Dec. 17 is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers. A day for sex workers, their families, friends, advocates and allies to remember people they have lost. The goal is to bring attention to the criminalization of sex work that creates the stigma, discrimination and hate that breeds physical and sexual violence, including murder, against members of our communities.

Sex workers are members of our communities. Members deserve the right to be safe, valued and respected. The Sex Workers Action Network of Waterloo Region (SWAN) is a non-partisan group, including individuals with lived experience, agencies and groups committed to recognizing and honouring individuals working in sex work. I am proud and humbled to be part of this network which strives for the safety, support and choice of all sex workers.

Most do not think sex work could possibly be a choice people willingly make. However, many people make that chioice for various reasons: flexible work hours, earning more than minimum wage, feeling empowered and doing exactly what it is they want to do. They are not “selling” their bodies. They are selling labour, just like the rest of us. Anyone who makes money using their body to get it is.

Suggesting that sex work should not be a choice robs people of their agency and suggests they do not have the capacity to make such a decision — a decision, interestingly enough, that others feel they can morally make for them. Sex work is not the same as human trafficking, which is forced and provides no control or freedom over working conditions, profits or the ability to leave. It is not a choice. Sex work is.

Many people are uncomfortable with sex. This is unfortunate and I wish it was not so. However, I think this discomfort plays into fear, disgust and hate of sex work, work we could not imagine doing ourselves. There is a lot of work I could not imagine myself doing. This does not mean I should, or would, tell someone else they cannot do it.

Criminalizing sex work does not get rid of sex work. It does, however, force it underground, which makes it harmful and dangerous to those involved. It leaves sex workers vulnerable to violence as they cannot go to the police or access support and services that others can. It especially means sex workers with already marginalized identities such as Indigenous people, people of colour and trans folks face unnecessary violence.

This violence is preventable. Decriminalizing sex work to ensure people can go to work without fear of being arrested would significantly increase safety, decrease stigma and create a more harmonious community.

Please stand with us on Dec. 17, as we take a stand against the stigma, criminalization and violence that sex workers undeservingly endure. We will be at Café Pyrus from 3-4 p.m. for solidarity, speakers and snacks, followed by a die-in outside Kitchener City Hall from 4-4:30 p.m. We encourage you to wear red to show solidarity with the sex workers in your community.

Stacey Jacobs is the sexual health educational manager at SHORE.