Tuesday, November 24, 2009
Former Sex Worker Goes to Osgoode Hall
This is the front page article of the Toronto star today. I was thrilled to see this article featuring a sex worker, but one thing that makes me nervous is the post-feminist ideology of any woman can do any thing. How true is this for women immigrating here? or bodies of color? Also the semantics and debate used to discuss sex work versus prostitution is getting tiresome. Hang up those antiquated morals Canada and realize this is the oldest profession in the world. These women need to be protected and respected! ( if you want to view this debate in action check out the comments about this article on the star's website. )
Osgoode Hall Law School professor Alan Young paces leisurely. Standing before his Criminal Law I class, he begins to discuss a 1954 murder case.
"Here's a guy who's impotent," he says. "He goes to a prostitute ..."
Young stops. Dozens of eyes dart quizzically from laptop keyboards to the source of the brazen interruption.
Even at diverse York University, the woman in the front row is a curious sight. She takes notes on an unlined piece of white paper. Her arms are tattooed. Her brown hair is streaked pink. And her bespectacled gaze is firm.
In private, she will confess that Osgoode scares her, that she doesn't know if she belongs, that she doubts she is the intellectual equal of her classmates – who "look like law school students and talk like law school students and have the background a law school student should have."
Here, staring impassively at Young from a distance of two metres, she appears to be daring an eminent lawyer to argue with her over semantics.
Young, the civil libertarian behind a constitutional challenge of Canada's prostitution laws, instead offers a smile. "I knew you were going to do that, actually," he says. "It's about the only time I actually say 'prostitute.' Anyway, let's stop politicizing now."
But this is not politics. This is personal. Young knows full well.
Before Wendy Babcock was one of his students, she was one of his witnesses.
Hooker with a heart of gold. It charms. It sells. And Babcock is now selling herself again.
Not her body. Her intellect, her work ethic, her tenacity as an advocate, her desire to rectify injustices. She is selling herself as an investment in Canada's future.
Osgoode will cost $18,000 a year. Babcock was homeless as recently as September. She needs a benefactor or two. A fundraiser Sunday night at Goodhandy's, the Church St. "pansexual playground," raised about $1,500.
Babcock, an effervescent and articulate 30-year-old with a propensity for big hugs and an earnest desire to run for political office within the next decade, could make the Pretty Woman-meets-Legally Blonde movie pitch with ease.
She tells her story, perhaps perplexingly, with her perpetual smile intact. A defence mechanism, she explains. "I never wanted to show anyone pain," she says, "so I tried to show them normality."
Raised in an Etobicoke family she says was abusive, Babcock left home as a preteen, and entered the Children's Aid system at 13 or 14.
At 15, she says she began trading sex for the money she needed to pretend to be a "normal kid." With the cash she earned from the man who took her virginity, she paid for her high school semi-formal dress.
She dropped out at 16. She slept on the street and in shelters. Because the only respectable jobs available to her offered longer hours for less pay, she kept returning to sex work.
She quit in 2003, when her friend Lien Pham was murdered by a client. The world, she realized, did not much care about the lives of sex workers. She did. So she founded the Bad Date Coalition, a group that produces a monthly pamphlet with information about abusive clients, and runs an abuse hotline.
She found a job as a harm reduction worker with Street Health, where she earned a reputation as a tireless advocate for and counsellor to her former colleagues.
Taking an OSAP loan that she is still paying back, Babcock earned a sterling academic average at George Brown College.
She received a Public Health Champion Award from the City of Toronto. And she earned entrance into prestigious Osgoode, one of only 10 or so students in her class of 290 accepted without the years of university usually required.
With her degree, she wants to work on behalf of the marginalized and ignored to amend a justice system she sees as just only for the comfortable majority.
continue reading this and the flagrant comments on the Star's website.