Silenced by law

Canadian legislation endangers sex workers

Once or twice a week, Kay De Monet will post an ad on Craigslist. Under the “erotic services” section, other ads boast “GOOD HOT SERVICE,” “JUICY ASIAN GIRLS,” massages, “100% real girls,” “36 DD breasts,” lots of “SEXXY” (insert girl’s name here). Her ad states “Worth it, w4m.”

This understated ad describes her as “sweet and experienced” with a description of her looks and an accompanying mostly clothed picture. She states that she is looking for visitors to enjoy her company. Unlike other ads, hers makes no mention of the services she might provide for the fee included.

On my first visit to this section of Craigslist, I was struck by the fact that this existed at all. Within the same online classifieds site you can find an apartment, sell anything you own, look for a job, and find someone to provide you with “erotic services.” American cities on this site file these ads under “adult services.” Considering the stigma around sex work in Canada, I’d never have expected to see it advertised on a public classifieds web site. So how are these sections able to exist at all?
The laws surrounding sex work in Canada are that buying or selling sex is legal. Yet it is illegal to run a brothel or “bawdy house,” communicate for the purposes of selling or buying sex, or to live on the money one makes from buying or selling sex.

How then does a person get to the buying or selling of sex without communicating about it? There are a lot of rules surrounding how you can connect with potential buyers through an ad. In De Monet’s ads, you pay for her time, not anything specific. No mention of money in exchange for sexually-related services is allowed, nor any mention of what types of sexual services are offered, like anal sex, blow jobs, et cetera. No acronyms referencing sexual activity that might occur are permitted, like bbbj (bare back blowjob), and no naked pictures showing sexual action. This is how escort agencies advertise their services, by existing in this grey area of law.

This grey area is currently under scrutiny, as three sex workers are battling the Canadian Supreme Court for the decriminalization of the laws surrounding buying and selling, stating that they are impossible to follow while still maintaining one’s own safety.

Sex workers can’t ask appropriate questions of their clients, because they can’t legally talk about it, or legally use any of the money they make to live off of. The same reasons that the laws are in place – to maintain safety and get workers off the streets – can end up pushing them right back. By removing these sections of the legal code, workers would have the opportunity to define themselves as self-employed, and protected by the laws that govern all other workers.

Current laws don’t serve to protect workers, but instead maintain the anonymity of buyers and continue to stigmatize this type of work. Meanwhile, buying and selling initiated on Craigslist will continue, regardless of these laws.

Until decriminalization occurs, workers like De Monet will have to keep being careful of what they say to potential clients, where they do it, or how they spend the money they make.

Maddie and Amanda work at McGill’s Shag Shop. They’ll be bringing their analysis and expertise to all things sex and sexuality in this space every Wednesday. They’re currently accepting reader questions, to be answered in future columns. Email them at

For more information on sex workers and their rights visit