Our Statement on Sex Work

Introduction: About us

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is comprised of 30 Anglophone community-based sexual assault centres from across Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence since 1977: our member centres’ services include counselling to survivors of sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support. Comprehensive community awareness and prevention education programs are offered by member of our Coalition on sexual violence, responding to sexual assault disclosures and human trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. 

At the OCRCC, we aim to be inclusive of survivors across the gender spectrums. We believe that it is important to center the voices of those who face the most barriers and have the least access to relevant services. These voices include people who identify as women, trans, genderqueer, non-binary, Two Spirit, and intersex.

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres: Our Statement on Sex Work

  1. Sex work is real work, and supporting those engaged in sex work is important.  We believe that sex work is real work. Where sex work is not considered real work, those who earn an income through sex work are not eligible for work-related benefits or protections in Canada. This has many impacts on sex working individuals: it creates financial instability, and contributes to social marginalization and stigma of folks who are doing this work. It adds to economic and social marginalization already present in the lives of Black and Indigenous people, persons of color, or members of the trans, genderqueer, non-binary, Two Spirit, and intersex community. We know that those engaged in sex work face many social and resource barriers overall, and even more barriers when trying to get support for experiences of violence. Sex workers face stigma related to this work, and often live with negative labels and assumptions that are based on sexist, classist and racist myths, as well as other myths about sexuality and sexual practices. Because sex work has largely been criminalized and stigmatized, those who work in sex industries do not always feel safe disclosing that they do this work. Sex workers often experience social isolation as a result.
  1. Those engaged in sex work are at an increased risk of experiencing sexual and other forms of violence, including violence based on one’s identity. This vulnerability is system-situated – that is, it’s created by the systems and structures that regulate and stigmatize sex work – not situated in the individuals who take part in sex work.  We know that those engaged in sex work are often at greater risk of being targeted for violence. We point out that this vulnerability is system-situated – that is, created by the systems and structures that regulate, oversee, stigmatize or patrol sex work – instead of situated in the individuals who actually do sex work, or the many aspects of their lives. For example, because of legislation affecting sex work, workers are compelled to work in isolation, and be alone with purchasers of sexual services. Sex workers are keenly aware that they can be criminalized for their work, which means they hold unique concerns around police surveillance, police reporting, and whether or not police will support them if they are harassed or violated. Sex workers who are Black, Indigenous or people of color are targeted for sexual violence that is further motivated by racism; yet they face increased discrimination from police[1] and criminal justice systems[2]. Much research notes that sex workers report having suffered police harassment stemming from some level of racial and social profiling[3]. LGBTQI2S+ people overall experience sexual violence differently than others: for example, those from marginalized groups, including sexual minorities, are more vulnerable to being targeted for sexual harassment[4]; according to TransPulse, half of all trans persons experience sexual violence, with increased prevalence affecting racialized trans people[5]. With this in mind, we are aware that LGBTQI2S+ folks engaged in sex work are at increased risk of being targeted for violence – yet face decreased state protections — as well. In response to this, Ontario sexual assault centres are often aware of initiatives to address violence targeting sex workers: for example, local “bad date” information, advocacy and training for service-providers that come into contact with sex workers, and sex worker rights outreach material.
  1. The concerns of those engaged in sex work intersect and overlap with the experiences of survivors of sexual violence.  Survivors of sexual violence face stigma associated with gendered expectations of sexual activity; they also face classist, sexist and racist oppression that intersects with being a survivor. Many survivors of sexual violence live with isolation and silence surrounding their experiences. Many survivors of sexual violence know what it is like to live with little or no state protection. These experiences are shared by sex workers. We are aware that some sex workers, though not all, are also survivors of sexual violence. Sexual violence survivors as well as sex workers face victim-blaming when they experience violence, as well as oppressive rhetoric about one’s “vulnerability” to violence. In reality, we are aware that it is in fact systemic circumstances that contribute to a person’s vulnerability to violence—not an individual’s personal choices, or choice of work.
  1. OCRCC understands sex work as distinct from human trafficking and sexual exploitation. We are aware that human trafficking is frequently conflated with sex work. It is wrong to assume that sex work is a kind of sexual exploitation, and that all sex workers or migrant sex workers are trafficked victims.

In Canada, human trafficking as a criminal offense is defined according to three distinct elements:

  • The Act (recruiting, transporting, sheltering, or receiving people)
  • The Means (the use [or threat] of force, coercion, fraud, or deception)
  • The Purpose (for sexual exploitation, forced labour, or organ removal)

The Learning Network at the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children describes the distinction between how sex trafficking and sex work: “Adult individuals who voluntarily engage in sex work are not, according to the Canadian Criminal Code and UN protocol, being trafficked. The conflation of sex work with human trafficking has been described by a recent Ontario Government bulletin as a ‘myth’: if an adult chooses to engage in consensual, paid sex work on their own terms and is not controlled and exploited by another person, it is not considered human trafficking. While experiencers of trafficking may be forced into sexual exploitation, it does not follow that all sex workers are exploited or that their activities constitute a form of human trafficking”[6].

Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network points out how Canadian policy and practices conflate trafficking with sex work: “The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) [aimed at helping trafficked persons], now a part of Canada’s criminal law, endangers sex workers by criminalizing most of the common labour-related activities that sex workers engage in, as well as many of the relationships that sex workers develop as part of their work. The criminalization of co-workers and clients, for example, prevents sex workers from seeking help from these allies. Indeed, co-workers and clients can be helpful resources and allies in protecting sex workers’ rights, especially for migrant sex workers who may have limited resources and language barriers. Even sex workers who work in association with other sex workers, or who advertise their services, may also be prosecuted. Peer supports, for example sex workers supporting other sex workers, can be particularly helpful for the people experiencing problematic labour conditions”[7].

Unfortunately, many anti-trafficking campaigns position sex workers as victims.

These are additional examples of how sex workers’ vulnerability to violence and marginalization is created by the systems that regulate and stigmatize sex work.

  1. OCRCC Centres support the decriminalization of sex work.  We support self-determination, and we believe that anyone should be able to engage in work of their choosing. We believe sex work should be decriminalized: decriminalization would free those who do sex work from the existing realities of state regulation and stigmatization. OCRCC member centres create spaces where anyone can feel safe to identify as a person that engages in sex work. At the same time, we know that sex workers continue to face the stigma and challenges outlined here. With this in mind, centres also aim to create spaces where individuals engaged in sex work may acknowledge the systemic oppression that affects them and their work. 
  1. Supporting people engaged in sex work is something that Sexual Assault Centres are already doing.   Some OCRCC members are a part of programs, outreach strategies, and community collaboratives that address the needs of people engaged in sex work. OCRCC centres work alongside groups that work with those engaged in sex work, including sex working people themselves. 

Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centres (OCRCC) is a network of community-based sexual assault centres in Ontario. Member centres have been supporting survivors of sexual violence and offering prevention education since 1977: services include counselling to survivors of recent and historical sexual violence, accompaniment to hospital, police and court, advocacy and crisis support.

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual violence, go to https://sexualassaultsupport.ca/support/

About this Statement: The development of OCRCC’s Statement on Sex Work

In September 2010, a decision handed down in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice changed Ontario’s legislation, thereby allowing sex workers to solicit clients (sell sexual services). The law changed so that activities related to sex work, which had historically been illegal, were no longer subject to criminalization. At the time, these changes were considered by some to be controversial; the changes also set new precedents surrounding the decriminalization of sex work in Canadian provinces. Following the 2010 ruling, OCRCC centres were contacted by the media and others who inquired what sexual assault centres’ position was on the change in legislation: for example, did sexual assault centre staff believe that the decriminalization of sex work was helpful or not helpful to those engaged in this work?  Did sexual assault centre staff believe that the decriminalization of sex work helped to protect people from violence, or exposed them to violence?  In 2010 and 2011, OCRCC members participated in discussions on sex work in Ontario, legislation criminalizing sex work, and centre’s support of those who engage in sex work. At that time, we also consulted with organizations and individuals with lived experience of sex work. Key themes that came out of those discussions are included in our Statement.

In recent years, Canada and Ontario has seen additional policies and practices that impact sex work. These include (but are not limited to): the Immigration and Refugee Protection Action (IRPA), which contains provisions to enhance the state’s surveillance, deportation, and detention powers; parts of the Criminal Code addressing sexual exploitation and trafficking; and law enforcement teams created to prevent and address sexual trafficking. These policies and practices have numerous negative consequences for people who engage in sex work. They function to prohibit migrant involvement in the sex industry[8]. They also conflate sex work with sexual exploitation and trafficking, and criminalize activities associated with sex work. Given this, OCRCC members have taken part in further discussions on sex work in Ontario, legislation on sex work, and policies and practices addressing human trafficking for sexual exploitation. We have also talked more about the differential experiences of migrant individuals, Black, Indigenous or people of color, and LGBTQI2S+ folks engaged in sex work. Key themes that came out of these discussions are included in our Statement, as well.  


[1] Babineau, A. for CBC News. Most officers aren’t racist, but the nature of modern policing must be reimagined: Racial profiling is a systemic problem, and not a case of a few bad apples. Feb 10, 2021. Online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/police-racial-profiling-systemic-racism-1.5907553 .

[2] West, C. & Johnson, K. (2013, March). Sexual Violence in the Lives of African American Women. Harrisburg, PA: VAWnet, a project of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. Online: https://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/materials/files/2016-09/AR_SVAAWomenRevised.pdf

[3] Platt, L. and Pippa Grenfell, Rebecca Meiksin, Jocelyn Elmes, Susan G. Sherman, Teela Sanders, Peninah Mwangi, and Anna-Louise Crago. 2018. Associations between Sex Work Laws and Sex Workers’ Health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative and qualitative studies. PLOS Med 15, no. 12.

[4] Wolfe and Chiodo, CAMH, 2008, p. 3.

[5] TransPulse. Health and well-being among racialized trans and non-binary people. Online: https://transpulsecanada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Health-and-well-being-among-racialized-trans-and-non-binary-people-FINAL-ua-2.pdf

[6]Nonomura, Robert. (2020). Trafficking at the Intersections: Racism, Colonialism, Sexism, and Exploitation in Canada. Learning Network Brief (36). London, Ontario: Learning Network, Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women & Children. Online: http://www.vawlearningnetwork.ca/our-work/briefs/brief-36.html: 6.

[7] Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network). Elene Lam (Butterfly -Asian and Migration Sex Workers Support Network) in collaboration with Migrant Sex Workers Project, Maggie’s, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, STRUT and No One Is Illegal. Stop the Harm from Anti-Trafficking Policies & Campaigns: Support Sex Workers’ Rights, Justice, and Dignity. Online: https://www.butterflysw.org/harm-of-anti-trafficking-campaign-

[8] Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network). Elene Lam (Butterfly -Asian and Migration Sex Workers Support Network) in collaboration with Migrant Sex Workers Project, Maggie’s, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, STRUT and No One Is Illegal. Stop the Harm from Anti-Trafficking Policies & Campaigns: Support Sex Workers’ Rights, Justice, and Dignity. Online: https://www.butterflysw.org/harm-of-anti-trafficking-campaign-

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