Sex Workers: Inside the Hidden Trade

VICTORIA -- A new study, conducted by UVic and the Prostitutes Empowerment, Education and Resource Society (PEERS), is providing fresh insight on what it is like to be a sex worker in the capital region.

Until now, much of the research on the sex trade has been done solely on those who are street-involved, providing little knowledge of the vast majority of sex workers located in less-visible venues. Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting Experiences of Sex Workers examines the sex trade from a work perspective, shedding light on the working conditions, health status and exiting experiences of sex workers in a variety of work sites.

Over the past two years, 201 women, men, and transgendered persons who sell, or have sold, sex services in the CRD were interviewed for the study. Research assistants, themselves former sex workers, conducted the interviews and analyzed the data.

"Sex workers tell us of their constant struggle to shrug off the label of victim," says Dr. Cecilia Benoit, UVic sociology professor and the study's co-author. "Despite the obvious hardships they have had and continue to endure, sex workers nevertheless describe themselves as having varying degrees of control over their work and personal lives."

The study found that the stigma attached to the sex trade and the fact that it is criminalized means that sex workers often lack even basic protection from the law and face discrimination when they attempt to access health services. "That's why the study recommends the use of formal job contracts and work agreements for sex workers when they are employed by others, like strip clubs, or are involved with third parties, like escort agencies," says Alison Millar, the study's co-author and a graduate student in sociology at UVic. Other recommendations call for access to appropriate health, social and other services and educational opportunities for sex workers wishing to exit the trade.

The B.C. Health Research Foundation, Capital Health District, and the BC Centre of Excellence on Women's Health funded the study. It can be viewed online at

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Media contacts

Dr. Cecilia Benoit (sociology) at (250) 721-7578

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Keywords: sex, workers, inside, hidden, trade

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