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On February 22 (National Human Trafficking Awareness Day), we call for an end to the danger that sex and massage workers, especially racialized migrants, face due to anti-trafficking policies and campaigns. As workers have stated so many times before, these policies do more to harm than help them. We denounce Canadian lawmakers and anti-trafficking organizations that use their ‘activism’ to support anti-sex work, anti-migrant, and racist agendas. We demand that lawmakers take responsibility for the damage done to our communities by whorephobia masquerading as anti-trafficking rhetoric.


Anti-trafficking policies and campaigns are rooted in white saviourism, misogyny, and sometimes ethno-nationalism. They assume that racialized migrant sex workers are victims unable to make decisions about their own lives; in the most xenophobic cases, anti-trafficking campaigns cast sex workers as dangerous, immoral, and impure. Current anti-trafficking policies ― ranging from criminalizing sex workers’ support networks to prohibiting immigrants from sex work ― strip workers of their agency, handing power over their bodies to the state and law enforcement. We saw this recently with the Town of Newmarket’s attempt to put Asian massage parlours out of business.


Sex and massage workers are clearly explaining what would actually make them safer: grassroots, community-led organizations, legal support, and health care. But instead of empowering vulnerable communities, lawmakers choose to endanger them further. Funding is funneled into law enforcement that surveils, harasses, and racially profiles workers, forcing them underground or destroying their livelihoods. Interactions with law enforcement often lead to arrests, imprisonments, and deportations.


If not law enforcement, money is poured into anti-trafficking non-government organizations, some of which are hostile toward sex workers, surveil them, and equate their jobs with gendered violence. To access basic services, sex workers are forced or pressured to exit the industry, which discourages the most vulnerable people from seeking assistance. When a sex worker seeks services or resources (e.g. housing, counseling, or emergency support), service providers are more concerned about their involvement in sex work than their actual needs. This becomes even more dangerous given that current laws isolate sex workers by criminalizing colleagues, friends, and family who assist them with tasks essential to their safety, like translation or screening clients.


We reiterate: sex work is not human trafficking. We urge Canadian policy-makers, anti-trafficking organizations, social justice groups, and the public to increase awareness about the harm caused by anti-trafficking policies and campaigns aimed at shutting down sex work. We implore the allies of migrant sex workers to support our fight for safety, rights, and dignity.  


Specifically, we call on Canadian lawmakers and anti-trafficking organizations to:


  1. Stop conflating human trafficking with sex work; critically examine and remedy the saviour narrative of ‘human trafficking’

  2. Listen to sex and massage workers rather than speaking for them; shift funding from law enforcement to community-led initiatives

  3. Stop enforcing and repeal the prohibition on immigrants working in the sex industry (Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations 183 (1)(b))

  4. Stop enforcing and repeal the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act

  5. Support full decriminalization of sex work

  6. Support status for all



For more information: ​​

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