Underreporting of Violence to Police Among Women Sex Workers in Canada: Amplified Inequities for Im/migrant and In-Call Workers Prior to and Following End-Demand Legislation

McBride, B., K. S., Bingham, B., Braschel, M., Strathdee, S., & Goldenberg, S. M., Underreporting of Violence to Police Among Women Sex Workers in Canada: Amplified Inequities for Im/migrant and In-Call Workers Prior to and Following End-Demand Legislation, Health and Human Rights Journal, Vol. 22, 257, (December, 2020). Avbl. at: https://cdn1.sph.harvard.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/2469/2020/12/Goldenberg.pdf

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):

“Our study identified severe gaps in sex workers’ ability to report violence to police, with no significant change in reporting violence after the implementation of end-demand sex work legislation, and with enhanced inequities documented for racialized im/migrant and in-call workers. These results suggest that end-demand laws that shift the focus on criminalization away from sex workers toward clients and third parties do not alleviate existing barriers to police protections for sex workers…” (p. 268) (emphasis added).

“Sex workers have the right to live and work free from violence and addressing violence against sex workers should be prioritized by policy bodies in Canada and globally. Legislative reforms to fully decriminalize sex work and tailored efforts to promote access to police protections, particularly for racialized minority, im/migrant, and in-call workers, are recommended as a means to upholding sex workers’ human and labor rights. These changes are particularly vital within the current context of sweeping calls for enhanced attention to anti-racism efforts, as well as policy reforms to address police brutality and the harassment of marginalized and racialized communities.” (p. 268).

“Among sex workers who experienced recent violence during the 7.5-year study (n=367), 38.2% of all participants and 12.7% of im/migrants reported violence to police, and there was no
significant change in violence reporting after end-demand legislation.” (p. 257).

“Racialized im/migrant and indoor sex workers faced significantly lower odds of reporting violence, and there was no significant improvement in reporting violence after the implementation of end-demand legislation, despite the law’s stated aim of ‘encouraging those who sell their own sexual services to report incidents of violence.’” (p. 263) (emphasis added).

“The fact that we observed no significant change in sex workers’ access to police protection is an unacceptable outcome of this legislation. Further, the association that we documented between racialized im/migrant status and lower odds of reporting violence is alarming given the ongoing human rights violations faced by sex workers who experience physical and sexual violence in Canada and elsewhere.” (p. 263).

“While Canadian end-demand laws represent sex workers as exploited persons meriting protection, our study found no evidence of sex workers’ increased access to police protections; rather, sex workers continue to face disrespectful treatment and threats of arrest when seeking assistance from police and thus attempt to avoid police interactions, as previously documented.” (p. 267).

“We drew longitudinal data from a community-based open prospective cohort entitled ‘An Evaluation of Sex Workers Health Access,’ which initiated recruitment in 2010 and is based on collaborations with community organizations serving women, sex workers, and people living with HIV.23 Eligibility criteria include identifying as a cisgender or transgender woman, having exchanged sex for money in the last month at enrollment, and providing written informed consent.”
(p. 259).

“Our study included 367 participants (711 observations). In time series analysis, the median number of observations at each time point was 69 (IQR: 20–86).” (p. 261).

“In Canada, im/migrant sex workers who work in indoor venues may be uniquely targeted by police due to immigration policies, racialized policing, and the conflation of trafficking and sex work. In 2014, Canada passed end-demand legislation that purportedly encourages sex workers to report violence to police; however, little research has evaluated its impact.” (p. 257).

“Globally, sex workers face egregious human rights violations, including high levels of violence, which have been linked to health and social inequities such as an elevated burden of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and poor reproductive and mental health outcomes. A 2014 global systematic review identified a staggeringly high lifetime prevalence (45–75%) of physical, sexual, or combined workplace violence against women sex workers. This violence is partly fueled by perpetrators’ recognition of sex workers’ devalued social status and by the fact that sex workers often hesitate to report incidents to police due to deep-rooted mistrust and fear of criminal charges, stigma, or further abuse.” (p. 258)

“End-demand ideology represents sex workers as victims of gender-based violence by conflating sex work (defined as the consensual exchange of sex services) with victimization and sex
trafficking (defined as forced sexual labor).” (p. 258).

“After Canada’s previous sex-work laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013 for violating sex workers’ rights to security of person, end-demand legislation (the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act) was enacted in 2014, leaving the sale of sex legal while criminalizing clients and third-party activities… By representing all sex work as inherently exploitative and victimizing, this legislation also conflates consensual sexual labor with sex trafficking and intersects with prohibitive immigration policies to render racialized im/migrant sex workers susceptible to heightened scrutiny from authorities.” (p. 259).