Amsterdam Report

Appendix I

NOTE: This paper was not generally available at the poster display however we photographed the display and transcribed this text.

When Love is Illegal
Prostitutes AIDS prevention in Their Private Lives

Alexandra Highcrest
Canadian Organization for the Rights of Prostitutes

Karen Maki
Campaign to Decriminalize Prostitution

Toronto, Canada

Many prostitutes continue to engage in unsafe sexual practices within the context of their private lives in spite of the work prevention programmes specifically targeting this sector of the population.

Prostitutes have been studied, surveyed, categorized and tested in every country and by every discipline. Over and over we hear:

  1. Prostitutes have a high level of knowledge about HIV/AIDS prevention and,
  2. Prostitutes are safe sex professionals and they put this knowledge to practical use.

As the number of organizations who deliver service to prostitutes involved in policy development, decision making and service delivery is shrinking.

Messages about risk reduction in our private lives being delivered as part of workplace HIV/AIDS prevention messages. Someone has decided that prostitutes are a different class of people who need special messages in their private lives.

We wanted to find out why this was happening, how we felt, what this says about us and what if anything needs to be changed.

What You Call Our Lovers
(media, researchers, AIDS Service organizations)

  • non-paying customer (or non-paying sex partner)
  • pimp
  • private sex partner
  • the person we fuck for fun
  • accused
  • rounder
  • regular sex partner of a prostitute who may or may not be HIV+ or an injection drug user
  • "treat" (as opposed to trick)
  • other sex partner
  • person in a non-parasitic relationship with a prostitute
  • fuck buddy
  • you must be a prostitute too

We met at a provincial AIDS meeting. I'd been around for a long time. I remember when we called it GRID. She was new to the AIDS movement, but no stranger to the issues. She's been a prostitute for over twenty years.

It's three years later and I'm sitting in the living room of our home. We are getting ready to go overseas together to an International AIDS Conference. Some things never change.

I'm still very angry about how many of my enlightened peer (sic) in the AIDS field warned me about disease and AIDS because my lover is a prostitute. I was advised that a normal relationship with a prostitute was next to impossible. Curious people tried to find out what we did in bed because it must take something really wild to get a prostitute off. Eighteen months ago I was invited to a women and AIDS meeting as a "regular sex partner of a prostitute who may or may not be HIV+ or an injection drug user." Everyone else had lovers or spouses. My government tells me I'm a parasite and a criminal. I'm not supposed to live with my lover or have a joint bank account.

Where is the support I need? The groups that are supposed to be there for prostitutes lump me in with clients. I rarely speak out publicly because I could be arrested. Last fall at a meeting I was told by a stripper turned social worker that sex trade worker issues are all the same. When was the last time a stripper's lover was arrested just because of who they choose to love?

Not much has changed, including my anger.

Our government criminalizes all our relationships, save the commercial ones. Under section 212 of the Criminal Code, any person who "lives with or is habitually in the company of a prostitute ...lives on the avails of prostitution" and as such "is guilty of an indictable offense and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years." No other group of people has their personal, private lives criminalized as prostitutes do. The anti-pimping law does not affect prostitution the act; the law affects prostitutes, the people and their partners. This law was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in June of 1992 because the courts felt that prostitutes needed special protection.

The biggest risk many of us face is losing our lovers to the police and the courts , not to the virus.


  1. This biggest barrier to prostitutes accessing AIDS prevention information is the criminalization of our work. The bawdy house laws can get us for working inside and the soliciting laws can get us for working on the street. It's difficult for us to stand up and tell you what we need, or to come together and do it ourselves when we are always trying to stay one step ahead of the police. You don't get much useful AIDS information in prison.

  2. Outreach keeps us apart. Outreach techniques are one way to make initial contact but they are not good enough on their own. Prostitutes must be encouraged to come together and take action. This is not happening. As long as prostitutes are kept apart they will be unable to work together to combat issues such and the criminalization of the work, stigmatization, or HIV/AIDS.

    The City of Toronto funds 13 paid outreach positions. There are 2 vans from the WORKS (a public health project), the Salvation Army, Covenant House, other health vans and other positions funded by the Ministry of Health. It is impossible to figure out how many outreach workers there are on the street. We have seen nights when there were more outreach workers on the neighbourhood stroll than prostitutes.

    There is one drop-in centre for prostitutes in Toronto. In 1991, Maggie's received over $250,000 (Can) in government funding yet the centre was only open eight hours a week.

  3. There is a trend within the prostitutes' rights movement to lump prostitutes in with strippers, phone sex mates, porn film performers and performance artists. Non-whores tell us that our issues are all the same. A porn performer cannot be charged with soliciting, a phone sex mate cannot be charged with keeping a brothel and a stripper's lover cannot be charged with pimping. The work is not the same, the repercussions of the work are not the same, we are not all the same.

    Prostitutes must retake control of the prostitutes' rights movement. Too many groups are now controlled by women who have never turned a trick, never worried about getting busted and have never had sex with a stranger. These people are designing safer sex messages for whores. Is is any wonder they are ineffective?

    Well meaning racists say we should ignore racial and cultural differences. "It doesn't matter what colour you are, we are all the same." Differences are important and should be acknowledged and celebrated. Well-meaning liberals say prostitutes, strippers, phone mates and porn performers are all the same. Our differences are important to us, even though you are telling us that they aren't to you.

    What Prostitutes and Their Lovers/Spouses Have to Say About AIDS Prevention at Home:

    What for? This is the father of my kids. We use condoms for birth control. He don't want me taking the pill. We don't use them all the time. Don't need to.

    I'm going out looking to get laid for myself tonight. I've got condoms right here, see?

    Use them at work all the time. They are a great intimacy barrier. so's money.

    Don't like them. Use them at work all the time.

    I don't talk to anybody about my private life.

    Condoms are okay. How come it's so hard to get clean needles?

    I get a real laugh about that AIDS ad that says when you go to bed with someone you are going to bed with everyone that person has ever been to bed with. Give me a break. There's no Greek chorus of satisfied clients in our bedroom. Just me and her and sometimes the cat.

    He's No Trick... He's my Treat!

    Yuk. that's a fag picture. I see that at work all night long. I don't want to come home to look at that.

    This is a monogamous relationship.

    I've been a prostitute for 20 years and I've never had an STD or infection.

    She took a bigger risk when she......bed with me for the first time. She's a professional. I'm just an enthusiastic amateur.

    By the mid- 1980's most everyone had heard of AIDS and the prostitutes' rights movement gained momentum and voices. It was then that prostitutes really began talking about AIDS. We were considered a vector of disease and we had to respond. No one really talked about our private lives, everyone seemed more concerned about all the clients we were supposedly infecting.

    Prostitutes rights groups began organizing their own responses to the AIDS pandemic. Whore began to outreach to each other, distributing condoms, clean needles, safer sex information and bad trick sheets. the response was positive and the messages were being heard. Research studies showed that whores had lower STD rates than other comparable population. Our clients were not flocking to STD clinics looking for cures to the diseases we were supposed to give them.

    Governments began giving us money so we could afford to keep up the work. Political prostitutes found themselves in need of offices, budgets, supplies, and well written proposals. They sought outside help, or the help arrived unannounced. Health care professionals and service providers wrote proposals, staffed offices, ordered supplies and offered advice on how we could continue the fight. This new blood did not flow from the veins of whores. Work styles were combines with our private lives in many of these messages. We were told we are different from other people because we have lots of sex. Political prostitutes were described as sexual freedom fighters, not as business women who want to see the work decriminalized. Our lovers and spouses became regular sex partners or fuck buddies. So much of this came from people who had never worked as prostitutes but were libertines who latched onto sexy, well paying jobs.

    Many working whores who opposed this shift in power found themselves ostracized from the very groups they forged. Political groups became service providing organizations. Old supporters grew accustomed to power and held on. Outside organizers organized around entrenching their jobs as the money flowed in. While non-prostitutes sat around talking about ways to empower prostitutes they also plotted ways to keep real power out of the reach of prostitutes.

    Groups fractured and alliances melted as political fires were snuffed in many groups. The time to empower prostitutes is over, now we want our real power back. The usurpers can either graciously surrender or we will roll over them. We will no longer stand for having our work misrepresented, having our language ripped off and having our commercial practices lumped in with our private lives. Non-prostitutes cannot design healthy life messages for a population they don't understand and are not a part of. Only whores can direct and lead the prostitutes' rights movement through the nineties and beyond.

    A large portion of the general population thinks commercial sex, sex with a prostitute, is unnatural. Casual sex and free sex outside the home are not seen as unusual activities, why should commercial. sex? A man who has an affair may be considered a cad but if he frequents prostitutes he's often considered odd, or its assumed he's into kinky sex.

    The private sex lives of most whores are the same as the private sex lives of other people. Love, trust, respect, and mutual satisfaction are important to everyone. Are prostitutes a separate class of people? No. Do we need tailor-made at home safer sex messages? Our work is different from other types of employment and our workplace messages should address our activities and needs.

    AIDS prevention workplace messages should be delivered in the context of other workplace issues such as: police harassment, violence, street and other worksite safety, daycare and other health issues. A prostitute's home life isn't much different from yours. Personal safer sex messages that work for you can work for me too.

    All private safer sex messages must acknowledge a few key points. Individuals should not be targeted with blame. Responsibility must be shared. The goal must be to encourage partners to become informed and then to make willing informed choices about sexual practices.

    Thanks to our donors:

    Ontario Ministry of Health
    National Action Committee of the Status of Women
    Roger Hollander, Metro Councillor
    Anglican Church of Canada, Ministry in Society
    AIDS Committee of Toronto
    Ryerson Copy Shop

    Special People we would like to mention:

    Carol Ann Wright
    Henry and Penny
    Bob Martel
    John Russell
    Frank McGee
    Lois Jackson

Amsterdam Report... [Rights Groups]

Created: September 22, 1997
Last modified: December 20, 1998

Maggie's Maggie's
Box 82527, 422 Parliament St.
Toronto, ON M5A 4N8
Tel: +1 (416) 964-0150