Sex work in Canada

Cover design by Lauren Kelly

An interview with Emele Devine on the current industry

By Anonymous

Sex work is known by many names. Escorting, companionship, and service providers just to name a few. However you say it, the meaning is clear.

The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) has been in place for 5 years now. The law was adopted after the Canadian Supreme Court of Canada shot down Canada’s prostitution laws in the case of Bedford v. Canada. How is this law affecting the community of sex workers? To answer this question and many more is Emele Devine. A sex worker herself, Devine has worked tirelessly for the rights of sex workers in the Vancouver area. A few of her many accomplishments include frequently volunteering for local non-profits that assist people in the Vancouver sex trade and giving speeches advocating for the decriminalization of sex work at many events.

The Other Press: How did you get involved in sex work?

Emele Devine: “Sometimes I feel that any time I have exchanged emotional labour for a perk, I have participated in sex work. Relationships where I benefited from something my partner had—I can see that as sex work. Formally though, I answered a recruiting ad on Backpage in 2015. I got set up with a professional persona, ad, and photos. I answered email inquiries and booked my first clients.”

OP: Why do you like doing sex work?

ED: “It allows me to utilize the best of my skills and knowledge to help make a real difference in someone’s life. I work to my energy and interest levels, while still making enough to pay off debt, make monthly donations, and save for my future. I feel like I’m living my best life, on my terms, and in a place that I can explore and celebrate myself.”

OP: What is a cost associated with sex work that people may not realize?

ED: “Sex work is a combination of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual tiredness. It’s holding space and validating another human being; the cost of such work is difficult to comprehend without actually experiencing how laborious it is. In this profession you also spend an absurd amount of time doing maintenance since you’re self-employed and selling the brand of you and your life. ”

OP: People may think that sex work is as simple as having sex for money. What is a point that people may not expect?

ED: “BDSM and cuddling are as therapeutic as conventional therapy. Just as everyone learns differently, everyone heals differently. The stigma and prejudice against sexuality keeps a lot of people from getting help.”

OP: There is a perception that the women who do sex work are uneducated. Is this accurate?

ED: “A lot of sex workers are incredibly formally educated but are underemployed in the workforce. […] Many forms of continuing/higher education “don’t count” in the eyes of many if there isn’t a certificate at the end, or if it wasn’t taught at a traditional institution.”

OP: Are terms like “prostitute” and “hooker” considered derogatory?

ED: Language in every community has its share of controversy, and sex work is no exception. Some choose to reclaim historically hateful words, while others would prefer that the terms are taken out of regular use. I prefer to use a wide range of terms for my work that I can tailor to my audience. Where ‘escort’ may be ambiguous to some, ‘hooker’ is definitive in meaning, but also demeaning in use. ‘Sex worker’ is the most neutral and current term. ”

OP: What’s the most important thing people should know about sex work and sex workers?

ED: “Everyone can be a sex worker, but it doesn’t mean that everyone should be one. It’s difficult work to do well while maintaining your health. The work should not be taken lightly. It’s accessible… but is best done from a place of choice. Penalizing sex work itself is not helpful; systemic changes are more effective at reducing ‘desperation sex work.’”

OP: Though the Nordic Law is in place as a deterrent to sex work, there still seem to be a lot of active sex workers for a job with no legal clients. Are the police actually arresting people who take part in the purchasing of sex?

ED: “In Vancouver, the VPD are instructed that in lieu of any other crime in the city, to leave sex workers to their work. Unless there’s damage being done to people or property, there is no need for them to intervene in our affairs. If the sex being purchased is between consenting adults, there’s not much reason to arrest. However, in instances of minors and trafficked people, there is more than adequate basis to conduct arrests.”

OP: Outside of decriminalization, what are some of the main issues facing sex workers in 2020?

ED: “Advertising is a big one. The ability to affordably advertise and work in groups would go a long way in ensuring our security. Not having our content filtered or blocked on social media platforms, as well as having our profiles not removed from dating sites would also normalize sex for everyone.

When it comes to housing and employment, I’d say that many sex workers fear being evicted as a result of their work. Additionally, they fear being fired from their civilian jobs. Stigma unfairly casts us as unreliable and undesirable.”

OP: If people want to educate themselves on sex work in Canada, where should they go?

ED:PACE Society, Wish Society, SWAN, and Living in Community are all local organizations that work with sex workers of varying backgrounds and have a wealth of information. Advice blogs such as Lola Davina’s are amazing sources of information that often link to other groups and more specific knowledge.”

Unfortunately for non-profits, we tend to have unstable funding which puts our members at risk for further danger on all fronts. It is crucial that we are funded adequately because every cent we spend now is dollars saved in the future. If the systems are not able to change rapidly enough, then organizations picking up the slack need more consistent resources to be effective.