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As sex workers and human rights advocates continue to fight to change the laws governing the sex industry, a group of Quebecers have developed an app they believe will increase safety within the industry. So far, the initiative has generated mixed reviews from sex workers and related organizations who hope its mere existence will demonstrate the need for changes in sex work legislation.
The then-Conservative government was forced to create new legislation, which advocates say has made the industry more dangerous for its practitioners. The law now criminalizes most aspects of sex work, including the purchase or advertising of sexual services and living off the profits of sex work. This, activists say, pushes workers further underground where they have less access to resources and support.
Desrochers believes that the Gfendr platform addresses some of the most problematic issues by allowing sex workers to centralize the different conversations necessary for their transactions and allowing them to have more information about their clients. The ideal, she says, is still the decriminalization of sex work.
Gfendr was developed over the course of four years by a team consisting of Desrochers—then a Phd student in the social sciences—and two colleagues. Desrochers explains a former sex worker—now a social worker—was brought on as a consultant.
Yet Desrochers says the team has done their homework. She admits that Gfendr is operating in a grey zone. Toronto-based provider Olivia Grace told VICE that while would probably use the platform, she would continue to request external referrals and do her own client screening. Jelena Vermilion, a trans-sex worker living in Ontario, says that although she has some concerns about the confidentiality of the service, the concept looks promising.