International Sex Workers Day raises awareness with goodie bags

International Sex Workers Day raises awareness with goodie bags

Interviewing Sarah Wilmer, chair of Sex Workers Ally Group Guelph/Wellington

The Sex Workers Ally Group Guelph/Wellington (SWAG) celebrated International Sex Workers Day on June 2 by giving out goodie bags in Guelph.

Sex work is the “consensual exchange of sexual services between adults for money or goods,” according to The Canadian Public Health Association.

SWAG is a group of community partners that works to reduce the stigma associated with sex work and helps make health and social services more accessible to sex workers.

Sex Workers Day has been recognized since 1975, when one hundred sex workers occupied Saint-Nizier church in France to protest against criminalized and exploitative living conditions.

Still, sex work is a “large umbrella,” and some people do not connect with the term “sex work,” explains Sarah Wilmer.

Wilmer, University of Guelph alumna and chair of SWAG, sat down for an interview with The Ontarion.

As part of International Sex Workers Day, SWAG gave out goodie bags in the Guelph community. The bags contained information packages and free goodies, according to Wilmer, who added: “People hopefully will read the information and use the goodies however they want.”

Three days recognize sex workers:

  • March 3 is International Sex Worker Rights Day
  • June 2 is International Sex Workers Day
  • December 17 is International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The information included was about International Sex Workers Day and the free health and wellness drop-in for sex workers that SWAG hosts.

The goodies consisted of:

  • Fragrance samples
  • Moisturizer samples
  • Condoms
  • Lube
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste

The purpose of giving out the goodie bags was to “build awareness around [sex work], maybe start conversations about it,” said Wilmer.

The response to the goodie bags was “quite positive and folks really liked them,” according to feedback from Wilmer’s colleagues.

Mariah Bridgeman | The Ontarion

For Wilmer, International Sex Workers Day is important in making sure people are “supported in whatever ways they decide to work.”

Wilmer also emphasized the goal to help end stigma against sex workers and explained that raising awareness helps diminish the stigma.

Another priority is to “make sure that we’re addressing some of the barriers or systems of oppression that can actually make sex workers more vulnerable to violence or just make it more difficult to navigate services,” said Wilmer.  

Wilmer’s statement is echoed by sex workers who are fighting for changes in the laws surrounding their work.

The current law affecting sex workers is
Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. The bill was passed at the end of 2014 and aims to “protect those who sell their own sexual services.”

It is currently illegal in Canada to:

  • Purchase sexual services
  • Advertise sexual services
  • Materially benefit from the sale of sexual services

These laws do not apply to the sale or promotion of one’s own sexual services, only the sale or promotion of another’s services.

Those looking to support sex workers and get involved can join committees, help organize events, or start their own events or groups. Wilmer also would “encourage people to do readings” so they can learn more about sex work and how to best support sex workers.

Photo courtesy of Sonny Abesamis via CC-BY-2.0.