Socio-cultural and environmental health risks and resilience among street-based women and transgender sex workers

Street-based women and trans women (male to female) sex workers are profoundly marginalized populations in Canada. Often struggling with poverty, criminalization and discrimination, they experience rates of violence, mental health issues and premature death that far exceed those of other Canadians. Medical and epidemiological research with sex workers often explores health and risk-related behaviours through the lens of individual behaviour, without fully considering how the socio-cultural and environmental context impacts health risks and protective factors like resilience among these vulnerable populations.

New approaches that examine how structural factors and daily life conditions impact the health risks and resilience among these vulnerable populations are needed. Such investigations are especially important for sex workers in smaller cities because they are fewer in number than similar populations in large centres and there are fewer resources allocated to support their health needs in smaller cities, making them "hidden" populations that are difficult to reach.

This research will generate knowledge about the socio-cultural and environmental factors that influence health risks and resilience among women and transgender sex workers in the tri-city area of Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge (KWC), Ontario. Interviews and social mapping exercises, which document the patterns of physical and social activity within different environments, will be conducted with 20 women and 5 to 10 transgender sex workers in each site (n=75-90). We will also analyze media and policy documents pertaining to sex work. The findings from this research will inform the design of locally relevant gender-specific service and policy initiatives to address the impact of socio-cultural and environmental influences on the health of women and transgender street-based sex workers in KWC and other small-medium sized Canadian cities. 

Funding body: CIHR operating grant

Progress to date: Ethical approval has been attained and interviewing is underway.