I came across this article via a friend on Face Book. It is an article in the
November 29, 2011
Gauging from the number of flashy, racialized ‘pimp’ Halloween costumes this season, many Canadians have a pretty limited notion of what it means to work as a sex industry manager.
But in the first study of its kind in Canada, “Rethinking Management in the Adult and Sex Industry,” the University of Ottawa has partnered with organizations across Canada that work directly with sex workers, including Halifax’s Stepping Stone, in an attempt to shed some light on the management side of the sex industry. Researchers in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Halifax are recruiting managers of strip clubs, street-based sex workers, massage parlours and in-call establishments in an attempt to reveal the often invisible aspects of the trade.
“We have to move away from our stereotypes and mythologies about management, because sex work is another form of work,” explains Maritime research coordinator, Lesley Ann Jeffrey, author of “Sex Workers in The Maritimes Talk Back.” “Often people’s experience of whether that work is enjoyable or not enjoyable, good or bad, has to do with how that work is managed, rather than the work itself.”
Though the activities surrounding sex work are illegal (but not sex work itself), including communicating for the purposes of prostitution, keeping a common bawdy house and living on the avails of prostitution, this could all change in the next few months. Last fall, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that the Canadian Criminal Code’s provisions surrounding sex work put sex workers in unjustifiable danger on the job.
“I think the findings of this research are going to be extremely important, as [Bedford v. Canada] makes its way, presumably, to the Supreme Court,” says Jeffrey. “If this law falls, which it very well might, it’s really important for us to know how management really works.”
Halifax’s reputation for ‘pimping’
‘Pimps’ from North Preston have been making national headline news since the ‘90s for alleged linkages to abductions, rapes, murders and human trafficking of young women and girls. Law enforcement believes a group that calls itself North Preston’s Finest “moves” women and girls between the Maritimes and Ontario. Though there’s certainly no denying that some people are forced into the sex trade against their will, this is not universally the case. Sex workers and sex trade managers who don’t fit the stereotype of victims or aggressors complain that the predominantly negative attention surrounding the sex industry in Nova Scotia can be economically damaging.
“When I tell people that I’m from Nova Scotia, people definitely think that I’m being ‘pimped out,’” says a sex worker and stripper who’s worked in Halifax, Toronto and New Brunswick. “I had an incident when I tried to work at (a Toronto strip club), and as soon as the manager found out that I was from Nova Scotia, he immediately jumped to me having a pimp,” says Stella (not her real name). She recalls the manager didn’t want to hire her based on the fact that she was “Scotian,” and began questioning her about who she knew, demanding to know if any ‘pimps’ had “branded” her by tattooing their names on her body.
Though the university-educated Stella has been approached by Nova Scotia pimps looking to “talk business” many times, she, like many other sex workers in our region, is a free agent. “I would never work for somebody else, because part of the appeal of sex work for me is that I’m my own boss and I do what I want to do when I want to do it.”
Moving past the stereotypes:
Jeffrey hopes the results of the study will paint a more balanced portrait of who our area’s adult and sex trade managers actually are. “There’s such a focus on this evil guy out there, who’s taking all their money and beating them up,” says Jeffrey. “That’s what the public’s conception is of a manager in the sex industry, but of course, that one very particular image isn’t certainly the common experience of management in the sex industry.”
Indeed, what many fail to recognize is that adult and sex industry managers can play a role in keeping those who work in the industry safe. Joe Marcello, a local entertainment agent at Atlantis Entertainment Agency, says his company takes measures to ensure the physical health and safety of its exotic dancers: “We reduce immediate risks by screening callers, using chaperones, cell phone calls, doing spot checks at parties, following your gut feeling and intuitively assessing the risks based on the voice on the other side of the phone,” he says. “We also have records of past events and we check all incoming calls against our database …We’re confident in our staff and their ability to deal with potential threats. Not booking anything after midnight also prevents problems.”
An underground industry:
Halifax Police and RCMP take a tough stance on sex work, placing “boundaries” on the neighborhoods sex workers are permitted to access. “The boundaries (are) something that we use specifically with prostitution charges, because it’s an identified area where people engaged in the sex trade are often engaging in this activity,” says Cst. Brian Palmeter. Much of Halifax’s North End, including main streets like Gottingen St. and Agricola St., are off limits to those charged with communicating for the purposes of prostitution.
Palmeter says sex workers are allowed to enter the boundaries for health and survival-related reasons, like buying food or accessing social services. But Stepping Stone’s clients claim that it can be tough to prove to police or RCMP that they were actually just out doing errands, rather than selling sex.
Rene Ross, executive director of Stepping Stone says that criminalization of the sex industry has pushed managers underground, making it tough to find participants for the study in our region. “There was a real threat, even a month ago, that we might not be able to continue with the project.” But researchers have managed to wrangle up about ten participants in the Maritimes and are actively looking for more.
“It’s really important that we are part of the research because we have that historical context and we are able to show, in Halifax, what happens when the pimping panic is out of control,” says Ross. “You see the clamp down. You see people thinking about sex workers as victims first, as opposed to having rights. They fail to see their independence.”
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