Two Canadian events, supposedly feminist in nature, have announced they will be partnering with the sex trade lobby. SlutWalk Toronto, which held its first march in April 2011 after police officer Michael Sanguinetti told students that “women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized,” will be holding their seventh annual march on August 12th. In an email, march organizers announced that they planned to center “sex worker rights” this year and, as such, were partnering with Maggie’s: Toronto Sex Workers Action Project, a lobby group that advocates to fully decriminalize brothels and the purchase of sex.
From early on, SlutWalk has expressed a capitalist, libertarian approach to the sex trade that refused to criticize its misogynist and racist foundation, instead presenting prostitution as gender neutral, empowering for women, and “a job like any other.” But to explicitly partner with an organization that exists primarily to promote sex work as work, to the point that they endorse “youth sex work” and have argued that consent laws harm prostituted children, takes this pro-prostitution position to another level.
In their 2011 “Youth at Work” issue, Shameless magazine published an article by , who was working with Maggie’s Toronto to create a guide for “youth sex workers.” She positioned child prostitution as a viable “choice” and argued that men who buy sex from exploited children should be decriminalized, writing, “age of consent laws pose a risk to the safety of youth aged 14 and 15 who decide to engage in sex work.” McKee, who was prostituted at the age of 14, also argued that the sex trade “helped [her] out in [her] life.” She points to Maggie’s as the organization that helped her understand that prostitution is not a bad thing, but an empowering thing.
Considering SlutWalk has particular appeal to young women, it is extremely concerning that this upcoming march is partnering with an organization that promotes prostitution as an empowered choice, not just for women, but for girls.
Beyond this, Maggie’s has worked to silence and smear feminists who criticize the sex trade. In 2015, the organization launched a petition to have me fired and no-platformed, due in large part to my writing (published then at rabble.ca, a Canadian progressive online magazine) in opposition to the sex trade. The petition authors made numerous libelous statements about my words and my work, labeling me as “racist,” a “bigot,” “transmisogynistic,” and “whorephobic.” While, ultimately, I was not fired from my job, the petition and willingness of this organization to publish lies about and work to silence women who make feminist arguments against objectification and male violence against women further cemented their anti-feminist and anti-democratic politics.
On July 29th, the Vancouver Dyke March, an annual event that works toward “greater visibility, pride, and community engagement for queer women and their allies” announced that the Grand Marshal for the 14th Annual Vancouver Dyke March was Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV).
Like Maggie’s, SWUAV is a lobby group that advocates for the full decriminalization of pimps, johns, and brothel-owners. In 2007, the non-profit group filed a constitutional challenge to Canada’s prostitution laws, and has worked with Pivot since then to fight for the decriminalization of johns.
In 2014, SWUAV and Pivot co-published a report called, “Criminalization of Clients: Reproducing Vulnerabilities for Violence and Poor Health among Street-Based Sex Workers in Canada,” which argued against the “criminalization and policing of sex buyers.” In 2016, SWUAV and Pivot partnered with Maggie’s, as well as a number of other pro-sex industry lobby groups, on a submission to the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which argued it was the criminalization of johns — not the men themselves — that endangered prostituted women. The submission presents prostitution as a source of “economic empowerment” for women and attacks Canada’s new, hard fought for feminist legislation (the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, also known as Bill C-36), which decriminalized prostituted people and criminalized exploitative men, demanding the new laws be repealed. Shockingly, the submission also goes to great lengths to downplay trafficking, saying there is “little evidence of trafficking in Canada,” that numbers are exaggerated, reports sensationalized, and that trafficking is not a pressing problem in Canada, despite numerous reports showing otherwise. Indeed, there is ample evidence connecting the trafficking of Asian women to “massage parlours” across Canada; and Indigenous girls and women, in particular, are trafficked within Canada’s borders. Yet the submission states, “In the vast majority of situations, Indigenous women do sex work independently and voluntarily.”
To imply that marginalized women and girls are voluntarily choosing prostitution of their own free will, that it empowers them, and that men should not be held accountable for exploiting these women and girls is deeply unethical. To deny the problem of trafficking in order to advocate towards the full decriminalization of prostitution, when it is common knowledge that trafficking increases in countries that legalize prostitution, is similarly unconscionable. Both Maggie’s and SWUAV have shown themselves to be working in the interests of capitalism, white supremacy, and patriarchy in their efforts to normalize and expand the sex trade. They have also demonstrated opposition to feminists and women’s rights. That two events purporting to center women and women’s empowerment have officially partnered with such demonstrably unethical and anti-feminist groups is deeply troubling.