UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Barriers to Governmental Income Supports for Sex Workers during COVID-19 : Results of a Community-Based Cohort in Metro Vancouver Pearson, Jennie; Shannon, K.; Krüsi, Andrea; Braschel, Melissa; McDermid, Jennifer; Bingham, Brittany; Goldenberg, Shira M.


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.

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