Indigenous perspectives on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, Call for an End to Violence

On December 17th 2010, sex workers and their allies across the globe will mark the 8th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.  This day draws attention to acts of violence that continue to be committed against sex workers worldwide, and to the stigma and discrimination perpetuated by prohibitionist laws and views against sex work, which endanger our lives and work.

In Canada, although the recent decriminalisation decision from the Ontario Superior Court has given much hope to the sex worker rights movement, police harassment and brutality are ongoing, and discrimination remains unabated. This is particularly true for Indigenous communities and communities of color.

On this day it is also remembered that the criminal legal system along with the police are creations of the colonial state. The criminal legal system in the United States and Canada disproportionately targets Indigenous communities. Sex work is no different. Indigenous sex workers are vastly more likely to be subjected to repeated arrests, police and prison violence including sexual assault, incarceration, longer sentences, to have their children removed and lack of access to culturally relevant services within or outside of prisons. They are also the most likely group of sex workers to be murdered or disappeared. These realities are not only limited to Canada or the United States, but are reflective of Indigenous experiences the world over.

This year, the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and Maggie’s: the Toronto Sex Worker’s Action Project are working together in order to centralise the experiences of Indigenous sex workers, who face disproportionate amounts of violence due to ongoing colonization, legacies of Residential Schools, and systemic racism in addition to the stigma associated with sex and sex work.  Jessica Yee, Executive Director of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network and a board member at Maggie’s says that, “We recognise that violence and patriarchy have long been used as tools to subjugate, disempower and undermine Indigenous people’s autonomy over our own bodies. The very creation of Canada and the United States was achieved through state sanctioned sexual violence and the imposition of heteropatriarchy. Responses to violence against Indigenous sex workers today must be aware of these histories and, as such, should be led by Indigenous people themselves. Further, such responses must be aware of the recolonising effect of so-called ‘helping’ Indigenous people and ‘rescuing’ sex workers. Most importantly, non- Indigenous peoples and organisations must respect and learn from the many ways in which Indigenous communities have already been and continue to work to end violence.”

Friends, supporters, allies and everyone interested in ending violence against Indigenous sex workers is invited to an event this Saturday, December 18th at the Native Canadian Centre in Toronto entitled: “Sharing, Celebrating, Decolonising: Indigenous Sex Work”. Starting at 6pm, this event will feature performances from Brenda MacIntyre, Red Slam Collective as well as a roundtable discussion with various Indigenous sex worker rights activists, community members and community service organisations about the right to work with safety and dignity and how to end violence. There will also be a traditional feast and giveaway to celebrate the lives of those who continue to survive and thrive in the face of racism and discrimination – including Indigenous sex workers – as well as those fighting for the right of self determination over their bodies and spaces.

The Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN)is a North-America wide organization working on issues of healthy sexuality, cultural competency, youth empowerment, reproductive justice, and sex positivity by and for Native youth. The reclamation and revitalisation of traditional knowledge about people's fundamental human rights over their bodies and spaces, intersected with present-day realities is fundamental to our work. We work within the full spectrum of reproductive and sexual health for Indigenous peoples.

Maggie's (Toronto)is an organisation run for and by sex workers. Our mission is to assist sex workers in our efforts to live and work with safety and dignity. We are founded on the belief that in order to improve our circumstances, sex workers must control our own lives and destinies.