sex trade workers and free will

here in vancouver, the courts are finally dealing with willy pickton, accused of murdering dozens of women.

these were women with friends, family, children. women who laughed and told stories and wrote christmas cards.

i personally met two of them. they were also people who were addicted to drugs. they were poor. many of them were mentally ill. most of them sold sex for money or drugs.

a few weeks ago, another serial murder of women happened, this time in england. here is how one reporter, richard littlejohn, talked about it:

no one with a shred of humanity would wish upon them their ghastly lives and horrible deaths. but mother teresa, they weren’t …

we do not share in the responsibility for either their grubby little existences or their murders. society isn’t to blame.

it might not be fashionable, or even acceptable in some quarters, to say so, but in their chosen field of “work”, death by strangulation is an occupational hazard.

that doesn’t make it justifiable homicide, but in the scheme of things the deaths of these five women is no great loss.

they weren’t going to discover a cure for cancer or embark on missionary work in darfur. the only kind of missionary position they undertook was in the back seat of a car …

frankly, i’m tired of the lame excuses about how they all fell victim to ruthless pimps who plied them with drugs. these women were on the streets because they wanted to be.

we are all capable of free will. at any time, one or all of them could have sought help from the police, or the church, or a charity, or a government agency specifically established to deal with heroin addicts. they chose not to. …

this wasn’t a case of women going on the game to put bread on the table, or to look after their “babies”. that’s what the welfare state is for. they did it for drugs.

i disagree. i think we do share in the responsibility of what happens to our neighbours. when my neighbour falls ill and i hear about it, i need to participate in his care to the best of my ability. it may not be very much at all, but i do need to do what i can.

and you already know what i think of name-calling. is there anything more offending than calling someone’s whole life a “grubby little existence”? and saying that a person’s life is “no great loss?”

the most revealing part is where littlejohn opines that these women could have made a different choice. one of the commentators on his story puts it very well:

i just hope that all these people in agreement with littlejohn never have to deal with drug addiction, alcoholism or mental health problems with their children. you will soon find out that these people don’t make choices in the way that we lucky ones do … there but for the grace of god …

a person on drugs or a person on the streets is always in survival mode. for an addict, getting a hold of drugs is the most basic necessity. when you’re in survival mode, choice is out the window. all you can think of, if you can think at all, is to find the quickest way to survive for the next day, hour or minute, to find the fastest route to a moment of relief and comfort, however small.

littlejohn keeps on talking about “the brutal truth.” the brutal truth is that in most cases, choice and free will are a luxury for people who feel that their basic survival needs are not taken care of.

if you find littlejohn’s ideas as objectionable as i, you can sign this petition, started by diana di natale, who knows about this business from the inside out, and who, thank god, lived to tell the tale.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

17 thoughts on “sex trade workers and free will

  1. Dean Murray

    There is so much evil in this world, and so many pitfalls for our young girls. It’s an emotional mine field for them, and unfortunately a lot of our young women experience with drugs to take the edge off the stress they experience growing up or just to be able to fit in. Thankfully most of them outgrow that need, and move on towards adulthood with nothing more than painful memories. But for the few who don’t make it and for their families, my heart is totally broken. I have raised three daughters and long ago abandoned the notion that they will never fall victim to the evils in this world. Thankfully they are all intact now, but there were times I just did’nt know, and I know many friends whoes daughters did not make it. I hope littlejohn never has to face that with his own children, or maybe he should and then his self righteousness may just turn to compassion. The question that needs to be addressed, is how do we teach our daughters how to navigate the storms of adolesence. We are a world at crisis. We are all one family and we need to be there for eachother, not tearing eachother down. There is only one who has the authority to judge. May littlejohn remember the quote from that exact one…he that is standing, beware that he does not fall. Thank you, and all of my condolences for these dear families who lost their daughters, mothers, sisters not once but twice in one life time. I do not wish that on anyone. Dean

  2. Diana DiNatale

    I am the woman who wrote the petition and I live and work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. When I read that article by Richard Littlejohn in one of England’s main newspapers (the equivalent to the Vancouver Province or the Sun) I realized that something had to be done.

    Here we are, witnessing the trial of Pickton, who stands accused of murdering over 35 women Sex Workers and we have men like Littlejohn excusing murder of these cherished women simply because they work in the Sex Industry.

    I worked the streets in Vancouver’s DTES. I was what the industry calls a ‘Survival Sex Worker’ which means I had no other means of income and had to feed myself. Contrary to what most people think, I was not doing Sex Trade work for drugs. I was doing it to eat. Welfare is simply not enough money to live on and everyone knows this.

    I ended up working the street when my now ex-husband drained every penny of our joint accounts and took off to North Vancouver to work for ICBC making almost $4,000.00/per month. My ex is a wife batterer and he left me starving for food. I literally had to feed my animals my food.

    So when someone tells me the system doesn’t benefit men I cringe and remember my experiences. You can’t hire a lawyer to defend you if you have no money. My ex got away with it. All of it.

    I want everyone who cares about humanity to sign this petition and get this man fired for making such socially irresponsible, deeply offensive, and downright crude remarks about women who are Sex Workers.

    I lived to tell my tale and I know that until Sex Work is decriminalized, we will continue to have the blood of these women on OUR hands. We, as a society must make the changes to ensure this never happens again. Decriminalizing prostitution will put the business in the hands of the women and it will allow them to go to the police if they are being mistreated unlike now where they hide for fear of being jailed as a criminal!

    If anyone has any further questions please email me @

    There’s a wonderful book out now regarding the history of Sex Workers in Vancouver. It’s called Red Light Neon by Daniel Francis.

    The political strategies of dealing with Sex Trade work haven’t changed much in over 100 years. I think we are evolved enough as a society to finally do the correct thing: Decriminalization.

    Here is a beautiful chart that explains the difference between Legalization and Decriminalization and why Decrim is what’s best for Sex Workers.

    In Solidarity,

    Diana A. DiNatale

  3. Sharryn

    Littlejohn’s comments are despicable and I too feel sad for the families of the victims. When I read or hear about the horrors at the Pickton farm, I’m filled with sorrow for the women and their families. I do not, however, agree with Ms DiNatale’s opinion that Decriminalization is the answer. Calling prostitution a “noble profession”(see ‘beautiful’ chart) is not the kind of message we should be sending to our daughters and sisters. If, as she says, “adult prostitutes are equipped with the same intellectual capacities as other people,” then why not encourage these women to make better occupational choices. Ms DiNatale says she had to turn to prostitution because welfare didn’t give her enough and she had to give her food to her animals. Perhaps this is where a better choice could have been made. – Find a home for the animals and get into a position to feed yourself. If she was not drug addicted, why not get a legitimate job? There are plenty of gov’t agencies that will help with job search techniques, resumes, etc. The ex husband is a jerk, no doubt, but can she really blame her life circumstances totally on him? He wouldn’t look after her and welfare wouldn’t look after her? I’m all for helping women who want to help themselves.I’m all for women who want to get out of the sex trade, and for addicts who want to get off drugs. I would sign a petition for funding in those areas, in a New York minute. But, sign a petition that encourages women to accept their current positions as their lot in life by decriminalizing prostitution? Nope, just do not agree with it. Ms DiNatale, in my opinion, you could be doing better things with your life experience by showing women how to get out of the trade. Start by taking responsibility for your own part in the choices you made and teach others to rise up and be all they can be. Prostitution is NOT a noble profession!

  4. Diana DiNatale

    Sex work, is legitimate work. You are entitled to your morality Sharryn but you are not entitled to push your morality onto me or any other girl who chooses to do sex work, which is REAL work.

    For the last 150 years, according to the historian who wrote ‘Red Light Neon’ the girls have been working. This was before heroin was illegal and cocaine was illegal. It IS legitimate work and has been as long as recorded time.

    Women’s choices in this world are narrowed due to the patriarchal structural and class-based society that we live in. You doubly victimize me by assuming I had other choices. You cannot possibly see that I did NOT have the choices you speak of. Have you ever had to live with your life on your back? Dirty? Hungry? Homeless?

    Your morality is what motivates you to doubly victimize not just myself, but all the other women who are working. There’s nothing WRONG with sex trade work as a job. The problem is that it is criminalized and that makes easy targets of the women who work in this business.

    Surely, if Sex Work was decriminalized those 35 women would more than likely be alive today. They would have safer working environments. They would go back to being run by women as they were in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s (Daniels, 2006), and during those years special doctors would give all the women check-ups on a regular basis so they remained healthy people. Yes, this was before prostitution became a criminal act.

    It was kept in certain parts of the Vancouver until the morality police got loud and put massive pressure on the provincial government. Their reasoning? Prostitution is wrong. No analysis. No public health issues (remember they had physicians). No nothing. They strictly came from a place of ignorance and said ‘This is wrong.’

    This is what you’re doing.

    I am in the process of applying for an Executive Director position at PACE. Do you know what PACE is? It’s for Sex Workers to have a safe place to go and talk about what THEY would like. Using community-based models that determine what’s best for them, not by some morally high and mighty group of people who have no idea what these women need, but by the women themselves.

    Putting the Sex Workers in the leadership role and drive policy and research by this principle then you have healthier communities and healthier people in it. Decriminalization will also prevent things like the over 35 Sex Trade Workers from being murdered.

    I suppose you blame them too? They had other, more moral options right?

    There’s professional Sex Trade workers all over this city and they all would benefit from decrim. Everybody benefits from decrim. At least if someone’s daughter decided or was limited in her options and became a Sex Trade Worker, the chances that she would survive it until she decides to do something else with her life are great.

    I suppose a better message to our daughters is ‘you’re a woman who has no intrinsic respect, who will be blamed for your less than ideal options in this world who has been fighting against you and even prevented you from voting because you have tits and a yoni. If you ever need to survive and all odds are against you, and you are considering Sex Trade work, I can guarantee you that you will NOT ever be safe. We had the chance to make it such that you could have proper health care, not work for pimps, not have to street walk, not have to worry about a secure place to work and keep your dignity…but our personal morality got in the way.’

    Those women are dead, not because they were Sex Trade workers, but because people who hold this morality judgement are incapable of understanding harm reduction.

    How dare you tell me what I should be doing in my life. It’s not your life to live. It’s mine. I wouldn’t ever try and force a girl into prostitution, like what happens now because it’s not decriminalized. However, if a woman got to that point at least she’d have more a chance of surviving it and retain her health if it WAS decriminalized.

    “I’m all for helping women who want to help themselves.”

    Yes, according to YOUR moral judgement which decides what a ‘moral’ job is, not according to an individual’s rights and agency.

    Get back on your high horse so that when you fall it really hurts.

    You can’t be sorrowful for the women who were killed if you turn your back on a method that clearly would’ve greatly increased the odds of them living.

    I’ve heard this argument a thousand times. It’s old.

    I suppose you don’t endorse Safe Injection Sites either?

  5. pr

    “death by strangulation is an occupational hazard”? seems like some kind of justification. Richard Littlejohn ought to be strangled to death, and see how he likes it. It is not rich women who choose this profession but poor ones facing homelessness, starvation and few options for survival. The patriarchal, woman hating cruel indifference in littlejohn’s article say more about him, than i could. He lacks compassion, empathy or willingness to understand the economic realities of capitalism especially as it intesects with patriarchy. If littlejohn was strangled, then its possible to say that there is no great loss. The guy flipping burgers at McDonald’s isn’t discovering a cure for cancer either, but he doesn’t deserve to die does he?

    Sex work should be legal for the protection of women. Just as a miner who works in a dangerous mine shaft requires protective equipment, so do sex workers. It is a form a labor – that happens to be sexual. There should be no tolerance for judgemental sexists who dehumanize women, that are already victims of both poverty and patriarchy.

  6. serena - australia

    I work with a lot of sex workers in Australia and have been on the other side of the fence as we call it over here.

    First thing I must say is you do not judge anybody for whatever job or thing they do in life. You may be able to understand why some people choose their choices and even though society deems this trade to be “a bad choice” or a terrible place to be, it isn’t and hasn’t been.

    All women choose this profession for whatever reason and nowadays these women could be your neighbours, your sister, your friend, even your mother and most fo you wouldn’t know about it. But you befriend these ladies because you like them, but have no idea sometimes of their secret life, which is how most girls do it over here in Australia.

    Some states are legalized and make it harder for brothels to operate and privates to be more available.
    Our state in WA isn’t decriminalised yet and if it does go that way, then I hope only women can run brothels etc. They keep talking about it but its only when politics is in season.

    I don’t know if girls will come out in the public eye even if they do as society is prejudiced and conditioned to think one way and would not change their views. If they got involved in the Industry and saw and felt what it was like they would be amazed at how someone can do this service because it is not easy dealing with the people you deal with.

    Yes there are women in this Industry because they are hooked on drugs, but I have given workshops with information to try and help them if they want help to see what is out there to give them help if they choose to get off drugs.

    If your on drugs thought, your thinking is not the same as others who aren’t and you cant even if you want to sometimes be able to get off them. Like trying to give up smoking a bit. How easy is that to do I say to all smokers.

    I have heard of 3 rapes in the last couple of months and because of the stigma of being a prostitue, no-one went to the vice squad who is supposed to be here for them for fear of their names getting in to the papers.

    We have had a death of a working girl a while ago, but nothing like what you ahve reported here. One thing only need to be said here for those who think they deserved to die: he who is without sin – cast the first stone. Look back into your past and check out the skeletons in the closet. Are you that pure that you can pass that judgement that they aren’t worthy?
    Very sad I must say to be so prejudice, but then i can only feel sorry as those people made the choice to be prejudiced on others and conditioned to think that way, and therefor do not have the xcope to be able to get outside the box.

  7. N. Kateus

    While I personally don’t agree that prostitution is a wise or good choice for any man or woman to practice, I will strongly assert that there is absolutely no excuse or rational, valid reason for the murders of these women to be considered anything but what they were, unspeakably horrible and demented, extremely tragic. The blame lies with the individual who killed them. Period. Not in the most remote way could such savage and inhuman behavior be passed off or minimized by claiming that the victims were in any way responsible for that “man” to do what he did. The behavior and actions were inhuman. No one would give second thought to destroying a four-legged animal should one do such a thing; why, then would anyone want to make excuses for a supposedly “higher” animal and blame the victim suffering the terrible death?

  8. isabella mori

    thanks, n. kateus. that attitude is so important. i think it was robespierre who said, “i may completely disagree with you but i’ll defend with my life to express your opinion.” he was one of the fathers of modern democracy. what you’re saying is similar, no? “i may disagree with your choice of occupation but i’m ready to defend your right to be treated like a human”.

  9. N. Kateus

    Absolutely. As in any other area of life where one makes a choice, e.g., marry or stay single, vocation, avocations, clothing, foods, sexual orientation: only one person has the right to make the choice. Every human has the right to be treated like a human until the point they prove by their actions and behavior that they are not “human” any longer as, for instance, the serial murderer did.

  10. Karen

    These women have never dreamed of going into this kind of work but they don’t have a choice. It’s bad enough that they are forced to go into this kind of “living”, people discriminating them makes it even worse.

  11. serena

    quote: These women have never dreamed of going into this kind of work but they don’t have a choice. It’s bad enough that they are forced to go into this kind of “living”, people discriminating them makes it even worse.

    I’m sorry Karen but I have to disagree ith you. Everyone hs choices no matter who they are or where they are. (Unless extreme cases like taken into slavery etc which I know has and does happen around the world)
    Everyone who uses drugs has the choice of taking up that habit thn doing what they choose to do to keep it going.

    The Sex Worker Industry is a lot different to what it used to be but even in the olden days women had choices to be or not be one.

    But it doesn’t realy matter whether they have a choice as such, what the important thing is that the Sex Industry is just a business like any other Business and in places where it is legalised or places where it is not, most women will treat it professionally and like a business. There re the rogue one;s out there to do and get whatever they want but you get that in any business.

    The thing behind this is not to see it as a isolated issue because theyare sex workers, it’s to get past your interpretation and thoughts on what a sex worker is.
    They are just like you and me, no more, no less.

    And nowadasy most of them and more are coming are wanting to go into this Industry because of the ease of making a fantastic income and setting themselves up for the future.
    I had an email from soeone in england the other day, 18 years old and coming o Australia wanting to go into the Industry because you make good money.

    Promiscuity and unsafe sex is more prevalent in our teenages out there than in the Sex Industry. And I am talking about most Industry’s obviously not what some are like in say third world countries where it can be different also.

    Better get off my couch.. LOL

  12. Nimet

    Thank you for your article. Then let’s see snhitmeog about cosplay. You must be interested in it.Cosplay Get Its Own Magazine: Cosplay Gen is big. Very big. More than half of all kids at anime conventions these days are cosplaying .Relax, it’s nothing scary. Cosplay is just the Japanese word for dressing up in costume. You know, like you do on Halloween… except if you spent four months making your costume, and made all of the props yourself instead of buying everything out of a package at the temporary local Halloween Superstore .In an indication of just how big the international cosplay community is getting, May will see the launch of a new, English-language cosplay magazine out of Europe called Cosplay Gen. The 72-page issue #1 will include tons of photos, interviews, profiles, DIY tutorials and a pull-out poster. Pre-order your copy now and receive a free issue of Otaku Magazine .

  13. Mr. Jon

    It’s too bad this blog is not that active anymore, but this was a very interesting article on sex work and choosing it. Of course it comes of no surprise to me that many people still have a stigma on what sex work is or is supposed to be but let me tell you what it’s not — it’s not synonymous to human trafficking. Prostitution, while it can be chosen by people who seemed to not have had another choice because of survival, is not the same as being forced to engage in sex you do not want. The beauty of being a private escort is that one has the right to choose her clientele — it is a privilege for the jons to get a beautiful woman’s company, not an entitlement.

    Australia thankfully has regulated sex work, and now even independents who do not want to be encumbered by an escort agency can list their businesses on escort directories like JonsList. They can set their parameters and make sure they are comfortable with their jobs, because it is a job, much like how someone would pay you to render a service, like cook their food, or stroke their ego for them.

  14. LondonEscorts

    Undoubtedly there are a lot of unscrupulous pimps out there churning out drug addicted women to be used as prostitutes and escorts. But this happens in all walks of life and it is unfair to lump all escort agencies in and say they all are human traffickers. It simply is not true. It would be like saying all manufacturing companies use child labor or create sweatshops like in China.

    There are plenty of hard working individuals out there who run agencies that do not prey on weak women to work for their businesses. There are going to be bad apples in every bunch. Please don’t lump us all together!

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