UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The social and structural production of violence, safety and sexual risk reduction among street-based sex workers Krüsi Penney, Andrea


Background: Globally, sex work is highly stigmatized, and the dominant policy approach has been criminalization and police enforcement. Despite a growing body of research on the social and structural determinants of violence, and sexual risk among sex workers, less is known about the specific features of these environments and the dynamic interplay that shape the negotiation of safety and sexual risk in sex transactions. Therefore, the objective of this dissertation is to examine how social and structural factors such as stigma, evolving sex work legislation and policing practices intersect to shape the working conditions of primarily street-based sex workers in Vancouver. Methods: This dissertation is based on in-depth qualitative interviews, focus groups and ethnographic fieldwork with street-based sex workers in Vancouver. Drawing on concepts of structural vulnerability and structural stigma, data analysis sought to characterize how evolving social and structural environments shape working conditions, health and safety among street-based sex workers. Results: The findings of this dissertation suggest that intersecting regimes of criminalization and stigmatization serve to perpetuate labour conditions that render sex workers at increased risk for violence and poor health, and further deny sex workers their citizenship rights to police protection and legal recourse. Despite police rhetoric of prioritizing the safety of sex workers, criminalization and policing strategies that target clients reproduce the harms created by the criminalization of sex workers, in particular, risks for violence and abuse. Despite the lack of formal legal and policy support for brothels in Canada, the environmental-structural supports afforded by unsanctioned, safer indoor sex work environments, in the context of supportive housing programs for women, promoted increased control over negotiating sex work transactions, including the capacity to refuse unwanted services, negotiate condom use, and avoid violent perpetrators. Conclusion: The collective work presented in this dissertation highlights the complex ways in which sex work related stigma, evolving sex work legislation, policing practices and sex work environments intersect to shape the working conditions of street-based sex workers, including citizenship and labour rights, violence, and ill health. The findings of this dissertation lend further support to calls for the full decriminalization of sex work.

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