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Decriminalization of sex work and Indigenous youth and communities – Response from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network

October 18, 2010

Decriminalization of sex work and Indigenous youth and communities – a response from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network on the recent Ontario Superior Court Decision

October 5, 2010 (Toronto) – The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) would like to express our support of the recent Ontario Superior Court decision to strike down three aspects of the criminalization of sex work which include: living off of the avails of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy-house and communicating in a public place for the purpose of engaging in prostitution. However, given the lack of Indigenous voices during this process, there is some confusion as to what this could mean for Indigenous people here and now.

As a North America wide organization working in the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health by and for Indigenous youth, NYSHN is particularly concerned with the ways in which Indigenous youth perspectives and rights as sex workers are generally not taken into account. In this case, it was not Indigenous people bringing this court challenge forward and unfortunately our voices have not been heard well.

However, this decision has the potential to actually mean less violence for Indigenous communities, not only because it allows for safer working conditions for sex workers, it also means less police interference. Given that Indigenous communities face racial profiling and police brutality as an everyday lived experience, as well as extremely high rates of incarceration, this is of utmost importance to our safety. Current estimates state that Aboriginal people make up more than 20% of the total prison inmate population across Canada, which is a full ten times more than the general population.

If sex workers are able to live off of the money they earn, they may be able to afford shelter, better provide for their families, or be able to hire someone else, such as a driver, as protection. If they are able to openly communicate about sex work, they may be able to negotiate safer working conditions (such as condom use) with a client or report violence without fear of being arrested. If keeping a bawdy-house is no longer illegal, then sex workers may have access to indoor working conditions, decreasing the chances of street-based violence. If police are given less opportunity to arrest people on the basis of these laws, it means less Indigenous people that are incarcerated because of sex work. These are just a few examples of how this ruling has the potential to reduce violence.

However, as stated by the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) this ruling does not adequately address the systemic racism and classism as well as a fundamental power imbalance and issues of inequality, which are realities for Indigenous youth in Canada. Given the amount of prejudice and discrimination faced by Indigenous communities, it is imperative that we are included and heard throughout all policy-making processes, not only for our own safety and security but also as a best practice when making decisions that disproportionately affect us.

Furthermore, it is imperative that we recognize that Indigenous youth are over policed, but under protected. High rates of arrest and incarceration are a reality, yet there still has been no justice for the over 500 missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. For Indigenous women who do engage in sex work, there is a double discrimination that is experienced because of the overlapping prejudices of racism associated with being Indigenous, and societal stigma associated with engaging in sex work. This increases the risk of violence, which means in order to protect Indigenous women; we need to consider decriminalization in the context of also stopping racism. That being said, decriminalization is still one of the many steps that the courts and lawmakers must take to respect the self-determination of Indigenous sex workers.

Media Contact:
Jessica Yee, Executive Director
jyee@nativeyouthsexualhealth.com

http://nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/

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