This is the speech that Andrea Heinz gave at the webinar launch of the Nordic Model Now! Handbook for Universities. A recording of this speech is available on our YouTube channel.
Hello, and thank you so much. It is truly an honour to be able to participate in this very important webinar.
My name is Andrea Heinz. I am a Canadian woman with seven years of experience in the licensed and regulated commercial sex industry. I am joining you today from Treaty 6 land in Edmonton, Alberta. Being conscious of our time, I won’t go into much detail about my personal journey as it is quite a lengthy one, and I would like to spend the time speaking to the topic at hand. If you would like to learn my personal story, you can search my name on Nordic Model Now’s webpage to find links to my writing.
I want to begin by sharing a recent post on Twitter by a wonderful woman who is also exited from the sex trade. Her Twitter handle is @romamarie_ and she says, (quote):
“I entered prostitution because my dreams of being an educated, self-reliant woman were so strong – I was willing to do anything. I wish I had known that what I thought was an ‘empowering’ way to make fast cash would, in actuality, be what would almost destroy me so many times”.
I share her tweet because I think it perfectly sums up the plight of so many young women, including the woman I was at the age of 22. Desperate to get the opportunity for an education, for a stable career, and to subsequently be able to live independently, be self-reliant, self-sustaining. To break free of the constraints of patriarchy and sex-based inequality that is characteristic of women’s lives all over the world.
Her tweet also highlights the naivety and ignorance that so many young people have, not only surrounding the sex industry, but also just in general given their age and limited experiences. External forces (such as the hyper sexualization strongly prevalent in pop culture and the media) can be extremely influential on young impressionable minds.
What messages are we sending to the world about equality and consent? What messages do we WANT to be sending?
Increasingly, society is presenting sexual exploitation as “sex work” – exploitation repackaged as empowering, liberating, and progressive. This infectious social narrative comes with an aggressive insistence for no one to question men being granted unfettered sexual access to marginalized young people. We are to somehow readily accept that young women truly desire to be groped and penetrated by 10 strange men or more every weekend in order to pay tuition fees.
What is happening, in reality, is nothing short of compensated sexual abuse. It is unwanted sexual touching. Sexual intrusion, sexual invasion of the body.
When the [University of Leicester] “Sex Work Toolkit” was first announced, I welcomed the idea of students and staff being given resources and information that could potentially reduce some of the harm occurring in the sex trade. However upon reading the toolkit, I, like many others, was extremely disheartened to see nothing more than an apologetic piece of “sex work” propaganda.
In the toolkit for faculty members specifically, it is incredibly alarming that University staff are encouraged to:
- Not break the confidence of students regarding their sex trade involvement, not ask any details about the student’s activity, and not (quote) to try to “save” who the toolkit creators refer to as “student sex workers”.
These tips if you will, are mentioned as the preferred methodology for offering support to students involved in the sex trade.
It is ludicrous to believe that we can somehow support and assist people in one of the most dangerous and detrimental industries, by employing a completely hands off approach, a hush hush mentality, knowing that silence equals violence, particularly around issues of sexual abuse.
Should educational institutions inform students of the realities of the sex trade and offer resources and support? I personally believe so. Bearing in mind that it is a fine line between education and endorsement.
Universities have typically been held in a high regard – seen as pinnacles of society. Unfortunately, over the last few decades, there has been a stark demise to the integrity of many post-secondary institutions given their ignorant and idealised endorsement of sexual exploitation.
Can there not be but one space remaining within society, one arena, that recognizes, hones, and champions women’s intellect? A place that welcomes our equal participation within the working mind of society – the places where decisions are made, where the needle gets moved…
Women are not meant to be reduced to mere bodies in brothels. We cannot even begin to fathom the magnitude of loss to community on account of women’s subjugation and our restricted participation in mainstream society.
Universities are capable of doing more to address the epidemic of sexual exploitation and sexual violence, and they should be doing more.
Here in Canada, 71% of post-secondary students reported experiencing unwanted sexual behaviour on campus last year. That is the majority of students. 7 out of 10.
Given the magnitude of the problem on campuses everywhere, why any institution of higher learning would put out a toolkit that approves the exact same behaviour simply because money was introduced is dumbfounding.
But that’s what women receive – we receive lip service and band aid-fixes when it comes to tackling the impacts of patriarchy upon our lives and our well-being. It is much easier for individuals and now institutions to stick to the palatable narrative of “sex work”, the labour lens, and to rely upon choice feminism as their defence for maintaining the status quo.
For if we broadened the conversation and brought forth all of the raw, inhumane, depraved moments, we would be forced to finally acknowledge and address the real root of the problem: male violence against women and girls.
Addressing the real issue is far too intimidating for most people given the scale of the problem and its many layers of complexity. It is much easier to release a toolkit telling staff to give a supportive smile while minding their own business, and claim that help has been given simply by pseudo-power being applied to the oppressed.
Any person or ideology that encourages a system whereby millions of women are sexually objectified and commodified is not acting in the interests of genuine equality.
Participation in the sex trade often comes with a great deal of risk and harm not characteristic of most conventional forms of work.
Things such as chronic pain, injuries both internal and external, bladder infections, vaginal and anal prolapse, inflammation, increased exposure to STIs, unintended pregnancy, and much more. Then there is a long list of mental health impacts such as trauma, PTSD, Dissociative Identity Disorder, Anxiety, Depression, Sexual dysfunction, low self esteem, suicide ideation, and more.
None of this even begins to touch on the violence that is inherent to prostitution either – the sexual assaults, the rapes, the removing of condoms, the choking, the unauthorized filming, the stalking, the verbal abuse, and again, so much more.
Women need, and deserve, exposure to radical and socialist feminist schools of thought in order to come to their own conclusions surrounding commercialized sex. Without access to diverse intellectual positions and open communication with others, women are left isolated with nothing but neoliberal “sex work” ideology to draw from. This hinders their ability to make fully informed choices in their lives.
The handbook launched by Nordic Model Now, ‘Supporting students impacted by the sex industry” is the piece of feminist literature needed to bring information and insights to those attending, or employed at, universities who wish to have it given to them straight. It is honest, unapologetically direct, and it covers a vast range of relevant and important topics, all of which will undoubtedly serve to allow young adults a better understanding of what involvement in the sex industry actually entails.
Thinking back to the woman I was at 22, I would have benefitted greatly from even just knowing that there is resistance to the diluted and sanitized presentation of the sex industry, and that it is OK to align with the dissenters of “sex work” ideology.
Supporting people carries no requirement that we endorse the commercial sex industry.
In Chapter 7 of the Nordic Model Now handbook, the following words are stated:
“The sex industry is a global capitalist industry that commodifies human beings for other people’s sexual and ego gratification. It has infiltrated mainstream culture on a grand scale and is sold to the public, and young people in particular, as glamorous and empowering – but this is an illusion.”
These words were exactly what I needed someone to say to me when I was a young economically destitute woman being force-fed “sex work” ideology everywhere I turned. Had these words been said to me by someone, by anyone, I may have been able to apply a critical analysis to the toxic social messaging I was submerged in.
I can’t say whether or not it would have stopped me from entering the sex industry altogether as I had $60,000 of debt and no financial literacy skills, but if nothing else, it could have spared me from adopting the “sex worker” identity and remaining in an exploitative industry for as long as I did.
I may not have fallen privy to the brainwashing, the cult-like thought reform that the sex industry relies on for its survival. Maybe I could have mitigated some of the effects I still live with today, nine years after exiting: trauma, strong dissociative tendencies, recurring suicide ideation, and challenges with relationships, emotional intimacy, and sex.
I lecture regularly at colleges and universities here in my city. I am well aware that some of the students attending my sessions are likely to either be contemplating, or already at the point of having entered the sex industry. I never know who they are. Nonetheless, after every presentation, there is always a handful of students who approach me, and tell me that they appreciated being informed of sex trade abolition, a position they all say they felt scared to explore until that point because they care about supporting those in the industry, and thought abolition was contrary to that goal.
We would be closer to achieving our goal of social equality if people were afforded access to honest information about commercialized sex.
That is what this handbook offers, and to that end, I would like to congratulate the incredible individuals at Nordic Model Now! who I know have worked tirelessly on this project for many many months. The entire global community is very fortunate to have the presence of this amazing grassroots feminist collective.
The work done by Nordic Model Now! changes minds and lives every day, and I feel confident that I speak for many when I say that we appreciate the work that you do.
Thank you everyone for your time, and thank you again for inviting me to come and share my thoughts. Keep well.