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mercredi 1er novembre 2006

Is UQAM an Accomplice to the Sex Industry ?

par Ana Popovic, community organizer for Laval Women Center

Écrits d'Élaine Audet

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What if UQAM took a Stand Against Prostitution ?
Prostitution : Justify the Injustifiable ?
Stella/UQAM’s "course" to be classified as propaganda
Prostitution - How to show solidarity without denying oneself
Prostitution and lesbianism have opposite logic

In partnership with Maria Nengeh Mensah, teacher at UQAM’ School for Social Work, and with the Service to the collectivities of UQAM, Stella, a Montreal group that works with prostituted women and promotes prostitution as a job, organizes a training course on November 17, 2006. This training course is called "Sex Work : Everything you always wanted to know but never dared ask". It is addressed, in priority, to groups of women, then to people belonging to community groups, to social services and health networks, to the police forces.

The links between UQAM’s School for Social Work and the Stella group are not new as Stella benefited from a logistical support from UQAM in 2006 on the occasion of the XXX Forum, an event that lasted 4 days and for which the Stella group was granted 270.000 CAD by the Canadian Public Health Agency. Militants and workers for the Laval Women Center were not able to take part in this forum, because of the participation requirements, such as the need to share the concept of prostitution as a job and the support of its complete decriminalization (including, therefore, the decriminalization of johns and pimps).

The discourse for making the sexual exploitation of women a legitimate vision, flippantly benefits the sex industry. It is questionable to find that a university institution, that geographically belongs to a sector dominated by the sex industry, supports the spreading of such a discourse.

Last year, the Laval Women Center took part in a training course that was organized by an inter departmental committee for the problematic that derives from "Sex Work" and affects various community and institutional networks activists. The training course was filled by the Stella group, researchers and professionals, whose discourse focused on the domination of women by men. The effect of this discourse was to standardize prostitution. We were flabbergasted to find out that what some participants (men or women) remembered from the training course was that the appropriate way to intervene with a prostituted woman was to make her understand that prostitution is a job like any others but that the working conditions are not good. In our opinion, such training given to activists is very dangerous. It is already enough that women are forced to prostitution, on the one hand, by the phenomena of hyper sexualisation which tries to establish that power is acquired by sexually submitting to the expectations of men, and, on the other hand, by the politics of neo liberalism that keeps women in poverty.

At the Laval Women Center, we are on the side of prostituted women. We consider that we are worthy of a world that is free of violence against women and we believe that we have the means to get there. According to our views, since prostitution is barter for women’s intimacy, it is in itself an act of violence against women. The act of paying for the denial of women’s desire is a way to get the impression of their consent. Sexual relations that are void of desire have negative impacts on women’s mental health, especially when they happen repeatedly.

Women’s integrity is not to be bartered. Far from being a job, prostitution is a commercialised rape. Far from being a sexual liberation for women, it strips them of their desires. "I’ve been doing this job for 19 years and I say that the reason why men go to prostitutes is that they want to feel powerful. They pay in order to be in charge. You’re his for half an hour or twenty minutes or an hour. They simply buy you, they have no obligation, you are not a person, you are an object whose purpose is to be used. " (1)

Women should particularly have the right not to be prostituted. In order to have this right, we should have the legal measures that would allow it. For example, in Sweden, where prostitution is regarded as a form of serious violence against women and children, prostituted women are decriminalized but johns (prostituers) and pimps are not. These measures must come hand in hand with a plan to fight women’s financial poverty and a global plan to fight violence against them. We must establish structures that will allow women who quit prostitution to be assured of their safety and integrate the work market. It is precisely in Sweden, in Stockholm, that the number of prostitutes has been reduced by two thirds and the number of pimps by 80%.

In general, studies demonstrate that more than 90% of women would prefer quitting prostitution if given the opportunity. Who does the discourse trivializing prostitution benefits, if not the johns (prostituers), the pimps and possibly the government which wishes to fill up the country’s treasury by liberalizing the marketing of sex on the back of women ?

At the Laval Women Center, we witness the growth in the number of women who are forced to be prostituted, on a daily basis. The majority of these women say that they do not want to and they do not like to be prostituted. On the contrary, just as women who are the victims of conjugal violence, women who are prostituted need a space where they can express their anger against the violence they are subjected to, they need to be understood and comforted in the feeling that they do not deserve this violence and if they then choose to remove themselves from it, they need to be backed up. Just as in conjugal violence or rape, prostitution is one of the extreme forms of violence done to women. Little girls do not aspire to be beaten or raped or bartered for sexual exploitation. According to the Status of Women Council, prostituted women "come from poor backgrounds with tensions or problems due to alcohol or drugs" and amongst them, aboriginal women would be in majority. (2)

Last year, during the training course in Laval, a participant belonging to the Stella group, insisted that prostitution is good for self esteem because prostituted women can have their clients tell them how beautiful they are. At the Laval Women Centre, we are worried of the consequences of making a positive image of what is agony to most women.

The training course, as it is when provided by the Stella Group, risks making the workers of the health and social services networks push women to remain in prostitution, even push them to be prostituted in order to survive financially. Moreover, the standardization of prostitution affects all women. "The assimilation of a woman to a sexual object is a topic that concerns all women, because it damages human dignity. Once in this situation, any woman can be changed into a piece of merchandise." (3)

Anna Popovic
Community organizer
Laval Women Center

1. Comité spécial d’étude de la pornographie et de la prostitution, La pornographie et la prostitution au Canada, 1985.
2. Conseil du statut de la femme, La prostitution : profession ou exploitation ? Une réflexion à poursuivre, juin 2002.
3. Tammy Quintanilla Zapata, "Le risque global d’être convertie en marchandise, Prostitution, mondialisation incarnée", Alternatives Sud ( vol XII, n° 3, 2005).

Translated for Sisyphe by Sylvie Miller

On Sisyphe, November 16, 2006

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Ana Popovic, community organizer for Laval Women Center

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