Wow! Stunning, amazing, timely, but oh-so-realistic and lucid, this 15th edition of Constellation is manna from heaven! When it first occurred to me to become an escort, I would have gladly given up my very best stilettos to get my hands on a gold mine of information like this. And I bet that soon I won't be the only one envying the next ones who wonder if sex work is the right choice for them. These lucky women will benefit from this gem, the ConStellation Special Edition: Working Conditions. Whether you are just starting out as a sex worker or you're a veteran, I am convinced that this ConStellation will become an essential, just like our condoms, nylons and cell phones. Because, as is so eloquently stated in the 65 interviews and consultations in this issue, the most important thing when we are working, or thinking about working, is sharing and maintaining connections with other sex workers.
By taking the initiative to produce a Constellation that addresses the 7 major sectors of the sex industry through interviews with women who actually work in pornography, erotic message, street prostitution, domination, webcam, erotic dancing and the world of escorts, the Stella team has killed two birds with one stone. In addition to giving us a chance to share our knowledge about the business and providing us with the opportunity to learn from each other, this ConStellation also presents a faithful portrait of the sex industry, with all that this implies, in North America today.
But, whether we are in an apartment in Villeray, in front of a webcam in Chicago or in a Beer Bar in Chiang Mai, our working conditions are pretty much the same. We work more and more as independents, we use the same tools, particularly the Internet, we have the same coded language for negotiating our rendezvous with our clients, both local and foreign, and we are almost universally obliged to work under laws that undermine our safety and our dignity. To this you can add a completely modern phenomenon: we are no longer the only ones sharing and organizing around our experience in the sex industry. The beneficiaries of our services, our clients, now have their chance to share via virtual networks commonly called "review boards". Workers from all sectors of the industry must now deal with this new reality that can be both helpful and, at times, harmful. A number of articles in this magazine mention how important it is to be aware of this new trend.
While never forgetting that there are, in fact, abusive situations that must be denounced, it has become increasingly evident that the abolitionist analysis of human trafficking and prostitution is built on a total lack of intellectual and ethical rigor, resulting in a discourse that simply doesn't correspond to reality. The panic-stricken statistics and conclusions that appear in their publications and the stipulations enforced by, among others, the Bush administration, are now openly criticized by international NGOs like UNESCO and sound more and more like "White Slaving" myths from the dawn of the 20th Century. In Canada, major investments in prevention campaigns aimed at the trafficking of women and in training programs offered to thousands of police officers have not demonstrated that any "trafficking" as described by the abolitionists actually exists. The police are still looking for the thousands of Asians and Russians who are supposedly forced into prostitution in the cellars of Canada. In fact, there is only one case where a man was accused of sexual exploitation under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. And, in that case, the Crown was unable to demonstrate that trafficking for sexual reasons had occurred. The accused was found guilty under the Criminal code of maintaining a bawdy house, of inducing two people to have unlawful sexual relations with another person and of knowingly organizing the entry into Canada of two persons (one of whom was his spouse) without the legally required documents. This was clearly not an organized network or "ring". Meanwhile, the 78 Asian women, suspected of being victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation and "saved" by an ambitious and highly-publicized police operation in the Vancouver area in December 2006, were in reality Canadians of Asian origin who chose, like me, to do sex work. Suddenly these women lost their jobs and found themselves stuck in the complexities of the judicial system. Following this raid, a number of police operations aimed at breaking up networks that trafficked Asian women were carried out in massage parlors across Canada. Each time, the police went back to their stations empty-handed.
More and more jurists and legislators are becoming interested in the New Zealand experience where sex work has been decriminalized for the last five years. According to local police and public health officials, as well as the sex workersÃ associations, the results have proven to be positive. As for the catastrophic apprehensions of religious groups and the abolitionists that decriminalization would result in massive trafficking of women into prostitution and well, this never happened. Of course, not everything is perfect but working conditions have improved. It must be understood that when you aim at behavioral change on this scale, patience is required and this involves efforts by all the actors. Sex workers who experience poor working conditions must denounce these situations; the police and employers as well as all other persons directly concerned with sex work must also do their part. All these people who for centuries distrusted each other must now act together in the best interests of sex workers.
Concerning Canadian legislation, where are we? The criminal laws pertaining to prostitution, as explained in Chapter 1 on the law and your rights in this ConStellation, does not forbid prostitution but makes its practice difficult. It's not news to proclaim that these laws are not effective and are more harmful than helpful for our welfare. However, the relentless work of activists and the courage of those who are publicly "out of the closet" as sex workers are starting to bear fruit and to be heard by members of the Canadian Bar. More concretely, in various court challenges, sex workers and clients are trying to demonstrate that the laws concerning adult prostitution do not respect the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly concerning questions of security, equality, freedom of expression and freedom of association. Recently, an attempt to challenge these laws anonymously by a group of Vancouver street-based prostitutes and ex prostitutes called SWUAV (Sex Workers United Against Violence) failed in British Columbia Superior Court. But it is inevitable that these laws will be contested in court in the near future. In fact, though this challenge failed, in the decision the judge did not deny the legitimacy of debating the laws. What the judge did not accept concerned questions of procedure rather than the grounds for the challenge. His ruling was based on the criterias developed by the Supreme Court of Canada that serve to determine who has the legal capacity to challenge laws under the Charter. Briefly, he felt that SWUAV could not act as a plaintiff because a group of sex workers in Toronto had also undertaken a legal challenge on much the same questions but using their own names. He ruled that the Toronto litigants conformed better to the Supreme CourtÃs criteria because they did not hide behind the cover of anonymity and were acting as individuals directly concerned by the issues. We will know in the next months whether or not the Ontario Superior Court will decide to hear this challenge. However, it is important to understand that, even if the courts recognize that the laws do not respect the Charter and they must be repealed, it will be up to the federal government of the day to propose new laws. For these new laws to be to our advantage, we must, as the women in New Zealand did, convince the members of Parliament to involve sex workers in the process. You can be sure that Stella will follow this situation with interest!
In Quebec, police practices regarding prostitutes havenÃt changed much. However, we can congratulate ourselves on one point! After years of activism, the police are finally taking complaints from sex workers concerning assault from Ã¬clientsÃ® seriously. Stella's outreach team is presently accompanying assault victims in the court system. If you had the misfortune of having been assaulted or you were a victim of an unfortunate incident, I strongly encourage you to contact Stella. Even if you do not want to file a complaint, their expertise and the opportunity to discuss what happened with someone who understands and who wonÃt judge you can only be beneficial.
But getting back to this marvelous issue of ConStellation. Beyond the richness of the testimony that you will find in its pages, our colleagues also provide us with their precious advice on healthy working conditions, particularly when it comes to HIV/AIDS and blood-borne and sexually transmitted infections (SSTIs). But they also cover certain subjects that are rarely discussed like preventing tendonitis and "burnout" or repeated occurrences of vaginitis. But what I found particularly striking and exceptional, on top of being very relevant at this particular moment, is the quantity and quality of their advice on how to budget and how to realistically evaluate our incomes. Since we are paid "cash", many of us have the regrettable habit of spending wildly without thinking of tomorrow or of the less profitable seasons in the year. We also forget that, since our work is not recognized, we do not contribute to a pension plan, we cannot receive unemployment insurance and we are not insured in case of sickness or a work-related injury. These advices, adapted to our particular situation, will help you avoid lots of worry and will no doubt permit you to have a more comfortable future.
Finally, on behalf of Stella, I would like to thank all the sex workers who in various ways accepted to share their knowledge and contributed to this ConStellation. I believe that, once you have read this issue, there can be no doubt in anyone's mind that we are engaged in REAL WORK and all that comes with it. And I will profit from this occasion to congratulate the people who put this issue of ConStellation together for their incredible effort. I would also like to thank them personally for giving me this opportunity to be part of this magnificent publication. Again, one big Ã¬BravoÃ® for all of you and remember: the struggle continues and together we shall overcome!