Calling Out Spatialized Justice
Earlier in the week Pivot withdrew from the Missing Women’s Inquiry due to concerns over fairness. Although the Inquiry and Pivot are moving forward in different directions, my personal hope is that conversations over the safety of marginalized women in the Downtown Eastside continue. Not only to create spaces in which to question practices up until 2002—but to craft real social change and movement in law and policy for the future.
Working with women involved in street-based sex work can elicit some contentious opinions, not only about sex work in general, but of the women participating in it. I have found that there is a prevailing attitude that when women involved in sex work experience violence, they are getting what they what they deserve or at least, what they should expect, for their unfortunate lifestyle choices. This focus on the person often fails to consider the very real social momentum that propels women into positions of vulnerability and condones violence against them. This belief in ‘choice’ individuates failure and acts to reinforce people’s own feelings of identity. They need not question their social or racial privilege or the subordinated positions of others because their status is confirmed by their goodness of their ‘choices’. All of this contributes to the naturalization the violence against women involved in sex work. It also has led to the creation of spatialized justice whereby violence against marginalized people in places like the Downtown Eastside are treated differently than those who live elsewhere and who are engaged in a different work.
Unfortunately, the process of dehumanization and the acceptance of violence against of sex workers is a reality. Judgment and apathy is easier when the women in question are nameless and isolated from their personal history. This becomes harder, however, when you hear of their love of books, horror movies, their children, and their thoughts on the latest drama on the Young and the Restless. It becomes impossible when you hear their stories of trauma and loss. I’ve often wondered why people would share their intensely personal and painful stories with me. I think I realize now that it was to let me know, as an outsider to these justice deadzones, that they are real people, with real pain, who feel real injustice. Telling me these stories helped to restore their personhood and free themselves from the categorization as Other. It also helped made me hold up a mirror of my life and ask why violence done to my body would be met with outrage and action, while violence done to their bodies goes unacknowledged. For me, this is the question that should the heart of the Inquiry and on the lips of everyone in our community.
As things move forward, Pivot’s work towards creating safe sex work continues, and my career path leads me to Victoria, I remain unapologetically hopeful for a future where justice resides in every body and in every neighborhood, without qualification.
See Gendered Racial Violence and Spatialized Justice: The Murder of Pamela George, in Sherene Razack, ed., Race, Space and the Law: Unmapping a White Settler Society, Toronto (2002), Between the Lines.