Study finds moving indoors increases sex workers' safety

Vancouver- A landmark research study released today shows that providing indoor venues for street-involved sex workers has a significant impact on their health and safety. The study, conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, found that working indoors increases sex workers’ control over the terms of transactions, including their ability to refuse unwanted services, negotiate condom use and avoid violent perpetrators. The PACE Society, Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society (“SWUAV”) and Pivot Legal Society are very encouraged by the results of the research.

“This research reinforces what sex workers have been saying for decades, which is that the decriminalization of indoor sex work is essential to ensuring their health and safety,” says Katrina Pacey, litigation director with Pivot Legal Society. “The study builds on the existing body of evidence that decriminalization of sex work will assist many of the most marginalized women in the sex industry.”

This study is based on interviews with 39 street-involved sex workers. The research participants describe very positive impacts on their health and safety as a result of being able to see clients in their homes without risk of eviction or harassment. The study found that once permitted to work indoors, women were able to build relationships with neighbours and support staff and develop personal violence prevention strategies to protect themselves and assist in protecting others.  These types of initiatives help foster connections between women and available support networks, which increase women’s safety both on and off the street. 

“Being forced into the shadows and alleyways for so many years has had too high of a price – women have lost their lives and suffered brutal assaults because of these laws.” says Marie Fontaine, sex worker and member of SWUAV. “I hope that the voices of the marginalized women who participated in this research will be heard, and that this evidence will lead to increased housing for women living in extreme poverty, but also a change in the prostitution laws so that sex workers have more options, and more control over where, when and how they work.”

The publication of this new evidence is timely, and supports the case brought by three Ontario sex workers in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, a challenge to the provisions of theCriminal Code that criminalize adult sex work. The Bedford case is now headed to the Supreme Court of Canada, where the Court will review the decision of the Court below which found that s. 210 of the Criminal Code (the bawdy house provision) is unconstitutional because it prohibits the establishment of safer indoor spaces for sex work. PACE, SWUAV and Pivot appeared as intervenors when the Bedford case was before the Ontario Court of Appeal, and their submissions focused on how criminalization of sex work affects street-based sex workers.  

“Removing the risk of eviction typically associated with engaging in sex work at home allows sex working women who are incredibly marginalized to have some consistency in their living arrangements,” said Sheri Kiselbach, Violence Prevention Coordinator at PACE Society. “This stability increases women’s opportunities to engage in community services as well as health and social supports.  Most importantly, it gives them a chance to take a breath and feel safe, without having to be hyper vigilant about violence. These women should not have to face the constant threat oflosing their home just because they want to be safer while supporting themselves.”

A copy of the abstract can be found at: www.cfenet.ubc.ca/inititatives/gshi.  For a copy of the full report, please contact Kevin Hollett, communications coordinator, BC-CfE (khollett@cfenet.ubc.ca) or Mahafrine Petigara (mahafrine.petigara@edelman.com).

Contact:

Katrina Pacey, Litigation Director, Pivot Legal Society - 604-729-7849

PACE Societyis a sex worker led and driven organization offering low-barrier programming, support and safe respite for survival sex workers in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

The Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society is an organization run by and for street-based sex workers who are committed to creating legal and social change to improve the health, safety and rights of women involved in sex work.

Pivot Legal Society’s mandate is to take a strategic approach to social change, using the law to address the root causes that undermine the quality of life of those most on the margins.