For the decriminalization of sex work: Interview with Mélina May – La Rotonde

Visual credit: Nisrine Nail – Artistic Director

Interview conducted by Camille Cottais – Head of the news desk

The rotunda spoke with Mélina May, sex worker (TDS) and member of the Autonomous Committee on Sex Work (CATS). She discusses the demands of this Montreal-based organization, focusing mainly on a change in Canadian law on sex work.

The Rotunda (LR) : Can you introduce yourself and tell me a bit more about CATS?

Melina May (MM): I have been an independent escort for two years, which means that I decide my working hours, my prices, my limits and my clients. I have a website, and people contact me through ads.

I have been involved in CATS since its creation in November 2019. CATS is an autonomous organization project by and for TDS. It is above all a political project, fighting for the improvement of our working conditions. We really distinguish between sexual exploitation/human trafficking and sex work, two very different things.

LR: What is the place of men and transgender people in sex work?

MM: There are a lot of transgender people in sex work, because they are very discriminated against, marginalized and abused in the traditional workplace. Sex work can also lift them out of poverty.

There is indeed a majority of people who identify as women, transgender and cisgender, because it is a job that is historically feminine, just like the other trades in the care (domestic workers, teachers, nurses, etc.). Sex work is part of the work of reproduction and therefore part of the struggles for its recognition and valorization.

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LR: Do you consider yourself a feminist, and if so, do you join a particular current?

MM: Yes, I consider myself a feminist. I subscribe to Marxist feminism, and all struggles related to the improvement of working conditions are struggles in which I reflect and participate.

Marxism has above all analyzed work as something productive: the work of men, the work which produces commodities. Marxist feminists have pointed out that there is also the work of reproduction, necessary for the reproduction of society, in which, in my view, sex work fits.

The discourse of pro-sex feminism sometimes annoys me. We avoid propagating this discourse of happy hooker »to say that sex work necessarily leads toempowerment. Our job is not funit is difficult, like most work in the capitalist system.

We have to get out of the framework of exploitation versus liberation, to enter into a framework of rights, of recognition. I want my fundamental rights protected, I want my colleagues to stop dying, I don’t feel like saying this is amazing work. It’s just a job that I have skills for.

LR: Currently, Canadian federal law does not prohibit sex work but activities around it, such as soliciting and pimping, and penalize clients. What do you think of this law and what consequences does it have on TDS?

MM: CATS’ main demand is the decriminalization of sex work. In Canada, everything related to demand is criminalized: clients, third parties and all those who profit from sex work. We call for full decriminalization of sex work, not partial legalization or decriminalization. We also demand status for all, including our colleagues with an immigrant background, who can, under current law, be arrested, imprisoned and even deported.

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It was from 2015 that sex work began to be criminalized in Canada, with the law on the protection of communities and victims of exploitation (Bill C-36). In fact, this law criminalizes TDS, for example by preventing us from organizing ourselves or having common spaces.

We want sex work to be recognized like any other work. We are asking for the same protections that all other workers enjoy: insurance, parental leave, protection against abuse at work, the possibility of joining a union, etc. Worldwide, only New Zealand has this model of legislation.

Yes, there is violence in sex work, but it is hypocritical to say that the way to fight it would be with crime or the police. It’s the same with drugs. It is not by further criminalizing bodies and individuals that we will stop violence, on the contrary.

LR: What has been the impact of COVID-19 on sex work?

MM: We were extremely affected and made vulnerable, because we lost our means of survival overnight. Since we are not recognized as workers and can therefore hardly declare our income, we were not able to benefit from the financial assistance from the government.

Many TDSs also had fines during the pandemic, particularly when the curfew was in place. Police officers have even posed as clients to enter massage parlours. Traveling TDS were particularly affected by the curfew.

We would also have liked to benefit from priority vaccination, because we too are workers. front line »highly exposed to transmission.

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LR: How can we be an ally of sex workers?

MM: You have to get informed, listen to podcasts and read books made by TDS. On our Instagram account, we do a lot of publications and we publish zines. You have to talk around you, put forward the demands of the TDS, for example not to say that you want legalization but decriminalization.

Let us remember that we suffer violence above all because of the laws. The best way to protect ourselves is to change them, to cancel the 2015 law and finally recognize our work as real work.


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