(Vancouver) – In a study conducted by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and published today by one of the top medical journals, British Medical Journal, researchers demonstrate a direct correlation between Canada’s prostitution laws and the likelihood of violence against female sex workers.
“While there has been a growing body of qualitative evidence documenting the negative impacts of criminalization of prostitution on the health and safety of sex workers, our study demonstrates – empirically – a direct link between the criminalization of sex work and the increased odds of violence against female sex workers,” says Dr. Kate Shannon, the lead author of the study.
Conducted over two years in partnership with the WISH Drop-In Centre Society in Vancouver, the study involved 237 female street-based sex workers. Of the 237 women, 57% experienced some form of physical or sexual violence during the 18-month study period. Key structural factors of homelessness and inability to access drug treatment continue to further elevate the risk of violence against female sex workers.
In short, says Dr. Shannon, “The government’s systematic failure to protect sex workers’ rights places women in direct risk of violence by perpetrators. These women continue to be pushed to work in isolated spaces, with limited access to housing and drug treatment which further compounds their risk of being physically assaulted or raped.”
The results of the study also come at the same time as two legal cases before the Canadian courts challenging the existing legal framework for prostitution. In Canada, while sex work is technically legal, most of the activities surrounding the buying and selling of sex are criminalized. For example, it is illegal to communicate in public to negotiate a sexual transaction. It is also illegal to conduct sexual transactions indoors in managed or cooperative settings.
Dr. Shannon, who will be acting as an expert witness at one of the two trials now currently before the courts, feels this study should be a wake-up call to government that the current approach to prostitution in Canada is not working.
“Women continue to be victims of violence and murder on the streets across Canadian cities. And yet we are struggling to fund the only late night service available, a mobile outreach van, reaching women where they are at. We need social and legal reforms that protect sex workers rather than further marginalize them,” says Kate Gibson, Executive Director of WISH.
There is a growing movement worldwide calling for the removal of criminal sanctions targeting sex work, including support by the UNAIDS and WHO. It is being argued that such a move would help reduce violence against sex workers, and improve access to health and HIV prevention resources. Early evidence in New Zealand, which has decriminalized the sex trade, suggests that such outcomes are possible, if not likely.
For a full copy of the study or to request an interview with study authors, please contact Ian Noble, media relations, at 604.623.3007 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The British Medical Journal abstract can be read here.
Founded in 1992 by St. Paul's Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul's Hospital is one of seven care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada's largest faith-based health care organization.
The BMJ is an international peer reviewed medical journal and a fully “online first” publication. The BMJ’s vision is to be the world’s most influential and widely read medical journal. Its mission is to lead the debate on health and to engage, inform, and stimulate doctors, researchers, and other health professionals in ways that will improve outcomes for patients. It aims to help doctors to make better decisions.