As most people already know, three women are currently trying to fight the Canadian laws on sex work. Read Xtra's previous coverage of it here—a decision is expected in early 2010. An independent Montreal escort, Ariane Valmont, contacted me recently via a friend and contact I have at Stella (the lovely Emilie Laliberté). I normally would not publish a straight-up text that someone else wrote, but I believe sex workers are not often, if ever, given a public space in which to speak. The following has not been edited, except for clarity and formatting. Starts after the jump!
[more] "Selling your body"… an expression used ad nauseam by those opposed to the decriminalization of sex work, demonstrating the contempt they feel towards us—sex workers.
As an independent escort for the past three years, I am directly concerned. I have never felt like I'm selling my body to anyone. I am doing a job that I love and that I chose. The men I meet in this context are mostly friendly and eager for me to feel comfortable with them. I am always the one who determines the limits of our meeting. My body belongs only to me and what I offer my clients are erotic services, tinged with tenderness and warmth.
We are far from the sordid and degrading images that some think represent a reality that they know little or nothing about.
Violence against sex workers does exist–we cannot, and should not, deny it. But what are the real causes? Trendy popular discourse blames the client, presenting them as immoral beings with few scruples. In fact, the customers are [often] your brother, your friend, your colleague, your neighbor, your husband, or other respectable citizens who are seeking simple moments of pleasure in good company.
However, there are also people who believe that sex workers are soul-less whores willing to do anything for a few dollars, and unfortunately, they will not hesitate to treat them as sub-human if given the opportunity.
But who is at fault? Is it really sex work itself, or is it society's representation of sex work that provokes and exacerbates this violence? Criminalizing sex workers is tantamount to branding them, identifying them as outcasts, as women of "ill repute."
This leads to a series of consequences: violence, basic services being denied or poorly delivered, the need to isolate oneself from the community, the requirement for workers to constantly seek respect and affirm their dignity. If we choose instead to criminalize the customers, the message that will send is clear: sex workers are just poor victims unable to discern what is good from what is evil, unable to choose what is best for them. One way or another, criminalization helps to endorse a form of violence, whether physical or psychological, or by presenting them as second-class human beings.
Three women decided to oppose this tyranny by defending their rights and those of their clients before the Superior Court of Ontario. Their names are Valerie Scott, Terri-Jean Bedford and Amy Lebovitch. I applaud such courage! Their struggle is only the beginning, because there is much more to do. Prejudice against sex workers is firmly anchored in our society, and it will be a long road to challenging stereotypes and misguided beliefs.
Until such a legal initiative is started in Quebec, my sincerest wish is that the media gives an unbiased voice to all parties, defendants and opponents of decriminalization. Give us a chance to show you that reality is not always what you think or would like to believe.
Ariane Valmont (obvisously not her real name)
Montreal sex worker