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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Harms of criminalization of sex work : how end-demand legislation and immigration policy shape labour, health and rights among im/migrant and indoor sex workers in Canada McBride, Bronwyn


Background and objectives: Globally, sex workers experience labour rights abuses, disproportionate burdens of workplace violence, and restrictions on safer ways of working (i.e., collectively and in indoor venues) due to criminalization. These inequities are often exacerbated among im/migrant sex workers, who may additionally face precarious legal status, restrictive immigration policies and racialized policing. Despite implementation of “end-demand” legislation (legal models aimed at ending clients’ demand for sexual services) in dozens of countries, little empirical research has explored how end-demand laws impact sex workers’ labour conditions. This dissertation sought to explore how end-demand laws and prohibitive immigration policy impact labour conditions, health and rights among im/migrant and indoor sex workers in Vancouver. Methods: This dissertation drew on quantitative and qualitative data collected from AESHA (An Evaluation of Sex Workers’ Health Access), a community-based open prospective cohort of 900+ women sex workers across Vancouver, Canada, who complete bi-annual interviewer-administered questionnaires and voluntary sexual health testing. Mixed methods (explanatory and confounder bivariate and multivariable logistic regression analyses; interrupted time series; coding of semi-structured interview data) were used to elucidate the impacts of end-demand laws and resulting law enforcement practices on indoor and im/migrant sex workers’ labour environments. Results: This dissertation found that end-demand legislation in Canada failed to improve sex workers’ access to justice, restricted access to supportive third parties and safer indoor venues, heightened the vulnerability of sex work venues to violence, and limited access to occupational health resources (condoms, community-led services); with negative implications exacerbated among im/migrant sex workers. Conclusion: These findings extend limited existing research on the impacts of end-demand legislation, and demonstrate that end-demand criminalization reproduces the harms of full criminalization models. These results have important implications for legislative, policy, and law enforcement reforms towards enabling safe labour environments among im/migrant and indoor sex workers. This dissertation calls for the decriminalization of sex work; removal of prohibitions on im/migrant sex work; sensitivity and anti-stigma trainings among authorities; dedicated efforts to address systemic racism in sex work policing; promoting rights-based municipal occupational health standards; and increasing support for sex worker-led outreach; to promote sex workers’ labour and human rights.

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