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Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada

By Emily van der Meulen, Eyla M. Durisin, and Victoria Love, Editors

Review By Kevin Walby

March 6, 2014

BC Studies no. 184 Winter 2014-2015  | p. 156-57

Selling Sex draws in many authors who have long been involved in the struggle to decriminalize sex work in Canada. The volume offers chapters written by academics, activists, and sex industry workers. Together they make a timely empirical and conceptual contribution to literature on sex work and public policy. The Supreme Court of Canada has now struck down the Canadian criminal code sections related to sex work, and the legal and social meanings of sex work will change in the coming years. Still, Selling Sex is the most comprehensive book on commercial sex in Canada to date.

The volume begins with several chapters penned by current and former sex workers as well as by public policy critics. These chapters provide nuanced accounts of how people get involved in the sex industry and how they navigate the pressures and tensions of the job. River Redwood’s chapter on male sex work assesses issues of work and stereotypes in the industry. Victoria Love reflects on issues of intimacy and emotional labour. Additional chapters such as those by socio-legal scholar Sarah Hunt explore issues of colonialism, indigenous status, and sex work in British Columbia.

The next section offers chapters by scholars and activists on sex work and social movements. Jenn Clamen, Kara Gillies, and Trish Salah examine the relationship between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and sex workers rights groups. Joyce Arthur, Susan Davis, and Esther Shannon reflect on the history of sex work organizing in Vancouver, while Anna-Louise Crago and Clamen explore similar mobilizations in Montreal. There is also an informative chapter on feminism and harm reduction in Halifax.

The final section explores how sex work is regulated. John Lowman analyzes the misleading evidence presented by the Crown in Bedford v. Canada and how this figured into the Ontario Superior and Appeal Court decisions. Chris Bruckert and Stacey Hannem look at claims about Ottawa Police Service abuse of female on-street sex workers. Emily van der Meulen and Mariana Valverde investigate often overlooked municipal regulations such as zoning policies and by-laws. Lawyer Alan Young offers an afterword on his involvement in the constitutional challenge of Canada’s sex work laws.

There are several other innovative chapters in each section. As a whole, Selling Sex is a position statement from those who are involved in sex work and those who study it. The message is three-fold. First, sex work is a diverse practice. Second, sex workers deserve respect and protection. Third, the laws in Canada do not recognize the diversity and complexity of sex work and do not allow the workers to be safe or be treated with respect. These authors challenge the status quo and demand that Canadians think differently about commercial sex. Hopefully those making new sex work laws in Canada pay attention to this volume.

Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada
Emily van der Meulen, Eyla M. Durisin, and Victoria Love, editors
Vancouver: UBC Press, 2013. 364 pp. $34.95 paper