Sex Workers Denounce Denouncement

Photo Erin Sparks

Take Back the Night, a traditional march to denounce violence against and exploitation of women, usually unites all kinds of feminist groups around the world. This year, however, a rift has developed as the group proposed, among other activities for this year’s edition, that participant women “enter […] a place where there are images of sexual exploitation (sexualization) or body [sic] (sexual industries) of women and scream out loud, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Places showcasing the bodies and sexualization of women are often also the places of work for sex workers and women involved in the sex industry, however. In a press release published on Sept. 15, Stella—a local sex workers advocacy organization—spoke up about this specific action in a press release, deeming it misdirected and guilty of reinforcing stereotypes of sex workers, “the most marginalized and criminalized women in society.”

Stella fights discrimination against sex workers and educates the general public about sex work and the realities faced by sex workers. To the organization, starting conflict and verbal violence against sex workers only widens the gap and “contributes to maintaining a binary between women who are ‘good,’ and those who are ‘bad,’ who are ‘whores’ who do not deserve respect.”

More so, they said the action legitimizes the use of violence against sex workers: “If these women’s groups can be violent towards them, how does this help to fight aggressors and rapists?” Stella’s ultimate message is that women’s groups should act together in denouncing violence against women and girls, but should not do so through actions they are trying to denounce—violence.

“If the objective of these women’s groups is to denounce “the sex industry,” as it currently stands, their message will be felt almost solely by the women working in this industry and it is certainly not a message of solidarity!” the press release continued. “Should not the objective of feminist groups be to create solidarity with women in the sex industry, since the fundamental value of the feminist movement is self-determination?”

Take Back the Night, an event that is held in numerous countries worldwide, was part of the Day of Action for the Elimination of Sexual Violence Against Women on Sept. 16 and organized by various groups, including the Concertation des luttes contre l’exploitation sexuelle, the YWCA Montreal and the Mouvement contre le viol.

TBTN started with the first International Court of Crimes Against Women in Brussels in 1978. The first march in Quebec in the early ‘80s saw over 10,000 people gather, but last year, the Montreal march had only about 300 participants.