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Fourteen years ago, Hallie Brooks walked into a city office to apply for a licence to work at a body rub parlour. That's just because they simply morally didn't agree with you. A lot has changed since then, in how the sex trade operates in Edmonton and how it's regulated. For the past four years, the city has taken a harm-reduction approach to body rub parlours — with everything from social services workers who do outreach to women to a deated counter at city offices for those applying for licences.

There's no judgment, which is important for women who want to trust the system that regulates their work, Brooks said in a recent interview. But at a committee meeting last month, city councillors supported a motion that would pivot sharply away from that model. The motion asked for a report on "the merits of a five-year exit strategy on licensing body rub centres. For Brooks, the city's efforts at outreach and regulation have been "amazing," including a course that all practitioners must take in order to acquire a licence.

I thought that I was going to be like, 'OK, I just need to get through this. Brooks knows there is a lot of stigma around the work she does — it's why she won't use her real name in this article, and why many women who work in the industry don't come forward at council meetings. But there is a huge group of us girls who are being assumed to be exploited, when that's not true. At times, the discussion at the Sept. Susan Holtby, an advocate against the sex trade in Edmonton, made one of the most passionate statements to councillors.

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We can have men ID'd. We can have police go in and charge; we can publish the names like London, Ont. I think we'd get a whole lot of societal decrease in acceptance of sex buying. The argument being put forward is that all sex work exploits women. And the city, by licensing such establishments is, at best, making it easier to buy sex, which inherently hurts women. The city has been licensing body rub parlours sinceand there are currently 32 d establishments in the city.

In the past four years, the city has beefed up its harm reduction approach, which includes a team of social service workers and bylaw officers who work together and offer translation services whenever needed. The goal is to decrease the demand for paid sex, she said, through education about the harms it can cause women and by decreasing any societal acceptance for it.

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CEASE has worked tirelessly for that goal for years, and helps women exit the industry through access to education funding and other supports. But Brooks said the abolitionist approach to sex work denies the agency of women who choose that work. So if you don't have the same values, you might not be able to understand. But I don't believe in monogamy. So to me, this isn't anything that's hard to do.

Brooks said she started in the industry as a teenager. She acknowledges that, at the time, she was exploited. But after going back to school, working different jobs, she decided to start working in body rub parlours. In part, she said, it's about the money. In part, it's about the relative freedom she has with her schedule.

And in part, she said, she does feel a connection to clients who she said have treated her well.

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But now you have a huge demographic of women who are absolutely straight-laced, drug free, alcohol free and that are still choosing to do this work. Like, I don't even smoke cigarettes. Edmonton is not the only city in Canada wrestling with its role in licensing or regulating body rub parlours. Jairan Gahan is an assistant professor at the University of Alberta who teaches a course on the global history of sex work. She noted that sex work is criminalized in Sweden, but legal in Germany. When you criminalize or try to abolish sex work, what happens is that sex workers are going to go to another city.

This is their means of survival. A report on the merits of a five-year exit strategy for licensing massage parlours is due next year. Councillors also asked for information on strategies to reduce the demand for such services. Edmonton 'They do so much to keep us girls safe': Body rub worker calls on city to maintain licensing City councillors are mulling the merits of an exit strategy from licensing body rub parlours, but some women who work in these businesses say a harm reduction approach helps them.

Social Sharing. There is a huge group of us girls who are being assumed to be exploited when that's not true. But the end result, she said, is their voices aren't heard. At worst, the view is, the city is complicit and profiting from sexual exploitation.

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