Migrant sex workers rights are human rights!
What we are about:
We are a grassroots group of migrants, sex workers, and allies who demand safety and dignity for all sex workers regardless of immigration status. We use a justice based framework that places sex worker rights on equal footing against racism, settler colonialism and border imperialism. We are creating tools that migrant sex workers use to protect themselves against human rights violations, educating the public about the dangers of anti-trafficking and advocating to change policies that hurt and exploit migrants in the sex trade.
The Migrant Sex Worker Project was formed when three long time grassroots activists came together to deal with problems facing migrants in the sex trade. It brought together organizers from sex work, migrant justice, and migrant sex work justice.
What is a migrant sex worker?
Migrant sex workers are members of our society and they are our neighbours. A migrant sex worker is anyone who has left where they live to go to another place (either through formal or informal avenues) and also works in the sex industry. We are of all genders but are more likely to be women (both cisgender and transgender).
Currently migrants work in every sector of the sex industry in Canada. They work in strip clubs, condos, the streets, the internet, massage parlours and dungeons. They are from everywhere in the world. Some are pushed out of their home country because of poverty, discrimination or violence. Some leave because they aspire to a better life for themselves and their family.
Migrant sex workers are frequently racialized, poor, and working class women. They often face struggles with immigration, housing, and accessing health services and labour protections.
Why sex work?
In our society, people need paid work and sex work is a job. Some do this work to survive and some to actualize themselves. If a migrant cannot access regular channels of work they may need to seek work in underground economies such as sex work, construction, or restaurants, getting paid under the table. For those people, sex work may be one of the only options. For others, sex work may be the best option because it can sometimes offer better working conditions, pay, and flexibility than other work available (eg live-in caregiving). Whether someone is in the sex industry due to choice, coercion, or economic circumstance, criminalization increases their vulnerability to violence, exploitation, and HIV and reduces access to safety and services and human rights.
Migrant Sex Work and Trafficking
Migrant sex work is not the same as trafficking. Forced labour exists in many different industries including construction, hospitality, farming, care-giving and agriculture. The sex industry makes up a minority of trafficking cases. We honour that people who migrate are capable of consenting to sex work and their consent is relevant.
Since July 2102, all migrant sex workers are no longer eligible for temporary work permits in Canada. As a result, sex workers who need or want to leave their homes for Canada are being forced to seek out underground methods of migrating, relying on potentially exploitative third parties. Restricting pathways of migration pushes sex workers into the hands of “smugglers” who will help them migrate through informal channels--but who may also be exploitative or violent. Increasing the options for people to migrate keeps power in the migrant’s hands.
How Bill C-36 Hurts Migrant Sex Workers
In June 2014, the federal government introduced new anti-sex work legislation called Bill C 36. Migrant sex workers across the globe struggle to work in healthy and safe environments without threat of arrest, detention, or deportation. If Bill C 36 passes, it will make these efforts harder. The bill increases the penalties for many of the activities related to sex work and adds new laws that criminalize the purchase of sex and advertising sex workers’ services. You can find out more specifics about the law here.
Due to immigration status, language barriers, discrimination, lack of financial resources and information etc. migrant sex workers already have a hard time working independently and may choose to rely on third parties to help them. Working with third parties with no legal or labour rights increases vulnerability to gender-based violence--and Bill C36 is going to make this worse. Migrant sex workers are already often not able to access police protection without risk of imprisonment or deportation. Criminalizing of third parties and clients will make migrant sex workers further isolated and vulnerable--which will increase their risk of violence and being trafficked.
Remembering and Honouring Migrant Sex Workers
Veronica D. was a 24 year old migrant sex working trans woman from Mexico living in Toronto. In July 2014, she killed herself after facing unbearable difficulties with her immigration status and housing. Veronica’s death highlighted the ways that migrant sex workers face a web of barriers in getting the support they need to survive and thrive.
In 2013, Jiali Zhang, a migrant sex worker from China living in Toronto was murdered while at work. Her immigrations status was under review and she was working clandestinely without basic legal and labour protections. Without the protection that all workers need and deserve, she was made vulnerable to the violence of an aggressor posing as a client.
On October 11, 2014, Evelyn Bumetay Castillo was murdered. 43-years-old and a Filipino citizen, Evelyn came to Canada as a temporary foreign worker in January 2013. While caring for a family with three children, Evelyn was also working as an independent sex worker. Evelyn is one of these million migrants who are displaced each year, seeking ways to support their families aboard. Instead she found precarious work in a place like Canada where the laws criminalize and illegalize lives and livelihoods rather than ensure justice and dignity.
Let us honour the lives of Jiali, Veronica, Evelyn’s and all sex workers as we struggle for permanent immigration status, safety, and dignity for all women and mothers, migrants and sex workers -- for all workers.
Butterfly is an organization which provides supports and information to and advocates the human rights of Asian and Migrant Sex Workers in Canada.
STRUT is a group of people with experience in the sex trade working to build power and relationships among those most directly impacted by the criminalization of sex workers’ lives and to connect, collaborate and vision new ways of responding to the oppression of sex workers that centres native sovereignty, migrant and racial justice. We want to create a world where all people, including people in the sex industry are free, strong, care for each other and get to make decisions about our own lives.
No One Is Illegal - Toronto is a group of immigrants, refugees and allies who fight for the rights of all migrants to live with dignity and respect. We believe that granting citizenship to a privileged few is a part of racist immigration and border policies designed to exploit and marginalize migrants. We work to oppose these policies, as well as the international economic policies that create the conditions of poverty and war that force migration. At the same time, it is part of our ongoing work to support and build alliances with Indigenous peoples in their fight against colonialism, displacement and the ongoing occupation of their land.