The protests regarding sex workers were a form of resistance against sexual inequality and the right to have their work recognized as legitimate work. We as a society would like to think that we have evolved from our historical roots but that would be an unfair statement to make. Historically, “Certain people, because they have been racialized or gendered in a specific way, have been excluded from full citizenship rights.” (Gordon, 2006:33). In contemporary society, this exclusion does not exist in the same way that it did, but it can be seen with how the state attempts to control sex workers. Many sex workers want their work to be seen as legitimate work and to have labour laws that can help protect them from sexual violence. Bill C-36 is a legislation that puts sex workers in danger very similar to past legislations regarding prostitution. The state passing laws that further endanger prostitutes can be understood as a form of power dynamic. It is clear that sex workers do not have the same rights as the average citizen simply because their work is not seen as legitimate and many people will also argue that sex work is morally wrong. However, it can also be argued that women should have the power to enter whichever career they choose as long as it was chosen by them. But now we are entering a new philosophical and political debate where freedom is not as easily attainable as it might seem. Some will argue that no women will actually want to work in the sex industry and that they are forced by social and structural circumstances and therefore, it cannot be seen as a freedom of choice. It has been argued that women have entered the sex industry because they are in need of financial income and the only work they can enter that will pay them decently well is somewhere in the line of sex work. No matter which side one chooses, there is no doubt that social and structural circumstances has inevitably shaped the way how our society is. Now one must consider how difficult it may be in order to change these social and structural circumstances. One method that is mostly used is through dissent, where particular groups will protest in order to fight against the social norm and change their circumstances.
Crime is a social phenomenon that can be manipulated with official statistics through different policing strategies. The real threat of prostitution has been magnified in regards to the safety of the public. For example, in Bill C-36, there is a section that prohibits sex workers from communicating in any public space where a minor may be present. In the previous legislation, communication for the purpose of prostitution was illegal, as one can see, even though the legislation is worded differently, it is essentially the same law. It has been argued that the target is to ensure public safety. However, if one were to analyze the situation, one would see that communication is a key component for sex workers because it is where the workers can communicate their terms and to essentially have a verbal contract of what can and cannot be done. With the prohibition of communication in public space, sex workers are forced to go right into the client’s cars or any other private area to discuss anything and by that point; sexual abuse and assault could have already taken place. Therefore, by prohibiting the use of communication in public space directly increases the risk of sex workers. One may ask, why does the state develop such laws and one answer may be because, “The state has responsibility for a society, a civil society, and the state must see to the management of this civil society” (Foucault 2009:350). In the eyes of the state, this dominant institution must take action in order to produce a civil society. However, one must consider who is really making these laws, who do these laws benefit, how does this set of laws impact those individuals with power and what is the impact on society as a whole. As one can see, the dominant institution has been operating and reproducing systemic issues and conditions that make sex workers vulnerable to violence. Thus, one can see how Bill C-36 does not protect sex workers even though the law claims to protect sex workers and ensure public safety.
In addition, “The search for security is thus the driving force behind the creation of absolute sovereignty, derived in turn from the supposed absolute liberty of individual in the state of nature (Neocleous 2008:14). The government passes laws so that it creates this sense of security but, certain laws, such as Bill C-36 can be damaging and dangerous for those involved. Additionally, one may argue that the government and the media has shifted our attention away from other important issues such as the social inequalities that many face due to poverty, social class difference, racism, and discrimination. Due to the nature of sex work, many people tend to have strong feelings and opinions because it is usually argued on the grounds of morality. One may argue it is simply because this is a way of controlling the public as a whole. Sex workers include many different races but usually only one class, the lower socio-economic class. It would be absurd to argue otherwise and the protests that sex workers are engaging in is a form of resistance in hopes of changing our capitalistic, racialized, and patricidal society.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977-1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 311-328. [29 March 1978 lecture]
Gordon, Todd. 2006. “Producing Capitalist Order: Police, Class, Race and Gender.” Pp. 29-51 in Cops, Crime, and Capitalism. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing.
Neocleous, Mark. 2008. “’The Supreme Concept of Bourgeois Society’: Liberalism and the Technique of Security.” Pp. 11-38 in Critique of Security. Montreal/Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.