Are Sex Workers' Rights Becoming Thinkable?

Published: January 3, 2014

 In most countries, the concept of sex workers’ human rights has been unthinkable for the last few millennia. As Bubbles, the co-founder of the blog Tits and Sass, has observed, “Sex workers are generally portrayed as victims or punchlines.”

Recent political developments, however, suggest some growing political awareness of sex workers as human beings. On December 20, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Jean Bedford, Amy Lebovitch, and Valerie Scott. These three women, self-identified sex workers, filed suit in 2007 because they felt three provisions in the Canadian Criminal Code violated their constitutional rights.
After six years of weaving its way through the courts, their case resulted in a unanimous decision striking down laws against keeping or being found in a brothel (or “bawdy house,” to use the law’s term), living on the avails (profits) of selling sex, and “communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution” (street soliciting). These provisions, the Court ruled, violated the right to “security of the person” guaranteed by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms enacted in 1982. The Globe and Mail, Canada’s nationally distributed newspaper, described Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin’s decision (on behalf of the Court) as not being “about whether prostitution should be legal or not, but about whether Parliament’s means of controlling it infringe the constitutional rights of prostitutes.”

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