About the exchange of sexual services
Here you will find questions and answers that can help you gain a better understanding of the exchange of sexual services, young people’s motivations, etc.
First, let’s talk about human trafficking. “Human trafficking” or “trafficking in persons” has been defined in several ways. Some of these definitions are so broad that they include all people who exchange sexual services or all people who engage in non-independent sex work. Some human trafficking statistics also include all children reported missing, even they had, for example, simply gone to a friend’s house without notifying their parents. For this reason, one often encounters extremely alarming human trafficking figures.
These high figures reflect a mix of realities and can lead us to believe that, for example, migrant women who engage in sex work are all victims of human trafficking. This is a common misconception that has serious consequences for these sex workers: being treated as victims, experiencing police surveillance and brutality, and even facing deportation. While, it is true that these people often have debts and few options for employment, these problems are linked to structural factors: immigration laws, racism and global wealth disparities.
The widespread moral panic about human trafficking unfortunately leads us to ignore the psychological, physical, economic and sexual violence that can creep into interpersonal relationships in insidious ways. Situations of false imprisonment and exploitation exist, but most of the violence occurs at the hands of people known to the victims, in a dynamic of escalating violence.
More often than not, it is this gradual escalation that can lead to situations of extreme violence. For this reason, it is more useful to try to recognize the signs of violence than to try to prevent teenagers from being abducted by strangers and forced to sell sexual services.
How can we recognize violence ?
With all of this said, how can you tell if a teenager is a victim of violence? Some signs can manifest as changes in behaviour, for example:
- Becomes increasingly isolated from family and friends;
- Repeatedly runs away from home;
- Becomes secretive about who they are seeing;
- Shows signs of an eating disorder;
- Mentions debts, or constantly needs money;
- Shows signs of hypervigilance;
- Informs someone of their every move and activities, is constantly under surveillance.
These signs do not actually tell us about the source of the violence! It could be coming from parents, a partner, school peers, and even from social workers and teachers. Some of these behaviours are also the result of systemic violence. The most important thing is to build a trusting relationship with the teenager that will allow them to confide in us. It is also important to equip teens with the tools to recognize violence and to protect themselves from it.
While money is one of the main reasons for engaging in sex work, people get involved in the industry for a variety of other reasons. Some reasons mentioned:
- Flexible hours
- The opportunity to be independent
- Greater control over their sexuality
- Work that matches their talents
- Lifestyle factors
- A lack of other options
- Living under coercion
- Access to drugs and alcohol, or the possibility of using while working
- Being a marginalized person who experiences employment discrimination
- Being in Canada illegally, making it impossible to find legitimate employment
- Searching for a community or a group to belong to
This may depend on their identity, past experiences, family and relationship history, economic situation, emotional needs, etc. For some, sex work is a way to survive and make money quickly, for some it is a job like any other and for others, it is a way to empower and discover themselves.
Recognizing the diverse nature of sex workers’ experiences and backgrounds allows us to respond appropriately to their needs. To deny this diversity is to deny the value of the sex workers themselves, which is stigmatizing. One person’s negative experience does not negate another’s positive experience and vice versa.
Although commonly used in society and in the media, it is important to keep in mind that the term prostitution is historically and morally loaded. Although for some, it is neutral and refers only to its strict definition, the term carries traces of stigma and people who exchange sexual services may want to eliminate it.
The term sex work or sexual work, often simplified with the letters “SW,” emphasizes that exchanging sex can be considered a job, a type of work. People who refer to their activities as sex work are therefore also claiming a professional identity and the right to protect themselves.
A person who has experienced violence may identify her experience as sexual exploitation.
We believe that the most respectful approach is to let people define their own activities and experiences. The exchange of sexual services comes in various forms and some people may define themselves as dancers or sugar babies without claiming to be sex workers. It is important to remember that this distancing from the term sex work is often due to the stigma that sex workers experience. As workers, we cannot unravel this stigma from the start of an intervention. As such, once we know the terms a particular person uses to describe their activities, we can adopt them in our interventions with them, as long as they are not pejorative.
Furthermore, be aware that the term sex work is primarily used to refer to people of legal age, given the dimension of consent.
We encourage professionals to use the term “exchange of sexual services for compensation” (ESS) to refer to all activities related to the sex industry and beyond. Indeed, it can encompass informal exchanges between young people, without necessarily indicating a professional identity. This term also has the advantage of being more neutral, allowing individuals to define their own experience.
Decriminalization means the elimination of laws that prohibit sex work, while legalization means the creation of new laws that allow, but regulate, sex work. PIaMP stands for the decriminalization of adult sex work. Why not advocate for legalization?
First, because social movements and sex worker groups are calling for decriminalization. In general, we believe that the people affected by the social issue are best positioned to define their own needs. For instance, the recommendations of the Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform can be found here. This alliance is made up of several organizations that defend the rights of sex workers.
Legalization is not a solution that these groups are presently considering. Legalization continues to give the power of surveillance and punishment to the state and therefore to the police. Because sex workers are stigmatized, they are already at increased risk of police brutality. This is even more true for trans, Aboriginal and racialized sex workers. In addition, legalization would determine where sex work can be practiced. Limited space would lead to competition. This means only the most privileged people would have access: those who have the money to pay for the commercial space, or those who meet the beauty standard employers believe will bring in the most money, for example. Sex workers who do not have these privileges would struggle to access legalized workplaces and continue to be isolated and criminalized.
Decriminalization would therefore allow sex workers to retain more agency and control over their work.
If we talk to young people about sex work, are we likely to encourage them to become prostitutes ?
Let’s start this answer with a question: if we don’t talk to young people about the trading of sexual services, is there still a chance that they will know that sex work exists ?
It seems obvious to us that there is! Whether it is through television, movies, books, an acquaintance or social networks, teenagers will eventually be introduced to the concept of sex work.
Let’s look at a similar question: When we talk to young people about sex, are we encouraging them to have sex ? Does talking to them about alcohol encourage them to drink ? Probably not! Rather, our conversations with teens can serve to convey important messages such as education about consent, risk reduction and power dynamics in interpersonal relationships.
As with pornography or sexting, we believe it is important that young people have a realistic view of sex work, which they are unlikely to acquire if their only source of information is, for example, the movies. Thus, leaving issues related to the sale of sexual services out of sex education carries many risks: young people will not know where to turn if they have concerns about this topic, will be left to make decisions on their own without the tools to do so, and will not know how to protect themselves from abusive relationships.
In addition, it is important for youths to understand why it is much riskier for adolescents than adults to sell sex, and to be able to recognize the problematic dynamics related to the age of consent.
Sex education is not about encouraging them to “prostitute” themselves, but rather about knowing how to set boundaries, knowing what resources are available, having the tools to exercise informed consent in their sexual lives, and being able to support their friends who may be in difficult situations.
In the late 1970s, the phenomenon of underage prostitution was completely ignore by society, even in the social services community. For that reason, the main objective of the youths who came together to create the organization in 1982 was to have their existence recognized. They needed a name that was explicit, catchy and easy to remember. It also needed to indicate the support that the organization intended to provide to youth.
The full name of the organization, project for interventions with minor prostitutes, was consequently abbreviated to PIMP. A pimp, also known as a procurer, is a person who makes a living from the prostitution of the girls they claim to protect. However, originally, a procurer is also someone who provides, who supports an idea, a cause. Do you see where this is going?
The request for incorporation was submitted with this name, which was refused by the government authorities. The organizers, at the time, insisted on keeping the name. Remember, they needed a shocking name to draw attention to their reality. In social movements, the re-appropriation of degrading terms is common: For instance the terms “queer” or “whore” are reclaimed with pride.
Since the full name reflected the basic values of the organization, they decided to resubmit the application for incorporation with the following abbreviation: PIaMP. In fact, that little “a” is very important, because the word it stands for, “avec” in French, means “alongside”. This means that, at PIaMP, we do not intervene to stop prostitution, unless that is what the youth want. Our goal is to accompany youths who allow it on their way to achieving their goals.