April 14, 2023
Sex Workers’ Access to Police Assistance in Safety Emergencies and Means of Escape from Situations of Violence and Confinement Under an “End Demand” Criminalisation Model: A Five City Study in Canada
Crago A.-L., Bruckert C., Braschel M., Shannon K., Sex Workers’ Access to Police Assistance in Safety Emergencies and Means of Escape from Situations of Violence and Confinement Under an “End Demand” Criminalisation Model: A Five City Study in Canada, MDPI Social Sciences, 10(1):13 (2021). https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10010013
Findings from Advocating Opportunity’s “END DEMAND LITERATURE – DESK REVIEW” (Compiled by: Emily Dunlap, Komal Hans, and Donna Hoffman with contributions from: Kate D’Adamo and Megan K. Mattimoe):
“Over all, this study illustrates how the current ‘end demand’ criminalization framework fails its stated aim of: ‘protecting’ the most ‘vulnerable’ and ‘encouraging those who sell their own sexual services to report incidents of violence and exploitation committed against them.’ One way to prevent or address violence, including trafficking–particularly in the case of serial perpetrators–is to ensure sex workers have access to emergency police protection, are able to report incidents that threaten their safety, and that the police take meaningful action when sex workers report violence. The law further undermines sex workers’ safety in that those who most often assist sex workers to escape violence or confinement, sex workers with shared expenses, as well as clients, security/spotters and managers risk criminalization if they seek police assistance. (p. 12) (emphasis added).
These findings, suggest that ‘end demand’ frameworks reproduce many of the same harms to sex workers, and particularly Indigenous sex workers, as documented under prohibitionist criminalization approaches. They point to the necessity of law-reform to decriminalize sex work undertaken through an explicitly decolonizing approach. This requires centering Indigenous sex workers’ experiences and perspectives on what law and policy changes are necessary to reverse and repair the harms of the current framework.” (pp. 12-13).
“The findings of this study illustrate how the current “end demand” criminalization framework compromises sex workers’ access to assistance in safety emergencies.” (p. 1) “Of 200 SW in five cities in Canada, 62 (31.0%) reported being unable to call 911 if they or another SW were in a safety emergency due to fear of police detection (of themselves, their colleagues or their management)… police harassment–linked to social and racial profiling in the past 12 months (being carded or asked for ID documents, followed by police or detained without arrest)… were associated with higher odds of being unable to call 911, while older age was associated with lower odds.” (p. 1) (emphasis added).
“In descriptive statistics, of 115 SW who had experienced violence or confinement at work in the past 12 months, 19 (16.52%) reported the incident to police. Other sex workers with shared expenses were the most commonly reported group to have assisted sex workers to escape situations of violence or confinement in the past 12 months (35.14%). One of the least commonly reported groups to have assisted sex workers to escape situations of violence or confinement in the past 12 months were police (5.41%). (p. 1).
“Data collection took place in three large cities Toronto (Ontario), Montreal (Quebec), and Ottawa (Ontario), one suburb Surrey (British-Columbia), and one smaller city Sudbury (Ontario) between July 2017 to January 2018.” (p. 9). The sample “draws heavily from the most vulnerable sex workers: those meeting clients on the street; using drugs by injection or inhalation (crack and meth specifically); and Indigenous sex workers. Injection and inhalation drug use are associated with experiences of violence by sex workers, as is working on the street and being Indigenous.” (p. 10). This “allows us to examine how sex workers escape situations of violence and confinement under an ‘end demand’ criminalization framework.” (p. 10). “Participants were recruited through flyers distributed by community-based sex worker organizations and through the personal and social contacts of interviewers and TAC members.” (p. 10).
“Our primary dependent variable was ‘inability to call 911 in a safety emergency due to fear of police detection’. Sex workers were asked ‘In the past 12 months, have you had any of the following experiences due to you, your co-workers or your manager’s fear of police detection?’ and the outcome was defined as answering ‘yes’ to “unable to call 911 if I were attacked, robbed or in danger’ or ‘unable to call 911 if another sex worker were attacked, robbed or in danger’ versus ‘no’, ‘not applicable’ or ‘don’t know’ to both. (p. 10).
In 2014, the Canadian government “introduced a version of ‘end-demand’ legislation. The new laws criminalize individuals purchasing sex, third parties operating in a commercial role and individuals offering sexual services in a narrow set of public contexts. The Ministry of Justice at the time of introduction noted the large proportion of Indigenous women in the sex trade in Canada in relation to its objective of the ‘protection of exploited persons and communities’ and specified that the new end demand criminalization framework ‘is also intended to encourage those who sell their own sexual services to report incidents of violence and exploitation committed against them, rather than seeking to avoid detection by law enforcement.’” (p. 3).
“However, to date no government body has undertaken an evaluation of sex workers’ ability to report violence or access police protection under the new legal framework. This is striking given that sex workers’ access to emergency assistance and police protection is highly consequential… Sex workers, and in particular Indigenous sex workers, continue to report very high levels of physical and sexual violence under the current ‘end demand’ criminalization framework. Accordingly, this study aimed to explore sex workers ability to access police protection and report violence and confinement at work to police, as well as their means of escaping situations of violence and confinement both at work and in their personal lives under ‘end demand’ criminalization in Canada. It also provides insights that should inform debates on sex work, violence and the role of law and policy frameworks.” (p. 3).
“In contrast, in New Zealand, following the decriminalization of the sex industry, sex workers reported more positive relationships with police and an increased ability to report violence and exploitation to authorities (Abel 2014; Armstrong 2014, 2016) and violence against sex workers was afforded more serious attention by police (Healy et al. 2020). Notably, New Zealand police have proactively worked collaboratively with the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Committee (NZPC) to facilitate sex workers’ ability to report sexual assault (Healy et al. 2020). Furthermore, police were often a main source of information for street-based sex workers on perpetrators (Abel et al. 2007; Armstrong 2016).” (p. 3)