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The Impact of End-Demand Criminalization on Client Behaviour and Sex Worker Health and Safety in the Sex Industry in Metro Vancouver, Canada

Researcher

Jenn McDermid

SFU Affiliation

Graduate Student, School of Public Policy

Areas of Research

Evidence-informed policy, health policy, stigma, criminalization, sex work, sexuality, sexual health

Background/objectives

In 2014, Canada implemented end-demand sex work legislation that criminalizes clients and third parties (e.g., managers, security personnel, etc.). The focus of this analysis is to consider how the criminalization of clients shapes the occupational health, safety and experiences of violence among sex workers.

Methods

As part of a longstanding community-based study, An Evaluation of Sex Workers’ Health Access (AESHA), in Vancouver, Canada, this analysis draws on 47 in-depth qualitative interviews with predominately racialized, cisgender women sex workers and third parties in in-call venues between 2017-2018. Informed by a feminist, intersectional lens and guided by a structural determinants framework, this analysis seeks to characterize the impact of client criminalization in shaping the occupational health and safety of indoor sex workers.

Results

While participants highlighted that the majority of their client interactions were positive, their narratives emphasized how client criminalization impeded their occupational safety. The criminalization of clients was linked to reduced ability to safely negotiate sexual transactions, including type of service and condom use. Client preference for cash payments to maintain anonymity led to increased risk of robbery and assault due to knowledge of high cash flow in sex work venues and a reluctance to seek police protection. Workers also noted that client fear of being prosecuted or "outed" by police enhanced feelings of shame, which was linked to increased experiences of sex worker violence.

Conclusion

Policies and laws that criminalize clients are incompatible with efforts to uphold the occupational health and safety of sex workers. Macro-structural interventions that move away from prohibitive, enforcement-based approaches to sex work are needed to support the security of sex workers.

Currently, there is limited understanding regarding the impacts of end-demand legislative approaches on sex workers working in indoor venues in Canada. This is significant as previous work has shown that prohibitive sex work laws undermine safe working conditions and restrict sex workers' access to health and social supports due to concerns of disclosing sex work status, stigma and discrimination.

This project works to evaluate sex workers' experiences within health care and social service settings in Canada. Focusing on the crucial role played by structural factors, I explore the broader institutional and legal changes needed to fulfill sex workers’ health and human rights, and make specific recommendations regarding Canada's health and support services programming and practices.

To ensure this research is translated into relevant policy programs, meaningful collaboration has been integral. I have worked closely with AESHA's Community Advisory Board, consisting of sex workers, community partners, and researchers.

About the Researcher

Jenn McDermid

Jenn McDermid (she/her/hers) is a second-year public policy student, with a focus on health policy. She is interested in community-based, participatory-action methods, and evidence-based policy, focusing predominately on the health impacts of punitive laws and policies related to sex and sexuality, and the intersection between criminalization, stigma and discrimination.

Outside of school, Jenn works as a coordinator and research assistant at the Centre for Gender and Sexual Health Equity, and as a drop-in supervisor at SAFE Vancouver, and is on the editorial team at Megaphone Magazine.

 

Learn more:

@jenn_mcdermid