Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
On December 20th, 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously sided with the applicants of Bedford v. Canada, striking down legislation that violated sex workers’ rights to life, liberty, and safety of person. Hailed by sex worker rights organizers as a recognition of ‘sex work as work’ that could lead to the establishment of meaningful labour rights, the following year saw the government draw heavily on conservative and radical feminist anti-trafficking discourses to re-criminalize sex work through the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA). In this context, grounded in community-collaborative ethnographic research with the sex worker rights movement in Toronto, Canada, this paper explores how sex worker rights movement organizers understood this re-criminalization and how ongoing criminalization influenced their organizing practices. In particular, it focuses on how organizers’ identification of a connection between the continued denial of sex workers’ human rights and the broader dehumanization of sex workers in anti-trafficking and other popular discourses has shaped efforts to create and sustain organizing spaces that intersectionally recognize and support sex working movement members as “whole humans”. In illuminating the ways that this form of community care within organizing was central to the ability of movement members to continue advocating and mobilizing, this paper also attends to the realities of burn-out that resulted from the amount of care work that was required and demonstrates how organizing efforts were constrained by a lack of financial and emotional resources that was directly connected to the criminalization community members experienced.