Structural Interventions to Promote the Health, Safety & Rights of Sex Workers: Decriminalization and Beyond

A special issue of Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760). This special issue belongs to the section "Social Stratification and Inequality".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (10 October 2023) | Viewed by 25493

Special Issue Editors

Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada
Interests: intersections of gender, class and Indigeneity; sexualities; health and human rights; evidence-based policy
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals
Social Dimensions of Health Program, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC V8P 5C2, Canada
Interests: marginalized populations; intersectionality; structural and social dimensions of health; youth welfare; access to health services
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The inspiration for this Special Issue is to build on recent calls in a number of countries for criminal code policy change to decriminalize sex work as the best evidence-based strategy to reduce harms experienced by sex workers. Many sex workers have a history of complexity in their lives that predisposes them to comparatively high degrees of food insecurity and other forms of economic hardship, low educational achievement, inadequate housing, poor physical and mental health, high degrees of long-term disability and unmet health needs, and elevated rates of assault and victimization compared to general populations.

Empirical papers that report research highlighting the structural factors (e.g., material hardship, poverty, insecure housing, multi-generational impacts of colonization, stigma, etc.) that play a key role in predisposing sex workers to elevated risk for social disadvantage and discuss other “structural interventions” beyond decriminalization of sex work are encouraged. Structural interventions refer to public health and other macro-level strategies that bridge rights and policies and promote health, well-being and dignity for sex workers by altering the structural context within which their health and safety is produced and reproduced. Examples of structural interventions include employment policies that reduce precarity in the labor market where sex workers often struggle to increase their earnings, a guaranteed basic income that would help sex workers and other precarious workers increase opportunities to realize their capabilities, universal health care, subsidized secure housing, low cost/free education and childcare, progressive immigration policies, and macro-level strategies to reduce stigma and discrimination in the media and across service systems. Papers that centre the voices of sex workers in recommendations for structural interventions to improve their life chances and realize their capabilities are especially welcomed. Submissions from disadvantaged regions of the globe are especially welcomed.

Prof. Dr. Cecilia M. Benoit
Dr. Andrea Mellor
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • diversity
  • structural interventions
  • progressive policies
  • social influences of health
  • stigma
  • discrimination

Published Papers (9 papers)

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Editorial

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8 pages, 286 KiB  
Editorial
Decriminalization and What Else? Alternative Structural Interventions to Promote the Health, Safety, and Rights of Sex Workers
Soc. Sci. 2023, 12(4), 202; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12040202 - 29 Mar 2023
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1973
Abstract
Researchers have argued that the current punitive approaches to regulating sex work expose underlying structures that seek to preserve a social order embedded with stigmas related to the race, gender, sexuality, class, and migration status of sex sellers (Benoit et al [...] Full article

Research

Jump to: Editorial

16 pages, 326 KiB  
Article
Understanding the Diversity of People in Sex Work: Views from Leaders in Sex Worker Organizations
Soc. Sci. 2023, 12(3), 191; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12030191 - 21 Mar 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2224
Abstract
Criminal laws in Canada and many other countries are currently premised on the assumption of homogeneity, that is, people in sex work are cis women and girls who are being sexually exploited/sex trafficked. This perspective is also shared by antiprostitution groups and many [...] Read more.
Criminal laws in Canada and many other countries are currently premised on the assumption of homogeneity, that is, people in sex work are cis women and girls who are being sexually exploited/sex trafficked. This perspective is also shared by antiprostitution groups and many researchers investigating the “prostitution problem”. Perpetuating this position obscures their demographic multiplicity and variety of lived experiences. We interviewed 10 leaders from seven sex worker organizations (SWOs) across Canada who reported a diversity among their clientele that is rarely captured in the extant literature and absent from the current Canadian criminal code. Our findings reveal the important role that SWOs have to play in facilitating access to health and social services and providing spaces where people in sex work can gather in safe and supportive environments, without the fear of stigma, discrimination, or police harassment. We conclude that SWOs can operate as a structural intervention beyond decriminalization that can improve equitable access to health and social services for sex workers Despite SWOs’ efforts, sex workers’ mobilization is still limited by micro-, meso-, and macrolevel stigmatization that prevents and/or discourages some workers from accessing their programs and services. Full article
29 pages, 1052 KiB  
Article
‘Cam Girls and Adult Performers Are Enjoying a Boom in Business’: The Reportage on the Pandemic Impact on Virtual Sex Work
Soc. Sci. 2023, 12(2), 62; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12020062 - 22 Jan 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 6769
Abstract
Introduction: Webcamming as a digital practice has increased in popularity over the last decade. With the outbreak COVID-19 and lockdowns across the globe, cam sites experienced an upsurge in both performers and viewers, and the main platform OnlyFans, increased its market share [...] Read more.
Introduction: Webcamming as a digital practice has increased in popularity over the last decade. With the outbreak COVID-19 and lockdowns across the globe, cam sites experienced an upsurge in both performers and viewers, and the main platform OnlyFans, increased its market share and saturation. The objective of this study was to explore the perceived impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and subsequent economic hardship, on indirect and digitally mediated sex work. In doing so, it also explored the mediatisation of the creators of erotic content and their marketing on OnlyFans. Method: Data was collected from news media outlets on the effects of the outbreak of the virus on the online sex industry. Mainstream media news articles (N = 40) were drawn from 19 different sources that discussed changes occurring in the digitally mediated sex market during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data was drawn from across the political spectrum and type of media source to include broadsheet, tabloid, and regional news as well as broadcast media. The dataset was divided into two and independently analysed by two different researchers analysing 20 sources each. Analysis was conducted using Grounded Theory, an inductive approach frequently used due to aid concept development, as the aim was to develop theory on the mediatisation of the experiences and process of virtual sex work without drawing on sex workers’ own resources at a time crucial to their income. Results: The findings revealed reportage of increased engagement in digital sex work in three areas: expansion of the online sex service sites; new digital sex workers joining the industry; and those who provided online sex services prior to the pandemic. A continuum of experiences emerged and the results show how online sex workers reportedly monetised the loneliness of clients and how new fetishes such as illness and Covid fetishes emerged. Conclusions: Given the remarkable success of adult websites amid the pandemic, this research provides new evidence on the reportage of the use of cam sites, and OnlyFans in particular. The findings provides new data on how digital sex workers’ experiences were represented during the pandemic and reveal a nuanced picture behind the upsurge in online work. News media outlets are crucial in the social construction of online sex work and have the power to affect peoples’ perception of this work. Additionally, press articles can provide a space where sex workers’ voices can be heard. It is therefore a key area to examine in relation to the public opinion of sex work, which in turn affects public policy, and its decriminalisation and eventual destigmatisation. These findings add to our understanding of erotic services and contribute to the growing literature on the mediatization of sex work. The study contributes new knowledge to the topic although further investigation is needed to achieve potential mainstreaming and destigmatisation for digital sex workers. Full article
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11 pages, 283 KiB  
Article
A Place at the Table: Sex Workers and Allies in the Redefinition of Brazil’s Anti-Trafficking Law
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(11), 530; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11110530 - 18 Nov 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1814
Abstract
The present article is a brief account of the representational politics surrounding the insertion of the Brazilian prostitutes’ movement into anti-trafficking policy-making, following the 2013 death of Gabriela Leite, one of the founders and principal leaders of the movement. Leite’s death left an [...] Read more.
The present article is a brief account of the representational politics surrounding the insertion of the Brazilian prostitutes’ movement into anti-trafficking policy-making, following the 2013 death of Gabriela Leite, one of the founders and principal leaders of the movement. Leite’s death left an organizational hole in the attempts by one of Brazil’s oldest sex worker NGOs, Davida, to secure a place for sex workers at the policy-making table in the rewriting of the country´s anti-trafficking laws. Here, we relate how sex workers, academics, journalists, and activists came together to attempt to patch that hole, successfully fighting for sex worker representation in the governmental organs overseeing the struggle against human trafficking in Rio and, more broadly, Brazil. The re-organization of this project following the death of Gabriela highlights how multifaceted alliances between differently positioned actors can leverage the visibility and power of sex workers in culture and politics, creating opportunities to implement policies that favor prostitute rights. Full article
20 pages, 1453 KiB  
Article
Banishment through Branding: From Montréal’s Red Light District to Quartier des Spectacles
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(9), 420; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11090420 - 14 Sep 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2838
Abstract
This paper analyzes how the City of Montréal employed tools of urban planning—including a district plan, street redesign, rezoning, selective public consultation, expropriation, policing and surveillance—to spatially banish sex work from its historic district, using the red light symbol as a branding strategy. [...] Read more.
This paper analyzes how the City of Montréal employed tools of urban planning—including a district plan, street redesign, rezoning, selective public consultation, expropriation, policing and surveillance—to spatially banish sex work from its historic district, using the red light symbol as a branding strategy. This coincided with a change in federal law (Bill C-36) and a policy shift to reposition sex workers as passive victims of sex trafficking. Using a case study design, this work explores the state’s refusal to recognize the agency of those engaged in embodied socio-economic exchanges and the safety and solidarity possible in public space. In interviews, sex workers described strategies of collective organizing, resistance and protest to hold the city accountable during this process of displacement. We consider how urban planning might support sex work, sex workers and economic autonomy. Full article
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13 pages, 235 KiB  
Article
Earning Housing: Removing Barriers to Housing to Improve the Health and Wellbeing of Chronically Homeless Sex Workers
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(9), 399; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11090399 - 02 Sep 2022
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2160
Abstract
For many sex workers, accessing and maintaining housing is one of the central reasons for engaging in sex work. Simultaneously, one of the most stringent barriers to accessible and affordable housing is the stigma and discrimination against sex work as a livelihood. This [...] Read more.
For many sex workers, accessing and maintaining housing is one of the central reasons for engaging in sex work. Simultaneously, one of the most stringent barriers to accessible and affordable housing is the stigma and discrimination against sex work as a livelihood. This paper explores the relationship between barriers to accessing housing for sex workers and the systems that hold the barriers in place. This paper is based on qualitative research conducted by Ocean State Advocacy’s research team. Using quantitative analysis of 100 surveys and qualitative analysis of 35 interviews conducted with sex workers living in Rhode Island, this paper discusses the ways housing improves the physical health, mental health, and overall wellbeing of sex workers. By including sex workers and centering their human rights in movements around housing equity and access, sex workers’ needs are prioritized while increasing understanding of stigma and systemic disenfranchisement within the field of housing justice. Full article
15 pages, 529 KiB  
Article
Barriers to Governmental Income Supports for Sex Workers during COVID-19: Results of a Community-Based Cohort in Metro Vancouver
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(9), 383; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11090383 - 26 Aug 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 2435
Abstract
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark focus the economic inequities faced by precarious, criminalized and racialized workers. Sex workers have been historically excluded from structural supports due to criminalization and occupational stigma. Given emerging concerns regarding sex workers’ inequitable access to COVID-19 [...] Read more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into stark focus the economic inequities faced by precarious, criminalized and racialized workers. Sex workers have been historically excluded from structural supports due to criminalization and occupational stigma. Given emerging concerns regarding sex workers’ inequitable access to COVID-19 income supports in Canada and elsewhere, our objective was to identify prevalence and correlates of accessing emergency income supports among women sex workers in Vancouver, Canada. Data were drawn from a longstanding community-based open cohort (AESHA) of cis and trans women sex workers in Metro Vancouver from April 2020–April 2021 (n = 208). We used logistic regression to model correlates of access to COVID-19 income supports. Among 208 participants, 52.9% were Indigenous, 6.3% Women of Colour (Asian, Southeast Asian, or Black), and 40.9% white. Overall, 48.6% reported accessing income supports during the pandemic. In adjusted multivariable analysis, non-injection drug use was associated with higher odds of accessing COVID-19 income supports (aOR: 2.58, 95% CI: 1.31–5.07), whereas Indigenous women faced reduced odds (aOR 0.55, 95% CI 0.30–1.01). In comparison with other service workers, access to income supports among sex workers was low overall, particularly for Indigenous sex workers, demonstrating the compounding impacts of colonization and disproportionate criminalization of Indigenous sex workers. Results highlight the need for structural supports that are low-barrier and culturally-safe to support sex workers’ health, safety and dignity. Full article
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15 pages, 266 KiB  
Article
“We Knew No One Else Had Our Back except Us”: Recommendations for Creating an Accountability Care Framework with Sex Workers in Eastern Canada
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(8), 366; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080366 - 17 Aug 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1410
Abstract
The authors report findings from a 15-month project that focused on the experiences of sex workers who live and work in an Eastern Canadian province. As part of a larger multi-phased study, 15 adults who identified as women, transgender, or non-binary, and received [...] Read more.
The authors report findings from a 15-month project that focused on the experiences of sex workers who live and work in an Eastern Canadian province. As part of a larger multi-phased study, 15 adults who identified as women, transgender, or non-binary, and received money or goods for sexual services, participated in photo-elicitation interviews. Drawing on a critical framing analysis, findings indicated supports—as identified and experienced by sex workers—encompassed three categories of care: self, community, and collective. These categories are described, with a particular focus on the latter two. Continuing with the care-based framework, recommendations to structure interventions draw on the role of accountability care in identifying how best to operationalize policies that promote health, well-being, and dignity of Canadian sex workers. The paper begins with a brief overview of the Canadian context and the role of supports. It follows with a discussion on the materials and methods and the results. It concludes with recommendations, limitations, and future considerations. Full article
17 pages, 313 KiB  
Article
Digital Exclusion and the Structural Barriers to Safety Strategies among Men and Non-Binary Sex Workers Who Solicit Clients Online
Soc. Sci. 2022, 11(7), 318; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11070318 - 21 Jul 2022
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2699
Abstract
Background: Evidence shows that online solicitation facilitates sex workers’ ability to mitigate the risk of workplace violence. However, little is known about how end-demand sex work criminalization and the regulation of online sex work sites shape men and non-binary sex workers’ ability to [...] Read more.
Background: Evidence shows that online solicitation facilitates sex workers’ ability to mitigate the risk of workplace violence. However, little is known about how end-demand sex work criminalization and the regulation of online sex work sites shape men and non-binary sex workers’ ability to maintain their own safety while soliciting services online. Methods: We conducted 21 semi-structured interviews with men and non-binary sex workers in British Columbia between 2020–2021 and examined their ability to enact safety strategies online in the context of end-demand criminalization. Analysis drew on a structural determinants of health framework. Results: Most participants emphasized that sex work is not inherently dangerous and described how soliciting services online facilitated their ability to enact personal safety strategies and remain in control of client interactions. However, participants also described how end-demand criminalization, sex work stigma, and restrictive website policies compromise their ability to solicit services online and to enact safety strategies. Conclusions: Alongside calls to decriminalize sex work, these findings emphasize the need to normalize sex work as a form of labour, promote access to online solicitation among men and non-binary sex workers, and develop standards for online sex work platforms in partnership with sex workers that prioritize sex worker safety. Full article
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