Women must disrobe in court to prevent “wrongful convictions”

The Toronto woman known as N.S. may not testify in court against her abusers while wearing a niqab. According to Justice Norris Weisman of the Ontario Court of Justice, if a woman wears a niqab in court while testifying against the family members who abused her as a child, it will be impossible to “assess the witness’s demeanour and tailor the thrust and direction of their questions accordingly” during the cross examination, which will lead to “wrongful convictions” and “loss of public confidence in the justice system.” He has an odd idea of what will lead to “loss of public confidence in the justice system.” Since the judge’s decision on whether or not to convict child abusers seems to depend largely on the “demeanor” of witnesses while in court, specifically her facial expressions, rather than on the facts of the case, I’d say we don’t have much of a justice system. The reason, of course, is that the goal of the court is not to convict child molesters,  but to prove women are lying, and they will accept any method of proving that she is lying, including such subjective and unreliable criteria as facial expressions.

Some people are saying it’s the niqab that’s oppressive, not the law that demands it be removed. Obviously, the niqab is a form of women’s oppression, but the fact is, some women are used to wearing it and believe it to be important.  When the court demands you remove clothing that you normally wear or else you cannot testify against an abuser, that is more sexual abuse.  It sends the message to other women who wear veils that they should not seek justice from Western law enforcement because they will be assaulted again by the laws of the court.

Women must decide on their own terms when to stop wearing religious veils. When the court tries to ban clothing off of women, the result is that child abusers walk free.

In which Bushfire almost goes to Slutwalk and then doesn’t

The second Slutwalk march is being held in Toronto on Saturday July 12. It never occurred to me that I would go to Slutwalk again, even though I did attend the first one and noted some positive aspects, but some of my Facebook friends start posting information about it that caught my interest. This little ad that says “Who are you calling a …..” seems like an improvement over the horrendous “Sluts Say Yes” banners.  It removes the word entirely and instead challenges the person using it.

slutwalk 1

Then I saw several tweets, tumblr posts and more little ads talking about some great stuff.

slutwalk 2slutwalk 3

I very much support the idea that all bodies should be respected, no matter the gender, no matter the clothing, no matter what. And finding out from friends that women were reporting being assaulted at Word Pride made me decide to go to Slutwalk. The crowds were very thick at Pride and apparently men were grabbing women’s breasts and one woman even reported that a man lifted her skirt and pushed his erection against her.  Then they would just disappear into the crowd and even if a police officer was nearby it was impossible to find the attacker.  I thought, I can handle some sex-poz bullshit if it means I’m also supporting a demonstration against sexual assault and victim-blaming, right? So I decided to attend Slutwalk.

Then I saw this article from the sex work lobby and it said exactly what I expected it to say about sex-work-is-work, but a certain sentence really struck me:

“These three laws were struck down; however the federal government has since tabled new legislation that in many ways simply reproduces the old laws while also criminalizing prostitution in news ways, including the purchase of sexual services, the advertisement of sexual services, and criminalizing youth sex workers that work together.”

This author wrote the words “youth sex workers.” YOUTH SEX WORKERS.  Do they even listen to themselves when they talk? Teenagers being raped are now called “workers?” They want to legalize this?? I try really hard not to talk about prostitution on Facebook because I never know when one of my longtime friends is going to turn out to be one of these people and then I’m going to have to decide whether we can still be friends or not.  But I had to say something about this, so I responded. I was condescended to by women supporters of Slutwalk who explained to me that “sex work is work” and that they “enjoy” it. (And even when women say this it sounds like mansplaining.) Absolutely no one answered my question, which I still think is pretty important, “How many teenagers do you think enjoy being sexually abused by adult men?”

Then the speakers were announced for the Slutwalk rally. (I’ve removed the link to the list of speakers because a ping back was showing up on the Slut walk blog, but you can find it easily on their site.) There are nine speakers announced and they each have an introductory paragraph saying who they are. Exactly one of them identified as “feminist” in her introductory paragraph.  And the word “feminist” really needs quotation marks here because she says she is a “queer writer, comedian and unrepentant feminist, intent on smashing the patriarchy apart, one pussy joke at a time.” Good luck smashing the patriarchy with pussy jokes! Two of the speakers identify as sex workers and one of them describes herself as “very sexy, hot, and delicious.” One of them works for Maggie’s, an organization that fights for women’s right to “choose sex work” and believes that “sex work is socially legitimate, important and valuable work.” In her introductory paragraph it says she “rallies for the rights of all sex-workers, marginalized women, and trans* people.” I have a hard time believing that she rallies for the rights of all sex workers when a large number of exited women say that the sex trade is violence against women and it must be abolished. How is she supporting these women?

This list of speakers doesn’t look at all like a list of people who seek an end to sexual violence. It looks like a rally for the sex trade lobby. And when you consider what the sex trade lobby is fighting for, you have to wonder why any women are supporting this at all. You have to wonder how otherwise intelligent people can attempt to fight against sexual assault while actually promoting an industry that IS sexual assault.

At Feminist Current right now they’re talking about the johns, which is so refreshing, because all this Grrl Power™ that funfeminists keep shouting about is really drowning out an important part of this issue—the men who are renting women’s bodies and how they feel about women. A tumblr account that reposts messages from johns taken from Canadian escort review sites sheds light on what johns think of the women they’re paying for “sex.” Here are some examples:

“You can make her your sex toy for whatever you want if you know how to crack her.”

“After 20 to 25 minutes, “don’t do this, don’t do that” started to be a turnoff.”

“I took my dick and shoved it in her mouth until she gagged.”

“During all the time of the session it showed that she hates what she is doing.”

“I think they are poor enough to do week long dates. Being 3rd world poor is key.”

“I know, the fact that I’m hurting a girl a little may even make her like me better.”

“It was like having sex with a blow-up doll. Dead. Lifeless. The only thing that made me realize she was alive was when I looked down and saw my condom-covered dick looking like I had been stabbed.”

These men are rapists. There’s no two ways around it. They are aware that the women they’re raping are disassociating and unhappy, and they rape them anyway, and if the woman they’re raping bleeds they complain about “bad service.” The research project on johns done by Chris Atchison showed that men who buy “sex” buy it on average over 100 times in their lifetime. These men are serial rapists.

I will not be attending Slutwalk.  It’s psychotic to promote an industry that presents rape as “work.” This promotion of legalization of prostitution is a part of the backlash against feminism. We need to legalize women’s humanity, not women’s oppression!

Pride was better than ever this year in Toronto

Toronto is hosting World Pride this year.  It’s like Super Pride—everything is bigger and gayer than ever before. There’s a ton of events going on every day. City crosswalks have been painted rainbow. Over 100 couples got married in the biggest gay wedding in history. The streets are packed like the subway at rush hour and dance music is reverberating off of buildings, causing the whole gay village to vibrate to the beat.

Pride isn’t without its problems of course. It’s sponsored by major banks, its focus is on middle- and upper-class white men, and it’s more party than activism. I can’t imagine what the 1969 Stonewall rioters would think if they found out that in 2014, the AIDS Committee has to get permission from the Pride festival board of directors to hand out condoms at the parade, and only a certain brand can be handed out due to sponsorship deals. But despite the silly politics and corporate sponsorship, we still need Pride. We need it right here in Ontario because we aren’t free of homophobia yet, and we need it desperately in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

Here in Ontario, high school students are struggling to form Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools, particularly in the Catholic school system, which we’re still publicly funding for some reason. When our last Premier tried to introduce an updated sex-ed curriculum into Ontario’s public schools, a gay panic swooped in and wiped it out in a matter of days. The offensive material was a handbook on challenging homophobia in the classroom.  Conservatives were horrified that teachers might ensure the safety of queer and trans students in schools. In addition, gay bashings and homophobic graffiti still happen in Ontario.

The rest of the world needs to see our Pride festivals too, particularly those countries that still criminalize homosexuality and ban same-sex marriage.  They need to see our happy faces, bright colours and loud parties, and know that we are not hated everywhere, that we are accepted and celebrated here in Canada.

Canada legalized same-sex marriage in 2005.  I was a young lesbian just coming out, and I had no plans to ever get married, but legal same-sex marriage was still very important to me, because we need to be recognized by the law in the same way as straight people are. I now have a partner of seven years and we still don’t have plans to get married because we’re critical of the institution of marriage, but the fact that it is legal effectively gives us recognition and legal personhood.  During 2004, as the law was being debated, tons of homophobia reared its ugly head. Letters to the editor full of anti-gay hate speech were published in our local newspaper and sent to my family’s kitchen table every day. Over cereal and toast each morning I read about how my presence on this planet would “destroy the moral fabric of society.” The conservative Member of Parliament in my riding wrote a letter, which he sent to each home in his voting area, promising us that he would fight to keep marriage between a man and a woman, and then he included a weird paragraph about how his children were created by the uniting of his and his wife’s flesh. He had absolutely no idea that straight people “unite their flesh” for reasons other than having babies, and that gay people are, in fact, fertile, and that we vote, and that his letter was very creepy. I was shocked, not only that the people around me were so full of hate, but that people decided it was appropriate to print this.  I wanted to go stand outside the newspaper’s building and protest, but I had absolutely no queer community, and not even my own family cared about it. I wasn’t about to do it alone. I was told to “stop reading the newspaper if it’s upsetting” and given a hug—because that will solve rampant hatred.

Fast forward a decade later and Ontario elected a lesbian as Premier of our province.  At first she became leader by default, because the Liberals were in power and the previous leader stepped down, leaving her in charge.  But then an election was called, and in June 2014, Ontario re-elected the Liberal party with Kathleen Wynne at the lead.  Her partner was often with her during the campaign and her sexual orientation was no secret. At an incredible Pride Festival opening ceremony, Wynne went onstage with her partner and announced, “We thought we would just get it over with and get elected as the Premier and First Lady of Ontario in time for World Pride, what do you think?” I cheered like a 1960s teenager at a Beatles concert.  She also said, regarding her election campaign, “Jane and I just travelled for 42 days around this province, and we have been elected, and not once, not once, did anyone challenge us because we are lesbians. And I said in my leadership speech that I do not believe the people of Ontario hold that prejudice in their hearts, and the people of Ontario have demonstrated that that is the case.” This speech meant the world to me, because I still feel the sting of the homophobia I experienced only a few years ago and for a lesbian to cross the province campaigning with her partner and never encounter any hatred means that things are getting better.

There’s always a flag raising ceremony at city hall, but it doesn’t always have an awesome announcement by a new lesbian Premier, nor does it usually have a Melissa Etheridge concert and an incredible fireworks show! Hearing iconic “gay” pop songs as fireworks exploded was breathtaking, and left me feeling like Word Pride is doing something amazing for this world. It’s bringing our spirits up, it’s celebrating who we are, and I really hope that people around the world will notice it.

Happy Pride everyone!

New prostitution legislation introduced in Canada

Earlier this month, Canada’s Justice Minister, Peter MacKay, released his proposed new prostitution law. It’s based on the Nordic Model and criminalizes johns and pimps, as well as the advertising of sexual services and communicating for the purposes of prostitution in places where there could be minors present. Obviously the reaction to the law is mixed—those who are against prostitution appreciate that the bill criminalizes johns and pimps while those who are for prostitution are against the bill because it makes it harder for sex workers to screen their clients. For an analysis of the anti-prostitution side I recommend Megan Murphy’s blog post and for the pro-prostitution side I recommend the article in Xtra magazine.

So what side am I on?  I wish I could tell you.  All I can do is analyze what interests and goals each group has and lament that we don’t all share the same goals. I wish everyone’s goal was to end abuse, but it isn’t. As I wrote in my last blog post, there are three major viewpoints at work here.  The Conservative government is one, the feminists are another and the pro-sex work lobby is the third.

The Conservative government’s goal is to punish some johns (while still maintaining the patriarchy) and to protect children and the public in general from finding out that there is prostitution in the world (while not actually ending prostitution). My evidence for this? Conservatives do not want to end poverty; in fact, their entire goal is to increase poverty by giving corporations more power and less taxes, and by lowering wages for working people. Tim Hudak of Ontario’s Conservative Party made this abundantly clear in his recent campaign promise to eliminate 100,000 good paying jobs while enticing corporations to set up shop here using low corporate taxes. Also see any other Conservative campaign platform for further evidence. The whole system of having corporations in positions of power and men at the top of corporations is a patriarchal system. It’s the system of dominance and submission. The CEO is in charge and working people are dehumanized. They are called “labour” instead of citizens and they are paid as little as possible for the good of the corporation. This system keeps women in poverty, and it promotes exploitation. The reason women get into prostitution is because they’re living in poverty and men enjoy exploiting them.  If you punish a few johns but you also maintain the system of dominance and submission, you’re not ending prostitution.  The proposed legislation prohibits advertising of sexual services and communicating for the purpose of prostitution in areas where minors could be present in order to protect people, especially children, from witnessing it.  However, a lot of prostitutes are teenagers.  MacKay is coming from the point of view that minors need to be protected from seeing ads and communications but he’s not specifically dealing with the fact that some minors are the ones being prostituted. He has not said anything about providing homeless shelters, food, counselling and alternative education for youth who are being abused and who have run away from home. He did say something vague about “$20 million dollars” to help people exit prostitution, but there is no evidence that MacKay has any idea how this money should be spent and this amount is obviously not enough to lift Canada’s poor out of poverty. The only way to end prostitution is to end poverty, colonialism, misogyny, and transphobia. The Conservatives have no intention of ending any of these things. Their proposed legislation would only deter a few johns, and it would put women in jeopardy by making it harder for them to screen clients.

Megan Murphy’s blog is a classic example of the feminist response to prostitution: to name it violence against women and to make it illegal. I am entirely on board with her about certain things, like that prostitution is not “a job”, that pimps and johns are criminals and that we need a social and legal system that humanizes women and punishes rapists. Not everybody is on board with this though, because not everybody is a feminist. I’m skeptical about the Nordic model because that there are people in this country who believe they “chose” sex work and who will continue to do sex work even if the Nordic Model is implemented. I don’t think it makes any sense at all to call repeated sexual abuse a “job” or to claim to “choose” it, but I do acknowledge that people make this claim and that Peter MacKay’s law is not going to change their minds. These people are part of the equation. I don’t agree with them but I still care about their safety. If we implemented the Nordic Model properly, meaning we punish pimps and johns while also eliminating poverty and getting really serious about ending women’s oppression, then would prostitution end? The Nordic model is supposed to end it, but I’m looking at the empowerfulized sex workers who believe they are not being oppressed and that they love their “jobs” and I’m thinking, “would these people actually stop doing sex work even if the Nordic Model was properly implemented?” I’m not sure that the answer to that particular question is yes. I’m betting at least some of them would leave sex work, but I’m not so sure if all of them would. There is a group of sex worker advocates here in Toronto called “Maggies” and their website says, among other things, that they want women to be free to choose or reject sex work and that sex workers are welcome to join them without fear that they will try and get them out of the business. If a group of women who know what prostitution is like actually think that women should be “free to choose” it and that they should not try to help anyone out of it, then prostitution is not going to stop. These women have no problem with men’s commodification and use of their bodies and are eager to make a buck off it. They want prostitution legalized, they want to be free to advertise their services, they want to legally hire bodyguards and receptionists, they want to pay income tax so they can get benefits like unemployment insurance, they want us all to agree with them that prostitution is a career. I can agree with them on only two items: they deserve government benefits and safety.  However, they also deserve to be completely free of sexual abuse, and I will absolutely not pretend that sexual abuse is a career. The idea of legal prostitution is terrifying.  We’d start seeing legal brothels opening up, we’d see ads everywhere letting men know where they can rent women’s bodies, we’d see job postings for prostitution in job banks, and imagine what would happen when we combined legal prostitution with the temporary foreign workers program? Brothel owners would be saying, “we can’t fill all the open positions with Canadian women, so we have to hire temporary foreign workers.” And suddenly desperate young women would be flown into Canada from all over the world to legally suffer abuse by douchebags. And you’d also see sex tourism–abusers will show up from all over the world to abuse women in a place where they don’t get punished for it.  I realize these things are happening already, but at least they’re illegal! At least we as a society are telling men they’re wrong.

I am neither for nor against the proposed prostitution bill. I have no answers. I have read everything I can find about this and I’ve cried about it, but I’m right where I started off. The Conservatives will promote this law, and the sex work lobby will fight it, and we’ll be tossing around two ideas and only two ideas: punish a few johns or legalize everything. Feminist revolution will not be on the table; this necessary remedy will only be discussed by radical feminists, who are not taken seriously by anyone other than other radical feminists. I wish I had an idea for a law that would allow sex workers to legally hire bodyguards and pay taxes and receive health benefits and employment insurance but that would also discourage men from using women and make them realize that renting a woman’s body is abuse. You can’t make a law that does both these things at the same time because there are two competing ideologies here that cancel each other out. Women can’t be people but also commodities at the same time. You can’t convince men that women are not commodities when women believe they are commodities. Women are being groomed right from childhood into believing that we are things to be used by men, and the propaganda is working extremely well. Until everyone gets on board with the women-are-human agenda, we’ll always be abused.

Bushfire makes dismal prediction

In December 2013, the Canadian Supreme Court struck down our prostitution laws and we have one year from that date to come up with new laws. This means the discussion of what to do to improve the lives of people in the sex trade is front and center here, and any newspaper you pick up has an article in it somewhere about either human trafficking or sex work. This could be a historic year in Canada where we really discuss why prostitution happens and how to help the people affected, but I predict that the discussion will take the form of a lot of vicious fighting and that in the end, women will lose.

There are three primary schools of thought about prostitution in Canada. The religious conservative view is that sex is immoral and women should stop leading men into sin by being whores. (Plenty of non-religious people also subscribe to the women-are-dirty-whores theory.) The feminists and exited women advocate for the Nordic Model whereby the women are decriminalized and helped out of the trade while the johns are punished. Then there’s the legalization group, made of up libertarians who claim that sex work is freely chosen and who want us to think of it as labour.

Since I’m a feminist you’ll assume that I’m on team Nordic Model. Not really, actually.  I believe in the sentiments behind the Nordic Model. I understand why people advocate for it. This model is based on the acknowledgment that prostitution is violence against women, that women are human and do not deserve this abuse, and that the men who abuse women should be punished.  Absolutely!  But the problem is, we live in a patriarchy, and merely punishing a few johns won’t change this.  The abuse and exploitation of women is so firmly entrenched in our society that it doesn’t matter what prostitution laws are on the books—women will continue to be abused by men until the feminist revolution.

There is no shortage of newspaper articles about the sex trade in Canada. Many of them are human trafficking cases.  It is absolutely terrifying to confront the fact that there is a demand for sex slaves in average Canadian cities.  There are men choosing to drug and enslave women, there are men choosing to pay money to pimps to rape women, there are men choosing to rape teenagers. Other articles are not about human trafficking but about empowerfulized sex workers who chose to do sex work and want their trade legalized and unionized. These articles talk about how many licenses there are for body rub parlours in their city and include pictures of smiling women who talk about their jobs. I read all of these articles, no matter what perspective they’re written from.  There appears to be an incredible paradox between the exited women who talk about being drugged and repeatedly raped and beaten and the smiling women who seem content to work in a body rub parlour for a while to pay their tuition, but there is a common thread holding these two groups together—the men who are buying them. There is an epidemic of men who believe they are entitled to use women’s bodies for sexual gratification despite the absence of consent or desire on the part of the woman.

Even in the articles about empowerfulized sex workers, it is abundantly obvious they’re being abused. They talk about getting into sex work after running out of money and then frame the situation as if sex work is a positive force keeping them out of poverty when actually poverty is a negative force keeping them in sex work. You get the impression that sexual abuse is inevitable so you might as well be paid for it. In this worldview everything is completely turned around and you forget one important fact: that women are fully human and deserve to be completely liberated from abuse. I really can’t explain why it’s all the rage these days to be pro-legalization.  My hypothesis is that women have accepted sexual abuse as inevitable, we’ve forgotten what consent really is, and it’s so horrifying to realize that our boyfriends, husbands, coworkers and bosses think we are subhuman masturbation devices that we just pretend this isn’t going on.

Not only is the acceptance of abuse firmly planted in our minds, but it is an integral part of our economy.  Businesses are promoting part-time, temporary work, they’re sometimes shutting down Canadian factories to move to other countries where labour is cheaper, and they’re exploiting the temporary foreign worker program in order to pay less than a living wage to employees. There is a sentiment that unions are at fault for companies setting up shop elsewhere—the unreasonable demand for living wages “hurts business.” Many workers cannot expect to be a permanent part of their company with a stable job and health benefits. Workers are the new commodities: we’re things to be used by companies to accomplish their goals and then discarded at will.  Businesses are the new people: they are to be protected from the unreasonable demands of workers.  The company-as-person and worker-as-resource worldview is dehumanizing and exploitative.

To eradicate abuse we need to do more than just put pimps and johns in jail.  I realize that advocates of the Nordic Model fully intend for the system to provide women with a way out of prostitution, and if this model is adopted, I hope this happens. But I’m looking at the Canadian situation and I doubt we can do the Nordic Model correctly.  We have an enormous amount of land and not a lot of people, we’re in an economic recession, and we have a conservative approach to government spending. What are the odds that the government will adopt a new prostitution law within the next year that will address poverty and exploitation properly?  Addressing poverty in Canada involves raising the minimum wage, spending money on welfare, employment insurance, and disability benefits, providing adequate child care, correcting racist, sexist and transphobic hiring practices, creating good jobs, treating workers humanely, taxing corporations, and correcting colonialist practices that keep Native people in poverty.  What are the odds that the government will take care of all this when they make a new prostitution law?  If all we do is put a few johns in jail, the sex trade won’t disappear. Women and trans folk living in poverty will still be desperate for money, and abusive men will continue abusing. The way to eliminate sexual abuse is to overthrow patriarchy and capitalism. You can’t overthrow one without overthrowing the other.

One of the following things will happen in the next year.  The government might make it illegal to buy sex in Canada, which will drive the sex trade underground and make it more dangerous.  The government might legalize the sex trade, which will provide a temporary band-aid solution to the empowerfulized sex workers while throwing everyone else under the bus. (Actually I would say that legalization even throws the empowerfulized sex workers under the bus, even though they say they want it.) Or it might try to address both human trafficking and so-called “consensual sex work” simultaneously (although I can’t imagine how that could work.) None of these approaches will leave us with a world in which the sexual and economic exploitation of women is unthinkable.  The only approach that will accomplish what we need is a radical feminist revolution.

Some sources:

Montreal man gets 6 years in Ottawa human trafficking case
Rosie DiManno: From body-rub parlour ‘wench’ to reporter
Meet Roxy: Student and massage parlour sex worker
Massage parlour or street: still sexual exploitation

Also read:

Why merry rapists are flocking to Britain by Twisty. My article here is partially inspired by this article of Twisty’s.  It is, in my opinion, the best piece of patriarchy-blaming of all-time.