Society Has Stigmatized Sex Workers and Taken Away their Basic Human Rights

The sex work industry is surrounded by stigma, further preventing workers to obtain basic human necessities such as safety and healthcare, due to the fear of mistreatment by those that they seek help from. 

The act of sex work is criminalized within Canada, with Bill C-36 being introduced in 2014, otherwise known as the ‘Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act.’The bill allows for sex workers to sell their business, but it makes the purchase of that business illegal. 

Not only does this prevent the sex workers from receiving a source of income, but it further criminalizes the industry and its laborers. It is argued that Bill C-36 does the opposite of what it is intended to do, which is protect those involved within the sex work industry. Both experts and workers agree, that the laws preventing the purchase of services from the sex work industry, creates a more dangerous atmosphere for the sex workers. 

The workers safety is hindered as they are unable to communicate with the individual purchasing their services before the transaction is completed. This lack of transparency within transactions leads to a higher risk of harm, and a greater chance of being scammed due to the worker not knowing who they are meeting with.

The criminalization of the sex work industry also further promotes the stigma regarding this career that is already pre-existing within society. This stigma prevents workers from obtaining adequate healthcare, due to the mistreatment and judgment they are faced with when attempting to receive the help they need. 

Specific healthcare organizations have been created for sex workers to obtain the healthcare that they need, as well as advocate for the decriminalization of the industry. Experts from these health organizations commented on why there is stigma within the industry, as well as how healthcare providers can adapt to provide non-discriminatory services to workers. 

Maggie’s Toronto is an organization that works directly with sex workers to help provide them with the health related services that they need. Monica Forrester, the Indigenous coordinator, insists that the stigma around the sex work industry prevents workers from obtaining adequate healthcare. 

“The promiscuity of sex work, because people have numerous clients, or they’re working out of the moral aspect, people sleeping with multiple people for money is seen as a big issue,” Forrester said. 

She explained how the laws play a large role in the creation of stigma surrounding the sex industry, “When you have laws that criminalize sex workers, even though there is no criminal activity involved,”she says, “It has sex workers look like they’re deviance, they’re not trusted.”

 Forrester explains her own experience as a sex worker, and how she has directly felt the discrimination that goes along with the industry. Each time she would go to the doctor, any illness she was diagnosed with would be automatically linked to the line of work she was in. The same assumptions that Forrester faces are made for a majority of sex workers in the industry. 

These accusations are still made even though health and safety precautions are used by those in the industry on a regular basis. “If I disclosed I was a sex worker, then said I have an STI,” Forrester explained, “they would automatically assume it’s because I am a sex worker.”

The only way to create a safe atmosphere for those involved in the sex industry to not only work, but to obtain health-care, is to remove the pre-conceived notions about the industry from societies belief system. 

This is the belief of Rachel Phillips, executive director of Peers Victoria. Peers Victoria Resources Society is a British Columbia based organization in Victoria that provides workers with drop-in harm reduction services. The organization works to educate the public on the sex work industry, attempting to diminish the stigma that prevents sex workers from receiving basic human rights. 

Phillips explains why there is such great amounts of stigma surrounding the sex work industry, and she believes it’s because of society’s own discomfort with themselves. “I think we are a society that is uncomfortable with our sexuality,” she stated. 

It is this importance placed upon society not embracing sexuality that gives the stigma more power than it is worth she explains. 

In order to remove this stigma, Phillips suggested ways in which healthcare providers can offer a more open, non-discriminatory service for sex workers to have access to. “I think hospitals should include options to have people with lived experience to be a part of their staff,”Phillips explains, “So they can better understand what it’s like for people accessing their services.”

Phillips believes that the integration of sex workers is of immense importance as employees in the healthcare system. She explains that it would provide an un-bias atmosphere, where workers would feel they are able to receive services without fear. 

The decriminalization of the sex work industry is seen by experts and workers as the most efficient way to remove the stigma surrounding the sex industry. The criminalization that was imposed by Bill C-36 creates an unsafe atmosphere for women to work in. 

The decriminalization of the industry improves the outcome for the personal health and the safety of those involved. The criminalization inflicted by Canadian laws is the largest contributing factor to the stigma surrounding the industry. 

It is common for society to believe that the sex work industry is shameful or dirty. It is this shame placed upon workers that not only prevents them from accessing healthcare, but allows individuals to have preconceived notions about those involved. 

It is known that HIV and STIs are common amongst the sex work community, but it is not common knowledge that sex workers are not the highest population carrying STIs and HIV. This is because workers are provided with clinics to obtain tools to prevent sexually related infections. 

The imposition of Bill C-36, once believed to do the sex work community more good than harm, has done the opposite. The criminalization of the women involved in sex work places them in a position of fear, rendering them unable to access police and health service, as they believe they will be mistreated. 

“It’s the criminalization that makes healthcare risky,”stated Frédérique Chabot, director of health promotion at Action Canada for Sexual Health & Rights. “Especially in small communities, where guaranteeing privacy is not always the case,” Chabot says.

Chabot believes by criminalizing sex work, it leads to circumstances that when sex workers are offered help, it’s by individuals attempting to remove them from the industry all together. This can be dangerous for workers, as it can further prevent them from feeling as though they can receive help of some kind. 

The help that is offered to sex workers, has reservations and guidelines Chabot explains. “A lot of services are being made conditional,requiring the person to exit the industry,”she says. 

Sex workers feel not only unsafe because of this criminalization, but also feel angry. They have come to believe the government is their enemy stated Maggie McNeill, current sex worker and call girl located in Seattle, Washington.

 “The major source of danger for sex workers is, and always has been, government interference,” McNeill stated regarding the relationship between government and society officials and sex workers.

McNeill believes that there is a simple way for the stigma surrounding the industry to be substantially extinguished, “What governments can do to help sex workers to be safer, the answer is leave us alone, which is decriminalization,” she says.

McNeill believes it is not the government, and societal officials business regarding what goes on in her line of work, and it would be safer if they did not have a role within the industry. This applies to living, access to police services, as well as access to healthcare. 

The stigma surrounding the sex work industry is agreed to be the most preventative aspect of society that prevents sex workers from obtaining adequate healthcare. The distrust from the sex industry in the government and civil servants is an on-going relationship that further harms workers within this industry.

This becomes an issue, as sex workers often times have the ability to avoid institutions that involve government officials and police officers, but they are unable to avoid healthcare professionals throughout their entire adult lifespan.