Butterfly (Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Support Network) is an organization founded by Elene Lam; they advocate for the rights of Asian and migrant sex workers. They provide many services including outreach, a 24/7 hotline, legal workshops, individual and emergency crisis support, and advocacy. One of Butterfly’s main goals is to create a platform to build leadership in the sex worker community to fight against discriminatory policy.
One of these policies is Bill 251. The Ontario Government passed Bill 251, The Combating Human Trafficking Act, on June 3rd, 2021. It claims to reduce human trafficking in Ontario; however, the suggested policy increases policing and conflates sex work with human trafficking.
In addition to this bill, Asian massage parlours are becoming the target of racist and unfair policies. Under the guise of being anti-human trafficking, changes have been made to these bylaws to include the requirement to be trained at an accredited institution in order to work in a massage parlour. As we know, post-secondary education is not always accessible, especially for those that are facing poverty. Additionally, many Asian and migrant sex workers do not have citizenship and therefore do not have access to financial aid and experience a language barrier. As a result, Asian massage parlours are under the threat of being closed down because they are not able to meet the new requirements.
In Toronto, City Council is currently reviewing the bylaws of holistic centres and body rub parlours. Many workers are worried that they will lose their jobs if the city takes a repressive approach against this industry by conflating it with human trafficking.
Butterfly is organizing massage workers and sex workers to fight against these policies. The workers are speaking up to tell society that they are not human trafficking victims. Lawmakers that create policies, such as Bill 251, listen to white-led anti-sex worker groups instead of listening to the experiences of Asian and migrant massage workers and sex workers. Conflating sex work and human trafficking takes away agency from sex workers. Sex work is work. Sex workers deserve the right to do their work free from harm and threats. However, the bill gives police the power to target, surveil and forcibly detain sex workers. This unjustified policing of sex workers puts them in harm's way. Historically, police have caused more harm than good to sex workers. Sex workers do not trust police; they do not report violence they experience because police do not help them. In addition, migrant sex workers are often detained and deported. The bill gives funds to police instead of investing into communities.
How you can help:
Where to find Butterfly: