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Violence and harm, or pleasure and fun?

New book sheds light on sex-worker communities

Sex work is a divisive issue in Canada, which is one reason Maggie’s — Toronto’s Sex Worker Action Project — is hosting a discussion to showcase diversity within sex-worker communities and challenge the presumption that sex work perpetuates violence.

The June 20 event will also serve as a book launch for Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada, a new anthology edited by Emily van der Meulen, Elya M Durisin and Victoria Love.

The event’s organizers want to showcase the vibrancy and vitality of sex-worker communities. Toronto sex workers, artists and performers will be speaking about the ways in which sex work must be legitimized as work.

Durisin, a PhD candidate at York University, says contemporary writing on sex work and prostitution in Canada focuses primarily on violence and harm. “For me,” she says, “nobody knows better than sex workers about the struggles and challenges.”

Durisin insists that within difficult discussions of violence and exploitation there must also be discussions of the joy and fun that exists in sex-worker communities.

The book intervenes in the prevailing sex-worker narratives and emphasizes the importance of highlighting diverse sex-worker experiences. It weaves together the voices of activists, academics and policymakers to provide a snapshot of sex work in Canada.

Lawyers for three Ontario sex-trade workers argued before the Supreme Court of Canada June 13 that Canada’s prostitution laws violate sex workers’ human rights. The government, meanwhile, argued that danger is inherent in prostitution.