Health conditions of sex trade workers to be studied

The health conditions of Greater Victoria's estimated 1,500 sex trade workers will be the focus of a new University of Victoria-led research project, the first of its kind. A primary goal of the research is to determine appropriate specialized support services to help to make it healthier and safer for people working in the trade.

The health, personal histories, working conditions and the general safety of the women and men who work in the region's sex trade industry, particularly in escort agencies and other less visible "off-street" prostitution services, will be studied.

Between 70 and 90 per cent of prostitution activity takes place in off-street venues.

Dr. Cecilia Benoit of UVic's sociology department is leading the project in partnership with PEERS&emdash;the Prostitution Empowerment and Education Society of Victoria. The project manager is Judy Lightwater.

Up to five current or former prostitutes will be hired for the study and trained to conduct interviews with 50 sex trade workers and analyse data.

Much of the research on prostitution has been done solely on street-involved sex trade workers, providing little knowledge of the vast majority of workers in "hidden" areas.

"What's considered basic knowledge about the sex trade is largely based on assumptions and judgements," says Benoit. "Common health themes that do not come up regularly are eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicide ideation. This research is necessary to get an accurate and thorough portrayal of the health concerns of sex trade workers as a whole."

Women in prostitution have a mortality rate 160 times higher than other women. About 10 per cent of Greater Victoria sex trade workers are male.

Results of the study will be compiled in a report for health and social agencies, including the Capital Health Region. Funding for the two-year study is coming from a $147,000 grant from the B.C. Health Research Foundation.

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Keywords: health, conditions, sex, trade, workers, studied

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