to stereotype, but most of the whores I know are extremely cavalier, they’re outgoing and have all those things that a treadmill job…” Sorfleet struggles for words, “Well, the collar would chafe, you know?”

Ultimately, what Sorfleet would like to see is a provincially mandated professional association. “But when you do that, usually what those associations do is set up criteria for training and that’s a huge can of worms,” he grins.