Night Shifts Newsletter No. 18

These days, Andrea Heinz is happily married, has children, and works as a commercial
sexual exploitation activist. Heinz’s childhood was “pretty typical,” she says. Her parents
had lived happily together for many years; she and her slightly older sister enjoyed a safe
and pleasant youth and did well in school. Andrea’s young adulthood was anything but
typical, and a violent, abusive boyfriend was the cause.

Though born in Edmonton, Alberta, Andrea and her family had relocated about five
hours north to Fort McMurray, Alberta, the oil sand capital of Canada, when she was 1.
At 16, her rough years began, when she started dating a young man who was physically,
emotionally, and mentally abusive. He belittled and controlled her. He later entered the
drug trade and fell increasingly deeper into the world of narcotics. At 18, to get away from him, she moved several hours away to a small mountain town, Jasper. (He’s currently in jail awaiting trial for the murder of an Indigenous woman.) Another boyfriend when she was 20 ended up committing bank fraud using their joint account, then left her to clear the $10,000 overdraft he had created.

There were few employment opportunities, so after a year, she moved to Edmonton at 19.
With no secondary education and mounting debt, she struggled to make ends meet. At
one point she juggled five part-time, minimum-wage jobs, from waitressing at a comedy
club to doing personal fitness training at a gym to detailing cars. She worked an average
or 16 hours a day, six days or 96 hours a week.

Though it didn’t seem possible, things got worse when she was visiting her family for the
Christmas holiday and a pipe burst in her condominium, flooding the place with water for
several days until she returned to a soaked and mold-ridden home. Her credit cards were
maxed. Her debt had ballooned to $60,000. She was 22, exhausted, had no food in her
refrigerator, no gas in her car, $10,000 in back taxes owed to Canada, unaware that she
could file for bankruptcy, and her parents were no longer able to assist her financially.
Then she saw an ad in the Edmonton Sunday paper: “Adult entertainment. Make $2,000 a

“I said to myself, I’ll just do it for two months to get out of this crushing debt,” she
recalls. “Initially, I told the woman I wasn’t going to do it because it wasn’t the right
pathway for me. But I went home, and I didn’t have any other options, so then it really
doesn’t matter that it’s not your pathway. It’s now a decision that you’re making, not a

That two months working as a full service escort in the sex trade turned into seven years,
during which time she believes she was captured by what she calls “sex work ideology,”
including several years where she ran her own studio, after tiring of being abused an
pressured to perform by brothel owners and madams. She turned it into one of the premier studios in Edmonton.

Until she realized she had been dissociating and lying to
herself, creating an alter ego Kendra who went into the room with the Johns, not Andrea.
“For almost five of those seven years, I was telling myself it was good for me, and I was
happy,” Andrea recounts. “I chose this because sex work was work. I was empowered
that I was taking control of my sexuality. That if anything I was exploiting the men, not
the other way around, all of those typical rationalizations and justifications that women
employ to shield ourselves from what is actually being done to us.”

A couple of incidents with young women new to the trade who were renting time at her
studio ripped the filter of dissociation from her eyes. One unwillingly participated in a
threesome with Andrea and a sex buyer where it was obvious to her that
the young woman was completely dissociating; the other ended up serving a 70-year-old man who
made her feel she was being molested by her grandfather.

“That was bad enough, but I felt like I played a part in it,” Andrea says. “I provided the
venue for that man to come in there and find a 19-year-old girl that’s knee-deep in debt
and struggling. He took her into a room and did everything that sex workers would say
made him a good client. He respected her boundaries. He paid her in full. That still didn’t
shield her from what unwanted touch does to somebody.”

For Andrea, the work became grueling, but because of her debt, it took her another two
years before she was finally able to exit the sex industry. She quit on December 19, 2012
and immediately became an advocate for sex trade abolition, which she has actively
pursued for the last ten years. Referring to the horrible experiences of the two young
women trying to make a living as prostitutes, she says the challenge with sex work is
bigger than policy or law or regulations.

“There’s a larger thing that happens when we commercialize and capitalize human
contact of a sexual nature,” she explains. “It creates a natural conflict because buyers
want more sexual acts for less money, because they are now put in the role of customer.
They want value for their spending, and sellers want to do less for more money, just as
any provider of any service does. It’s unfortunate, but that’s capitalism.”

When applied to human sexuality, she adds, it can also become a recipe for violence
because buyers feel entitled. They feel “Hey, I’m the customer. I paid for this. I want this.
That can lead to sexual abuse, Andrea believes, because if the woman agrees and says,
“He did pay me, so I need to do this,” ultimately that represents sexual assault because
it’s void of authentic consent.

Since exiting the sex trade, she has written extensively about her experiences, including a
piece “On Exiting from Commercial Sexual Exploitation: Insights from Sex Trade
Experienced Persons.”

For Andrea, one of the most egregious results of prostitution is the demeaning and
degrading way that women are treated by many of the Johns. She remembers the uncomfortable feeling of having to be compliant and agreeable to men who weren’t
usually kind or gentlemanly.

“When men would call me and ask me to go to their homes, it literally felt like I was a
pizza being ordered,” she says. “They want online, scrolled through the menu, found
what they wanted for their meal, and there I was. So there was always this elephant in the
room where he new and I knew that I’m only there because of the money, because if it
weren’t for the money, I wouldn’t have been there. So there was this fake nature that was
so detached from what most people understand is healthy sexual enjoyment that is a
mutual desire.”

When I ask Andrea if decriminalization or new laws would make conditions safer for sex
workers in Canada, which implements a Nordic Model, where the women are allowed to
practice if they work at a licensed and regulated brothel, she doesn’t think it matters
because male violence is still the problem. Men’s violent actions cause the harm, though she believes they may be inherently good at their core. She has learned there is no foolproof way to make it
safe. She says that many people blame the current laws for the violence and deaths of
women working in the sex trade. She informs of “a fabulous woman from Vancouver,”
here, Trisha Baptie, who said, “It was never the laws that raped me and killed my friends.
It was the men.”

“When these men look at women in prostitution, what they see is a product for
consumption,” Andrea says. “They don’t see a woman who is their equal, because if they
did, they wouldn’t ever think to purchase sex to make her a commodity for their
consumption, and it’s a very one-sided engagement or transaction. When we make human
interactions a transactional and commercialized nature, we really are reducing
personhood in people. We’re dehumanizing them. We’re turning people into products.
Then it makes women able to be used and to be discarded and seen as this object rather
than an equal being.”