Hi the media. Do your job. Love, feminism.

The Canadian Press published a weird little story today by reporter, Stephanie Levitz, claiming that “sex workers” feel it is “‘sick and twisted’ that Canada’s controversial new prostitution bill comes into force on a day dedicated to eradicating violence against women.”

The day referenced is December 6th, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

Levitz only interviewed one self-described “sex worker,” Valerie Scott, who is one of the women Alan Young brought on as an applicant in his court challenge (Bedford v. Canada) and who is most likely no longer actually working as a prostitute, having aged out of the biz (johns like the young’uns).

This is, of course, part of the problem with the term “sex worker.” It is intentionally vague. Technically, a “sex worker” could be someone who runs a brothel (i.e. a pimp) which is, in fact, the impetus behind both Scott and Terri Jean Bedford’s desire to decriminalize the sex industry — so they can continue to make a living off of prostitution despite the fact that men no longer will buy sex from them (those johns are total sweethearts though — it’s just they only want teenage pussy, nbd). A “sex worker” doesn’t necessarily mean a woman who is prostituted, but a “sex worker,” apparently, can speak on behalf of all prostituted women.

As Sarah Ditum wrote recently for the New Statesman:

[The term ‘sex worker’] covers street walkers and escorts, strippers and phone sex operators, dominatrixes and dildo retailers, as well as their respective managers. Clearly, all these things are not the same, and any theory or legislation that attempts to treat them as identical is liable to founder on the object that not all sex work is like that.

Levitz writes that “those who work in the sex industry have expressed their disdain for the new prostitution laws, which they fear will result in more victims, not fewer,” (which is decidedly inaccurate — most women and girls who are prostituted aren’t doing media interviews…) and then quotes “sex worker,” Valerie Scott, as proof.

For starters, one “sex worker” does not equate to “those who work in the sex industry,” nor is it reasonable to quote one “sex worker” who is not actually working as a prostitute, but rather is an aspiring “manager” and then present this as the opinion of all women and girls who are (actually) being prostituted as we speak.

Also, it is the full decriminalization and/or legalization that has “produced more victims,” not the Nordic model, which is what Canada’s new laws are modeled after. Also — key point — prostitution produces victims. The demand for ever more (younger, fresher, newer) prostitutes is what supports the entire industry. Johns = the demand. Johns victimize women and girls in prostitution — not laws. And if it is the perpetrators we are after, than a feminist solution would be to go after the perpetrators. A law that criminalizes a man who seeks to abuse prostitutes will not abuse a prostitute. Rather, that law will serve to deter the man from seeking out a prostitute in the first place and make it easier to charge him if he does assault a prostituted women or child.

The fact that the new law, which will criminalize those sweet old johns out there prowling the Downtown Eastside, perhaps and likely looking for a young, vulnerable, Aboriginal girl to satisfy his “needs,” will come into effect on December 6, the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, is perfect.

December 6th is the day we remember and take action on violence against women. That is the name of the day. What better action could we take on that day than to say to perpetrators of violence: no more. It is not your right, these women and girls are not for you. They deserve better and are more than a series of holes for you to penetrate on a whim. Women who are poor and racialized deserve better options than prostitution. They deserve better than to be left on the street for the Robert Picktons of the world to pick up. So let’s criminalize those men before they have a chance even to get to them.

The reporter allows Scott to reframe the conversation in a completely dishonest way without actually seeking out any of the feminists and women’s groups who were involved in pushing this legislation forward or who are involved in planning events for December 6th, like Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter (VRRWS), who is holding their annual Montreal Massacre Memorial event this Saturday at the Vancouver Public Library.

Scott says, “That day should not solely be for women who were murdered by Marc Lepine, it should also be for women who were murdered by Robert Pickton.”

Agreed. Which is why every year the VRRWS event addresses the ongoing abuse and colonization of Aboriginal women and girls in Canada and the Missing and Murdered women, as well as other issues such as the push for a Guaranteed Livable Income, sexism within the police force, child custody and family law, migrant women escaping male violence in Canada, the impact of immigration law on women, the feminization of poverty, incest, ecofeminism, battered women, rape on campus, and more, including, yes, prostitution and prostitution law.

I’m not sure what events Scott and Levitz have scoped out, but based on this ludicrous attempt to pretend as though murderers like Pickton and his victims have somehow been left off the table on December 6th, I’m going to have to guess none.

The full decriminalization and/or legalization of prostitution has been shown only to increase trafficking, draw pimps and organized crime, enable the industry to flourish “underground” and in the legal sector, and most certainly has not reduced violence against those in prostitution. The notion that, somehow, to legalize the industry or to decriminalize johns is feminist in any way at all is naive, dangerous, and offensive.

Do better journalism, journalism.


Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

Like this article? Tip Feminist Current!

Personal Info

Donation Total: $1

  • Taylor

    I totally agree with all of this, but what’s the exit strategy for those who are forced into prostitution, the majority of women?

    • Meghan Murphy

      What we are advocating for are exiting services (i.e. services that will support women who want to leave find housing and jobs, plus services like retraining, counseling), as well as a stronger welfare system… The Canadian government committed money for exiting services as part of the bill and we’ll see how this goes as things progress. Certainly we’re going to stay on top of it….

      • Taylor

        That is wonderful to hear. I wish America would get on board with this.

      • Meghan, the Cons, being Cons, committed a ridiculous pittance to exiting services and employment alternatives. That, and the continued criminalisation of people who are prostituted, are my main concerns with this law, although I’m an abolitionist who doesn’t think prostitution can ever be made safe and pleasant.

        • Meghan Murphy

          I share your concerns but I also think we need to start somewhere and then keep at it…

  • Meh

    What a great article. So powerful – absolutely loved it.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Thanks Meh!

  • It is also perfect that the law comes into effect on my birthday. Haha.

    I have no idea why they think law that criminalises the use of prostituted women would lead to prostituted women being murdered. Does the pro-prostitution side think people go around murdering people whom they see as oppressed victims? I think all things being equal, a man is more likely to murder a woman if he thinks she has “empowered” herself and accumulated large amounts of wealth at his experience. I am not advocating this of course, but I think people are more likely to murder those who they have less sympathy for. The fact that liberals think people are likely to have less sympathy for those they regard as “oppressed” or “victims”, tells me way more about liberals than I would like to know.

    • Meghan Murphy

      What a lovely birthday present!

    • David

      I am not sure that a potential murderer would choose an “empowered woman” over an “oppressed victim”, or vice versa. Most prostitute murderers seem to have been johns before they become murderers. I think the nature of the transaction is more of a contributing factor.

      Men do not buy sexual services, they buy the complete package, the woman. In many ways she is a stand-in for every woman, she is fungible.

      Women often sell the illusion that they like the man and that sex is enjoyable for them. Some johns come away believing the illusion, they have deluded themselves and everyone can see it except them. I think some of these men are lying, but others genuinely believe the illusion.

      Eventually this illusion is shattered. The realisation can be hurtful to those men who thought the women liked them. Maybe the women in prostitution were the only women that were ever nice to them, that had sex with them and complimented them on their good looks, their charm, their outstanding physique or their skill as a lover. And now they realise it was all a lie, a fraud.

      Although the men were paying to be deceived, they hate the deception, the fraud, the trickery, the treachery. Furious anger ensues and a woman is beaten. In this case, viewing a woman as “oppressed victim” might save her life, the woman who has been “empowered” at his expense is likely to fare worse.

      Some men are different, in their mind all women are prostitutes and once the treachery has been revealed, all women are now deserving of retribution. They become serial killers. Women in prostitution are just easier to lure to a quiet location. It’s unlikely they will distinguish between “victim” or “empowered” or “civilian”.

      My theory is that much of the violence in prostitution is created by prostitution itself. The deceitful nature of the transaction where both parties are lying to each other and to themselves, and men’s willingness to believe in the illusion, guarantees that he will eventually get a wake-up call. Some men react badly, some very badly.

      I found that almost all the most famous prostitute killers were johns before they started killing. Prostitution creates its own killers, they don’t materialise out of nowhere, and each will have his own unique, personal reasons linked to his own history of prostitution use.

      I don’t believe that “stigma kills”, it’s far more complex.

      • Anh

        Agreed, David. The entertainment industry contributes to this problem by encouraging violence against prostitutes in their movies and games. Prostitutes are almost universally portrayed as gold diggers or meaningless sex objects. These problematic portrayals do nothing but spur on Johns across the spectrums of misogyny (the ones that believe in the illusion as you said even more so). It is worth mentioning though that Johns don’t have to kill though in order to cause prostitutes harm and pain.

        • I think there was a fictional prostitute killed casually in a recent James Bond film. Wasn’t she also racialized? (I don’t watch such blockbusters). It isn’t just in porn.

          • It’s far from just (official) porn. The most recent release in the Grand Theft Auto video game series is so focused on killing prostitutes it’s actually generated a protest in Australia. That crap is so okay in so many people’s minds, it can get released as a major video game and the mainstream reaction is really, “What? What?

            I also think this point of David’s is hugely important: “Men do not buy sexual services, they buy the complete package, the woman.” That’s what makes it different from being just a job. That’s why it’s not the same as being a hairdresser or cleaning lady. Buying services is employing workers. Buying people is slavery. Rental slavery rather than ownership slavery in this case, but I’m not sure that’s an improvement. Property that’s rented gets way more beat up than property that’s owned. And the human-property buyers are slavers in either case.

            I remember reading about a study that interviewed johns (in Robert Jensen’s or Gail Dines’ work?) where the main point a lot of them made was that telling another human what to do with no backchat was what they were paying for. In other words, slavery.

            If it was really about sexual “needs,” these guys have hands.

          • I recall in the 1975 film The Naked Civil Servant, a biopic of Quentin Crisp, he says of his early years as a male prostitute in 1930s London “I offer them the opportunity to vent their contempt for other people. They get to defile me” (or something to that effect).

            His telling of his story is no feminist polemic, that’s for sure, but that bit of truth really leapt out at me.

          • Severine. Eurasian. Someone was so mad she started writing fan fiction about her to flesh her out. Also, Film Crit Hulk ranted a bit about how she was treated. She was treated terribly by the story.

          • corvid

            I saw the film, and was horrified and disgusted by the treatment of this character. Just terrible. What happens to her could perhaps be seen as a plot device to elicit sympathy for the victims of the villain, but the cruelty of it, to me, was a fairly obvious exercise in gratuitous violence against women.

      • Derrington

        If you look on johns websites like punternet.com or invisible men you will see that most johns have psychpathic hatred of women and this is the only way they can get to have sex which is largely based on their wish to abuse a woman sexually. Johns are gendered psychopaths and are dangerous per say because of their discrimination towards women which they take out on prostituted women. Law or no law they are dangerous men and its about time the law was slanted at controlling them rather than their victims.

        • “Johns are gendered psychopaths ”

          Yes they are. They are also average, normalized everyday people. It’s really horrifying when you start to realize how many men we interact with every day use prostitutes (and how they are present in almost every sector of society – no wonder there is so little progress in the fight against sex-based oppression). It’s almost too much to handle sometimes (for me anyway).

          • Derrington

            I dont think the men that run the ‘justice’ system giving a flying fuck about gendered violence. They believe in male supremacy, particularly moral and anything that goes against their illusion such as child abuse, violence against women etc they turn away from. Thats why victim blaming goes on to such a degree, in the uk we had 80,000 people locked in mental asylums for being victms of male violence, nearly all women or men that had been abused as children. Thats patriarchy with teeth and i think porn is being used to return us to that by portraying women and children as liars and sexual deviants that are named and shamed by hate speech.

      • corvid

        “In this case, viewing a woman as “oppressed victim” might save her life, the woman who has been “empowered” at his expense is likely to fare worse.”

        While I agree that abusive men might not always discriminate between those they perceive to be “empowered” vs. “non-empowered”, I think what you’ve said in that sentence is part of the reason that the lies surrounding women being “empowered” through prostitution are so dangerous. Misogynists love to believe, in a stunning reversal of reality, that women are taking advantage of them, that women have the power. I have read accounts in the pro-prostitution media where “sex workers” say they are “taking advantage” of boorish, drunk, asshole men. Based on the testimony of exited women, this could not be more wrong and backwards. The media actively assist in promoting these stereotypes. Pro-prostitution speakers love to denounce feminists and exited women for putting forth “harmful narratives”, but in reality they’ve got that department covered.

    • “I have no idea why they think law that criminalises the use of prostituted women would lead to prostituted women being murdered.”

      Same here. I want to reply snarkily, “Because they are stupid.” Honestly what sort of drug do you have to be high on to have this kind of reasoning ? By that reasoning our laws against robbery are unethical and could lead to the mugging victims being murdered (because the robbers feel threatened and if we would just understand that we need to be patient with them and not scare them with threats of jail time they would just calm down and stop robbing people).

    • Kate

      I’ve heard pro-prostitution arguments that criminalizing johns gives women less time to assess their likelihood of being violent rapists or murderers. I guess the argument is that when there’s more of a chance of a man getting arrested then the deal has to be made quicker. Of course this makes absolutely no sense. Do they think that prostitutes are not assaulted and murdered with shocking frequency under liberal prostitution laws? Do they think that prostitutes ordinarily have a choice over which johns to accommodate?

  • Susan Smyth

    Thanks Meghan! I guess I am a sex worker too, as an RN who treats patients with sexually transmitted infections. I am fed up with the negative press about the Nordic model.

    • Meghan Murphy

      You should start doing media interviews! “As a ‘sex worker,’ I support the Nordic model.” Perfect.

  • Yes the liberals are really angry about actually having to address male violence against women. I see some Canadians on the hashtag #cdnfem equating ‘sex work’ to abortion rights. Totes the same thing doncha know?!

    I don’t know how people can be so loud against male violence and then claim legalization of prostitution will bring about a ‘safe’ sex industry that is made on the lives and rapes of teenage aborginal girls and other marginalized women.

    It fucking killed me that C36 was a partisan issue.

    Did you see one of the ‘stories’ a liberal Senator produced as proof the sex industry is full of women who have choice? Oh yes, it was a lovely story you only read in fiction.

    College educated woman decides she wants a change of pace so signs up as an escort, gets flown around the world fucking men and lives happily ever after.

    Quite different than the reality of 13 year old aboriginal woman from the DTES who has nowhere to go, is lured by a 45 year old man to an apartment where he repeatedly rapes her, gives her alcohol and drugs and kicks her out in the morning with a 5 dollar bill for something to eat.

    Lovely indeed.

    I live in the DTES and it’s my community and I don’t see high class escorts around here. I DO see young, abused aboriginal and racial minority women living on the rainy cold streets with a tooney they just got from a john who wanted a blowjob and knew he could prey on them.

    I’m fucking disgusted at liberals over this.

  • “(those johns are total sweethearts though — it’s just they only want teenage pussy, nbd).”

    lol Though I don’t know whether I should laugh or cry.

  • Derrington

    What also pisses me off is the way that the media fails to represent all sides now in issues. Ive noticed this on the bbc and throughout uk press that one side is featured representing big business and the other side, if represented at all, is spoken for by someone the news caster has just pulled off the street for a vox pop. When was the last time you saw an actual union leader or womans rights rep actually interviewed about issues that effect their group rather than a random member of the public. This isnt journalism, this is propoganda.

    • Meghan Murphy

      The media has done a terrible job in covering this issue/the Bedford case in general.

  • Pingback: On the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, let’s remember what feminism is actually about | Feminist Current()

  • Steve Chong (gear316)


    New federal anti-prostitution laws criminalizing the purchase of sex will be in effect as of Saturday, but the Vancouver Police Department have no plans for a crackdown.

    “Sex work involving consenting adults is not an enforcement priority for the VPD,” the police department’s sex-work enforcement guidelines say.

    The 2013 document stipulates “alternative measures and assistance must be considered with enforcement a last resort.” This means that although the new anti-prostitution laws allow police to arrest those purchasing sex, the Vancouver Police Department will not be making hasty moves based on the new law.

    “Our priority will remain the safety of sex workers,” VPD spokesman Sergeant Randy Fincham said…

    • derrington

      And there you have the problem of police attitudes to certain laws and certain communities. They take a view as to which laws they support (which is not their job) and they fail to recognise that the way to keep prostituted people safe is to caution or lock up the psychopaths that pay to abuse people for money. Policemen use porn and therefore are unable to see women in prostitution as anything other than whores and bitches. Hardly the language or viewpoint of equality in front of the law.

  • ErnestinaC

    Although I’m quite.happy that such a progressive law has.been passed.. I.can’t help bit think if.this is.another trickery to come.after our boys, as a mother of two African American(17 and 21) and living in an area where prostitution is abound I hope that this new law won’t be.used to further criminalise our people.. It’s something that just a person of colour can understand..

    • What about your girls? Aren’t they at higher than average risk of being prostituted?

      I *can* see black men being arrested more. After all, aren’t they arrested more for everything? I wish it weren’t so.

      • ErnestinaC

        Its not about not caring about my girls, the way I see it, I can influence the decisions of my daughters, as I can help to have an stable environment and overall decrease the risk of them being on the street, however, with my sons and the usual police profiling and harrasment, there is really nothing I can do…for example,WE only have one car(very posh apparently Land Rover 2014).. we all drive it, yet my son has been pull out 6 times this year…both boys fo to university and are no trouble….I am quite happy with the law just hope this wont be used against us…

        • derrington

          You cant if they are trafficked or drug baited. We had pimps outside my girls only school that offered girls drugs to try to befriend them and get them hooked into other substances so that they would work their habit and supply money for the pimp via sex. Most girls dont wake up around 13 years old and say hey Im going to go have sex with violent older men and jack up on smack every day.

          • ErnestinaC

            I understand completely what you are saying.. Of course the situation is much.more complex and many abuser and pimps go around… However I have not seen said pimps, at least at my kids school I have very.vividly seen the profiling and general police attitude and misuse of laws…

          • derrington

            I understand your wariness, having been threatened with having my child taken away by the police whilst being reported by a neighbour as a victim of sexist violence in the home, I feel equally wary of the male police and its institutional discrimination against several groups of people. When my daughter was the victim of a sexist assault by 6 boys in her class aged 6 and all the male head teachers backed the boys til my daughter had to leave I have since learned that sexism is as big a thing as racism. I keep fighting for my daughter’s rights and my rights in front of the law but I understand fully why people of colour in the UK call the state system Babylon and I do too – it largely works for rich, white male people and fuck the rest of us, to one degree or another. Up til 1980s, if you were female or a child and complained of male sexual violence, it was a fast track to a life long stay in a state mental institution without trial, no remission, very often suffering rape, sexual assault, electro shock ‘treatment’, drug coshing, lobotomies and forced sterilisations whilst ostracised by your family. 80,000 people were released out of state mental institutions in the 1980s who were stated as being wrongfully incarcerated and suffering of no mental condition other than having been wrongfully locked up for being the victim of sexual assault.

  • Pingback: Toronto Councillors Should Not Protect Pimps and Johns | Canada Daily()

  • Pingback: Feminist to Follow: Meghan from Feminist Current - [Witty Title Here]()