35. My Rights are Sex Workers' Rights
Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity
Saturday, June 11, 2016
Vancouver, BC, Canada
Sex workers, allies, family and friends stand together
The red umbrella is the symbol of the global sex workers’ rights movement. The Red Umbrella March is part of a national day of action, with similar events taking place in cities across Canada.
In Vancouver it began at 2:30 p.m. on June 11 with a rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery (Robson Street plaza), followed by a march starting at 3 p.m. The march travelled through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to CRAB Park.
Protest chants included:
Freedom to associate is our right!
Get your laws off my body!
Sex workers rights are human rights!
My body, my business, my choice!
No bad whores, only bad laws!
Sex worker rights now!
I support sex workers' rights
A Blow Job is Better than No Job.
This year’s focus was “Freedom to Associate is Our Right!”
The Freedom to Associate is a right granted to all citizens by our Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Canada’s new anti-prostitution laws violate sex workers’ freedom even to the point that standing in the street together is illegal if it encourages buying sex.
Marching together shows Canadians that when sex workers’ freedom to associate is infringed upon, it is a concern for all Canadians. It forces them to work alone and unsafe, they’re alienated, their families are torn apart.
When the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act became law in 2014, purchasing sexual services became a crime for the first time in Canada. Advocates for this, the “Nordic model,” believe it is the way to keep sex workers safe from violence and exploitation.
In the eyes of anti-sex work activists, “shaming the Johns” is a legitimate way to reduce the overall amount of street prostitution (estimated to comprise not more than 15 percent of all sexual services offered in Canada). But “John shaming” impacts sex workers themselves. Making what they do illegal only forces them to do it in riskier circumstances. For instance, street-based sex workers face longer hours, thanks to a temporary decline in clients. They may be more willing to take clients they would otherwise screen out, particularly when they’re under greater pressure to avoid police detection. And clients may be less likely to seek relevant health care. The Vancouver Police Department say they don’t consider sex between consenting adults an enforcement priority, claiming to only intervene in situations where there are reports of violence, exploitation, or involvement of youth or gangs.
But there’s no real difference between banning providing sexual services and banning paying for them. As long as the act of engaging in sex for money is illegal, sex workers will not see the police as allies in the moments that they really need them.
From the early 1990s to 2002, more than 70 women disappeared from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, most of them sex workers and all of them poor. Criminalization only served to push these women away from police and from the rest of society; it never made them safer. Robert Pickton admitted to an undercover police officer that he killed 49 women after he was arrested in 2002. He was convicted of the second-degree murders of six women and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Former Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu has repeatedly apologized for his force’s failure to stop Pickton’s killing spree. Lawsuits claimed police, including individual RCMP officers, and the Crown failed to warn women on the Downtown Eastside that a serial killer may have been responsible for women disappearing, and was wrong for not putting Pickton on trial for attempted murder following an attack on a sex worker in 1997.
The Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity was co-organized by: Triple-X Workers’
Solidarity Association of B.C., Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV), Pivot Legal Society, PACE Society, B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, FIRST: Feminists Advocating for the Decriminalization of Sex Work, SWAN Society Vancouver.