Friday, September 10, 2010

Prostitution Alternatives Part 1

This is a series on the different approaches taken to helping women in prostitution.

Kerry Port is the executive director of P.A.C.E (Prostitution Alternatives Counselling and Education) and a former survival sex worker. Kerry talks to True Feminism about what she does.

SD: What options do you offer survival sex workers?

KP: P.A.C.E operates within a continuum of services to sex workers. We work with sex workers while they are still in transition in trade and in drug use too. We take a harm reduction approach, so there’s no requirement that they pledge to get off drugs or stop doing sex work to receive services. People need to remember that nobody starts out their career using drugs or in sex work, they end up many years later here in the downtown east side. Average age of members is 38 so making positive changes in their life and their lifestyle is something that can take years. We help them recognize their own assets, help to raise their self-esteem to a point that they are ready to start looking at other options

SD: What percentage of the people you help are women? How many are men?

KP: 99 per cent female, 40 per cent are transgendered, and at the moment we have 2 male clients. The chair of our board operates an outreach program for males so if we come across male clients we refer them to a different program.

SD: Why you support the decriminalization of prostitution?

KP: We are absolutely in favour of the full decimalization of sex work, as the necessary first step for ending the abuses that go on within sex work. The moment you prohibit any activity, that people actually want to do like have sex and do drugs, a criminal underworld will grow up around it, to facilitate it. A lot of abuses in sex work have to with the criminal nature of it. You take away the criminality and a lot of those abuses are exposed to the cold light of day. It will not have an immediate impact on survival sex work driven by desperation, in addition to decriminalization we are calling for an increase in services that are helpful to survival sex workers such as female only detox centers and treatment centers. They need better housing, we need to raise the welfare rates, the minimum wage, there needs to be appropriate treatment for individuals with mental health issues also.

SD: How do you measure the success of your efforts/objectives?

KP: The ongoing program we have has a one to one relationship with a support worker that pays and she helps individuals with housing issues, health issues, eating disorders, and other health issues. Our violence prevention workshop offers programs that deal with confrontational management such as physical violence. We do a lot of public education. Success for us in an improvement in the self-esteem of one of our members, and helping them to accomplish goals so their lives are more stable, success for us doesn’t necessarily mean that the indivdual leave the sex trade.

SD: Melissa Farley, founder of Prostitution Research and education, says that decriminalization, does not help prostitutes, but only pimps. Do you agree with this?

KP: No. Melissa Farley along with a couple of other researchers, are what we call prohibitionists, they like to call themselves abolitionists. They are trying, to conflate different types of sex work, different types of circumstances, and want one story of sex workers that they are all victims, they exercise no agency in their lives. Most of Farley’s research is not scientific, and its not peer reviewed and comes with a bias, towards finding stories that support her theories that all sex workers get raped. I am a former sex worker, I was a survival sex worker, and a heroine addict. It was my choice made as an adult and I exercise choices on a daily basis. I am pretty offended by Melissa Farley’s views.

SD: How did you get into survival sex work?

KP: I entered the trade at 34. I have an undergraduate degree. I worked for 15 years in university administration. I developed issues due to abuse as a child, un-resolved issues caused me to experiment with drugs and my drug addiction ultimately caused me to lose my job. At that point, I went into sex work hoping only to be in it for a short period of time, pay off some bills, until I get a little more stable, what I didn’t understand was the insidious connection between sex work and drug use, my drug use escalated, during my work as a sex worker for four years.

SD: What ethical stance does P.A.C.E take on prostitution?

KP: We don’t see this as a moral issue, what two consenting adults do sexually together whether it’s for money or not is between the two of them, and we consider any abuse involved in the sex trade to be sexually exploitative, we deplore the conditions where individuals are trafficked in the sex trade, but then again if you decriminalize all aspects of sex work, they can be exposed, and we do have a criminal code to deal with abuses like that, but it’s not enforced right now.


JD said...


You are doing a phenomenal job with this blog! When you originally described to me the purpose you had in mind, I thought that it might take some time to build a forum discussing such variant issues. From the interviews to articles you have produced, the quality of what you are doing here is amazing.

Savia said...

Thanks so much JD. I do appreciate it.

St. Ursula said...

We don’t see this as a moral issue, what two consenting adults do sexually together whether it’s for money or not is between the two of them,


I found this interview interesting. Porter seems to take the view that any sexual activity between two adults cannot be immoral so long as it is consensual. Applying this view to, say, a college campus situation, Porter would take the view that college students who have multiple sexual partners are doing nothing immoral so long as those "encounters" are all consensual. Yet we know that the long-term emotional and psychological effects of such activity is deeply damaging to human beings, especially to young women.

I don't question that Porter thinks she is somehow helping women, but it seems to me that she has arbitrarily deemed certain activities "legitimate choices" and others "wrong" using a very arbitrary methodology. For instance, if one of her clients said she "felt like" going home and abusing her children would Porter approve of that as a "free choice?" No. She would see that as immoral and criminal. So what is the objective basis she uses when characterizing one activity legitimate and another deeply wrong?

If an 18-year old "consents" to sexual activity for money is that OK in her book? What about a 17-year old? A 16-year old? An 18-year old who was herself abused as a child?

And what about pornography? Are 25-year olds who participate in the pornography industry which we know contributes to violence against women and children engaging in legitimate, morally neutral activity if they do this freely?

You see the problem here.

I had to walk away from the greater feminist community when I started coming across this kind of self-contradictory reasoning that led to nothing but more and more confusion.

I am being a bit harsh here, but in this instance I think harshness is warranted.

St. Ursula

Savia said...

"So what is the objective basis she uses when characterizing one activity legitimate and another deeply wrong?"

Excellent question St. Ursula. Most people say that one is legal and the other is not. Or that as long as you're not hurting someone that's okay. It's a Libertarian argument that I have seen used often.

St. Ursula said...


I just saw this headline today. It looks like things are going Port's way:

Canada's Slide into Darkness

Pro-family groups are decrying Tuesday’s Ontario court decision that struck down Canada’s prostitution laws, warning that the ruling empowers pimps and human traffickers and threatens to usher in a Canadian sex tourism industry.

“The decision reinforces the notion that sex is not an intimate and loving act but instead a commodity that can be bought and sold at will,” said Ruth Ross, executive director and general legal counsel for the Christian Legal Fellowship.

Ruth Ross certainly has her finger on the pulse. It almost reminds me of a time when those tasked with speaking publicly for the Catholic Church knew how to make clear moral distinctions.

Savia said...

St. Ursula,

Yes, this is a sad thing in Ontario, and we don't even have high street prostitution to begin with. The Supreme court has put this on hold, because it is being appealed. I am also trying to get in touch with people who could shed some more light on this for me.