Sex workers and researchers defend clients in Vancouver

Sex worker Susan Davis advocates the decriminalization of prostitution

Clients as monsters and misfits, exploiters and rapists, dysfunctional or weird: that’s how many who hate prostitution and the sex industry generalise all men who buy sex (they skim over women who buy sex because that’s not the gender-equality road they want to follow.) If you attend meetings where sex workers are present, you will hear another story, in which all sorts of guys buy sex for all sorts of reasons, most of them quite ordinary. In these excerpts a researcher amongst clients also speaks up.

Sex workers defend buyers

Shadi Elien,, 26 November 2009

Veteran sex worker Susan Davis wants people to know that her “clients aren’t the bogeymen they are made out to be. I love what I do,” Davis told the Georgia Straight in an interview at the Vancouver Public Library’s central branch. “I think the guys are the best; a lot of them are my friends. Some I’ve known for 18 years. How do you not become emotionally attached?”

Davis, who has been in the business for 23 years, insisted that stability and security for sex workers can only come with decriminalization of prostitution. FIRST, a national coalition of feminists who support sex workers’ rights, hosted a lively forum on the subject at the library on November 23. Davis, who was on the panel, suggested that men who buy sex can actually help enhance the safety of those in the trade. “I think that clients are our biggest resource in trying to combat exploitation, trafficking, and exploitation of youth within the sex industry,” declared Davis, a member of the West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals, in the interview.

Another panellist, SFU sociology instructor and researcher Chris Atchison, echoed Davis’s sentiments. He revealed the results of an extensive three-year study—called “Johns’ Voice”—that documents the relationship between buyers and sellers of sex in Canada. “I wanted to understand how these men engage in purchasing behaviour and what their relationships with sex-trade workers are about,” Atchison told the audience. “I wanted to know whether social and legal intervention such as the Swedish model is warranted by any empirical evidence.”. .

. . . The men he spoke to were seeking companionship and a connection with the sex workers they patronized, he said, adding that they wanted to engage in a safe and respectful relationship. He also reported that many customers saw the same sex worker for months or years, and that 79 percent said they wished to see prostitution decriminalized and regulated.

“I’m not here to present a picture of the sex buyer as some wonderful guy or say that they are all great, salt-of-the-earth people,” he said. The “Johns’ Voice” project showed that between one and two percent of clients have been brutally violent toward a sex worker. Those are the people the law must address, according to Atchison. . .

7 thoughts on “Sex workers and researchers defend clients in Vancouver

  1. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Clients | Sex Workers | Vancouver Canada | Feminism | Border Thinking on Migration, Trafficking and [] on

  2. Kris

    You are wrong. There is an evil client, I am.

    But ……. to be more serious, I have the idea that the researchers view the world with pink glasses. The clients live in a fantasy. They don’t (want to) see the reality. The men live in the illusion that they have entered a safe and respectful relation. It is not reality.

    Furthermore, I’m surprised there are so view comments on this blog. Other sex work blogs (usually by sex workers) have thousands of visits a day, and dozens of comments per post.

    I have the same problem.

  3. Aspasia

    Well, here’s a sex worker opinion:

    I think this article has more truth in it for me than what Kris is saying here. Perhaps Kris is talking and interacting with another tier of clients and providers, but regardless, shouldn’t be making assumptions on the experiences and thoughts of others in the industry. Your reality is obviously different from others but neither is more valid than the other.

    Laura Agustin’s blog is linked to by many sex worker activists (who are also sex workers themselves, past or current) and very highly regarded, so perhaps you, Kris, should do a lot more research before coming to conclusions.

  4. Kris

    I care about the thoughts of other people in the industry. If I understand these thoughts then there is a strong believe that when prostitution and migration are totally decriminalized then many problems will go away. I think that in the Netherlands this is clearly not true as many legal prostitutes are also forced.

    I will explain what I mean when I say that clients don’t enter a safe and respectful relation by visiting a prostitute. The reason is that they cannot know if this is the case. She COULD be coerced to do this. But she doesn’t show it because she has been ordered to have sex with men for money.

    I think that in non-paid sex the situation is more clear. It takes a lot more effort to persuade a non-prostitute women to have sex with you. Actually, I never succeeded in doing that. I believe that the biggest casanova has to approach dozens of women to finally hit the jackpot. When he does the sex is mutual.

    In prostitution the point of voluntariness or force is irrelevant. She always has sex, when he pays. Voluntary or not.

  5. Cliente X

    I’m as surprised as happy to read any good word about us, the johns. Our voice is even more silenced than the prostitute’s, and as Laura has told, we are depicted as true bastards, monsters that abuse of poor and vulnerable women. I agree with you that the false cartoons that the abolitionists have painted are erased as soon as people begin to know the reality of prostitution.

    But this image has been very useful by the public authorities to implement many measures intended to punish and re-educate us. The swedish model is paradigmatic, but we can find many others all around the world. For instance, recently in Sevilla has been approved a by-law based in the same abolitionist principles. I’m very worried because this kind of local laws are more and more common here in Spain (where I live), and it seems as the johns can’t do anything to stop this. First of all we share with the sex workers the social stigma, that keeps us silenced and hidden. But when someone decides to break it, he finds himself alone in this fight, as there isn’t any voices interested in giving other image of us (there are some exceptions as Pye Jacobson in Sweden or Cristina Garaizabal in Spain… and what they have got is to be considered as ‘traitors’ by other feminists). The media also don’t count with us, or when it does then they want to reproduce the usual stereotype. Finally, if we manage to be heard, prejuices prevent many people to believe us.

    So I really want to thank you this post, finally someone had to say it. Yes, our relations are ‘safe and respectful’, and many times there is even friendship, as Davis says. Of course that you can find nicer or ruder people, as everywhere. I have noticed that good persons are nice and respectful both with the prostitutes and other people, while ‘evil clients’ are assholes with everybody. They think that as they pay the can be rude with the whore, the waiter, the seller…

    A relation of prostitution is as everything in life, just common sense. Usually, if you are polite with the sex worker, she’ll be with you too. And if not she can refuse you, Kris. In fact she has a lot of power in this kind of relation, she is not at all subordinated to the man. If you are a john as me, you should know this. And if the women is forced? Yeah, of course then she can’t, but you can see several signs of it. We can know it being a little observants, this is why Davis says we can be very helpful in the fight against sexual explotation. After the own prostitutes, maybe we are the ones who know more about prostitution.

    And I say that we know. We are aware of the reality, with the good and bad things. A REAL JHON doesn’t just pay for sex, but LIVES the prostitution. He is FRIEND of them, mets their family and friends, know their problems, talks with them, goes out with them, have fun with them. Oh no, we don’t live in a fantasy. In fact, the fantasy is the ‘dark legend’ of the abolitionists, I had to be a john for several years before being aware that all the toughts I had about prostitution were false. Read what says Aspasia and every other sex worker all around the web. They invariably say that the prostitution is not as usually it’s shown. I specially suggest you the blog of a very close friend, Montserrat Neira, that writes in a very objective way (

    Finally, if any of you are interested in the perspective of the user of prostitution, I want to invite you to my own blog ( I have been with hundreds of sex workers and my experience is the same that Davis tell.

    Cliente X, a real john

  6. RLD Info

    You can’t paint johns with a broad brush as “good” or “evil.” Their motives and character are diverse. What they have in common is simply that they are willing to pay for sex.

    Criminalizing consensual sex does absolutely nothing good for any society. It pushes the trade underground and exposes women to many dangers — after all, they cannot work with law enforcement to ensure safe working conditions, for fear that law enforcement will arrest them. It also unfairly tarnishes the reputations of many honest adult men for offending the moral sensibilities of the state.

  7. Erin

    It is not the individual men who buy sex who are “bad”–it is the inequality of our society–patriarchy, capitalism, imperialism–within which structures we are all raised and acculturated, that is the problem. When women are equal to men, prostitution, the commodification of humans, will be unthinkable. When women no longer need to leave their homes in order to provide enough for themselves and their families, trafficking will become an anachronism. When resources are equitably distributed and there is no such concept as “wealth”–wherein a few have WAY more than their share of resources–selling access to our bodies for sex will be unnecessary.

    I know many women currently and formerly involved in the sex industry. All of them are or were there because of poverty, or a lack of opportunities to make money (for shelter, food, school, nice stuff–). All of them say that when they were in it they would say they were fine, they were satisfied with their choices. But they don’t want it for their daughters. or their friends. or their mothers.

    ClientX–try to see past your own eyelids. You can do way better for yourself and for the women you buy. Stop it. Try depending on your personailty, your achievements, your good will to develop friendly, nurturing, respectful relationships with women–rather than paying them to spend time with you.

    No one is talking about criminalizing women for prostitution. The abolitionist feminist goal is to achieve enough for everyone. Not too much for anyone. Enough for all. Why are you willing to settle for anything less? This is not a moral argument, it is political. As in, about power. When women have equal power in structures of government, in economy, in the social world, we will see prostitution diminish and disappear.

    one last note–in societies which have gender equality, there is no concept or language for ‘prostitution’. many Aboriginal languages in Canada, for instance, do not have a word for ‘prostitution’. it is not inevitable.


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