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More than condoms and sandwiches : a feminist investigation of the contradictory promises of harm reduction approaches to prostitution Graham, Erin Joan

Abstract

This research explores the experiences and perspectives of women providing front-line service in organizations and agencies, both feminist and mainstream, whose mandate includes support for women experiencing violence, particularly women in prostitution. There is significant research into the experiences of women in prostitution, however, little is known about the experiences and perspectives of front-line workers employed in paid and unpaid positions in the social service industry who are providing support to women in prostitution. Their views of prostitution and the policy frameworks that inform their work are the focus of this inquiry drawing attention, in particular, to how policies framed as harm reduction shape what kinds of support women in prostitution are offered. Harm reduction is an approach initially used to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with the use of illicit drugs. Since the 2003 opening of Insite, North America’s first supervised injection facility (SIF), tactics called harm reduction have been applied to other social problems, including street-level prostitution. This study argues for an approach that goes beyond mere reduction of harm, and explicates and extends a feminist response to male violence in pursuit of good old-fashioned women’s liberation. Data for this inquiry included in-depth interviews with 16 women providing front line services. This study also examined key governmental reports on prostitution and recent court challenges regarding the legality of prostitution, including the 1985 Fraser Report on Pornography and Prostitution in Canada, the 2006 Federal report called The Challenge of Change: A Study of Canada’s Criminal Prostitution Laws, and affidavits gathered by Pivot Legal Society in 2003 from women engaged in prostitution in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Using a methodology informed by Dorothy Smith’s sociology for women and critical discourse analysis, the contemporary and historical contexts of Vancouver’s response to social inequality as it is expressed in public discourse about prostitution and harm reduction was examined. Smith’s approach also informs analysis of the study participants’ perspectives. This work challenges the de-politicizing and pathologizing discourses of harm reduction ideology in Vancouver, and provides a forum for women on the front-lines to offer alternatives that may move us to harm elimination.

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Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada

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