This week kicked my arse / the politician gets the massage.
So, it is 6am on a Saturday morning and I have just awoken from a nap that was supposed to be 2 hours but quickly turned into 10. This week kicked my arse - Community education sessions, grants for street based sex workers, keeping up with election shenanigans, watching Bill and Kate get hitched, you know the usual.
Anyhow, I awoke at 4:30am (wide awake and feeling like I had a flight to catch) to see a recent tweet from CBC Parliamentary reporter geek girl (and overall awesomesauce person) @kady stating, “You know, I’d like to hear @firecatkitty’s view on this.” followed by 8 tweeters also asking for my opinion on a topic that I was sure had to do with 1. the election and 2. prostitution.
I should state that I got a sinking feeling in my tummy (and I still have it) because regardless of what the story is - if it has to do with sex workers and politicians, the jokes and snide remarks about “hookers and whores” are inevitable. Just like opponents and media pull the politicians down they pull the women down as well. Whether they are innocent or not the jokes and rhetoric against sex workers can be nasty. (I have already seen a few nasty jokes tweeted this morning, you will also see terminology change for the worse. i.e. hooker, prostitute, whorehouse and the like). I have that sinking feeling because these stories always fuel stigma against sex workers.
Anyhow, the recent news story is that Jack Layton, leader of the NDP went to a massage parlour in 1996 when he was a city councilor. A Sun TV News media report came out Friday (citing an unnamed source) stating that Layton was interviewed by police in a suspected Toronto bawdyhouse in 1996. Layton’s wife Olivia, who is also a Member of Parliament, released a statement stating that she knew Jack Layton had a massage, he works out, he needed one, and he remembers the police warning him not to return to the area because, as his lawyer states, “he had no knowledge whatsoever that the therapist’s location may have been used for illicit purposes.”
What bothers me about this story.. is that it is a story. It bothers me that while there are such serious issues we should be talking about in regards to sex work and prostitution in this country, we are focusing on someones visit to a place in ‘96 because sex work may have happened there (and yes I would say this regardless of who the leader in question is). It bothers me that sex workers are still, in 2011, being used to discredit elections and the political process while the issues that they face are being ignored.
This year sex workers across Canada continue to go missing and murdered while funding for women’s services and programs (that actually saves lives and restores justice) is slashed by decision makers. This year in the Ontario Supreme Court, Justice Judge Himel declared our prostitution laws unconstitutional as they create unsafe working conditions and harm to sex workers. The response of our federal government? They chose this. They are on their own.
In a couple of months I plan in attending a trial where a man picked up a street based sex worker, sexually assaulted her, duct taped her naked in the trunk of his car, which she escaped from (when the car was still moving). This same man is also on trial in October for murdering another sex workers.
And in the face of this violence, stigma against sex workers continues to be fueled and hypocritical political parties use them as society’s punching bag. Not only that, regardless of our stance on the issue, the laws on prostitution could be changing, which will dramatically change how our communities are policed and regulated but no one seems to care. It is prostitution after all, and the only time sex work is a real national issue, is when a politician didn’t know better, should have known better, or for political gain by other parties.
I suppose I was a bit naïve to think that will all the violence, court cases, and funding cuts that happened this year that there would be space in this election where we could talk about the critical issues facing sex workers, and not the space that they may or may not have shared with politicians. I pleaded with the TV for someone ask the leaders how they would work to stop the violence against women and address the stigma that sex workers face. I wanted someone to ask the leaders if they believe that that the health and safety of community can be determined by the health and safety its most marginalized. I wanted some sense through this campaign that nationally we had our priorities straight - because lives, not newspaper sales or joke books or water cooler chatter, depend on it.