Law students like to think the have it rough. But some of us have it rougher than others, especially those of us that took the less traveled road to law school.
This evening The Star announced that Wendy Babcock was found dead yesterday in her home. Wendy would have entered her third year of law school at Osgoode Hall this Fall. She gained notoriety given her background as a homeless teenage prostitute (she would say “sex worker”) before entering law school.
Third-year students expressed frustration today after Toronto area articling position offers closed when many were still waiting for a job. Wendy recently asked me whether she should consider changing her name for law firm applications, because she was apprehensive about what law firms would think about her background. The Eye Weekly once did a piece on her entitled, “All that she can’t leave behind,” and I responded that her experiences were what made her special.
Knowing the advocacy work that I’ve been involved in she also questioned my career path, asking me why I wasn’t practicing human rights law.
Wendy will live on in memories, and through the social media footprint she’s left behind (her “memoranda”). Coincidentally, I just viewed this TED video earlier today:
Here are some of the sites you can find out more about Wendy:
Wendy Babcock – a site created post-mortem by her friends
And finally, here is her last note posted on Facebook, giving us some insight into a controversial subject currently being deliberated by the Supreme Court of Canada in Bedford v. Canada:
Can A Person Be A Sex Worker Rights Activist While Not Enjoying Sex Work Themselves? (ROUGH DRAFT)
by Wendy Babcock on Wednesday, 03 August 2011 at 19:28
I have to get something off my breasts… er… I mean chest. At the risk of offending the pro sex positive feminist movement (which I have no inclination of doing) I have to admit that as a sex worker rights activist, and more so a former sex worker, I have never enjoyed sex work. In fact I am remorseful that sex work is how I lost my virginity, I regret that at 15 I entered sex work, and I despise the fact that I learned about my sexuality through sex work while the majority of other girls my age were discovering theirs in the school yard – usually with kids their own age.
For me, sex work was something I did to survive to get me through the years when I was homeless and too young for a full-time job, general welfare, youth shelters, and food banks. I did NOT engage in sex work because I wanted to express my sexuality, bring pleasure to others, or any of the other reasons pro sex feminists have for engaging in sex work. Not that I’m condemning them for their choice or suggesting that their decision was not a well thought out choice to engage in sex work. I’m just saying that my reasons for being involved in sex work were different. How could I have gone into sex work for any of those aforementioned reasons without first discovering my own sexuality – let alone be comfortable with it? Hell, I never even kissed another person before I headed out to my first call in Mississauga to meet a business man who would pay me money for my virginity. I did not enjoy sex work as a teenager nor did I enjoy it as an adult. There was always the fear of a bad client, a broken condom, and the judgment of johns regarding my appearance (which includes having a few too many of them comment on my stretch marks, cellulite, and a whole slew of other insecurities that unfortunately we as woman must deal with – thanks to the airbrushing of models in magazines like Vogue, Glamour and Maxim), which would be reviewed and commented on by many “johns”. I didn’t enjoy the stigma, the fact that I had to hide my profession for fear of being socially isolated, teased, and worse – arrested.
Had I enjoyed sex work I wouldn’t have quit doing sex work and taken a job that didn’t require me to be sexual with the people I serviced when the opportunity presented itself. Yet I still consider myself to be a sex worker activist, one that promotes the decriminalization of prostitution. And do I think that not getting pleasure from sex work diminishes or sets the sex worker rights movement back? Hell no, in fact I believe it enhances it. Yet our voices are not heard in the sex worker rights movement, as it is universally falsely believed that current or former sex workers who dislike their previous or current occupation have no place in the sex worker rights movement.
I remember when I first got involved in sex worker rights and was a naively impressionable young woman. I did a talk show for AM 680 (the Bob Oakley Show) and when I mentioned that I didn’t like sex work myself I was chastised by fellow activists. “How will anyone understand why decriminalization is important if you keep telling interviewers that you don’t like sex work?” “Don’t tell people you don’t like sex work, if you want to do that you have no business speaking for sex worker rights” and “You are discounting everything other sex worker rights activists are saying!”
Stunned and not wanting to upset anyone as I felt really passionate about the need to decriminalize sex work I kept my mouth shut about my true feelings and instead pretended that sex work was this revolutionary way for me to reach my true sexual potential. And please don’t get me wrong, it is for some sex workers, for those sex work can be freeing, empowering, and a slap in the face to the misogynistic notion that men are the ones with the sexual power and women should just submit.
However, not all of us sex workers feel this way. In fact in my 8 years of working with street involved sex workers very few expressed that this was the way they felt as many of them were survivors of violence, ripped off by clients, faced arrest and were harassed on a regular bases. Many of them did not feel represented in the sex worker rights movement. This is an absolute shame as if anyone, ANYONE should feel they belong in the sex worker rights movement it’s the street sex workers who face the brunt of criminalization, social isolation, stigma, and discrimination. Yet, when sex worker rights are talked about it is usually the overtly privileged sex workers, the high end sex workers, the ones who chose sex work as a legitimate occupation over other employment choices that they could have made. These are the sex workers who work in safer environments, the ones who work independently who don’t have to give any of their earnings over to a boyfriend or agency, the ones who work from their own or shared establishments, the ones who have the luxury of choosing where, when and who they work with. These do not tend to be the sex workers who see sex work as their only means of survival – who don’t have (or are not aware) of other employment options. So then, why if it is street involved sex workers who feel harshest effects of criminalization not heard when it comes to the question of sex worker rights and decriminalization?
I can’t answer that question, for I do not know the answer. What I do know is that we, while acknowledging my own privilege at having my voice heard in this movement, as allies for the sex worker rights movement have an obligation to our brothers and sisters who face a much higher rate of isolation than us must embrace sex workers that do not feel that they would stay in sex work if given the opportunity to be employed in another profession.
Back to my question, Can A Person Be A Sex Worker Rights Activist While Not Enjoying Sex Work Themselves? I say, ABSOLUTELY! Just because a person does not enjoy sex work does not mean that they have nothing to add to the decriminalization debate. Since when does not liking your job mean that you can’t (or shouldn’t) speak up against the barriers that make your trade MORE unenjoyable – even distasteful? Personally, I believe that any debate about sex worker rights should be more diverse than just between the people who utterly despise the profession and want it criminalized to the people that love their profession and want it decriminalized to include the people who neither like it nor avoid it but can justifiably see that things still need to change. There is nothing worse than hating your job and feeling like you have no voice in changing things. Worse still, if you hate your job, the isolation, stigma, criminal records, and other legal repercussions (such as fearing custody of your children, ability to retain status in your chosen country, etc.) does nothing to assist those sex workers who would prefer to leave the profession. I may have disliked providing sexual services for money but that shouldn’t disclude my voice (or others) that the laws that keep sex workers working underground. Personally I think ALL voices need to be heard. What do you think?