Beyond the ‘missing women inquiry’: Empowering sex workers as social justice advocates

Funding body

Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellowship/CIHR Planning and Dissemination Grant


There is an urgent need in Canada to mobilize people in sex work who are dealing with social divisions and are facing difficulties sustaining a collective voice in their communities and nationally. This project has been engaging sex workers of different social demographic backgrounds, substance use histories and work experiences in a peer-to-peer community empowerment program in seven cities across Canada and to learn from one another how sex work stigma and current Criminal Code law impacts their work and access to  crucial resources. The project has been creating a space for dialogue to explore how participants may further their shared goals, including the ability to work in safety and access non-judgmental health, harm reduction services and social supports. 

This project also contributes to the ongoing National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Canada by providing insider knowledge from Indigenous sex workers who face intersecting stigmas related to their race, gender and substance use experiences, and whose voices are routinely silenced.

Progress to date

The partnership between the PI and the seven sex worker organizations has been established through virtual and in person meetings, and the following activities are ongoing or have been completed:

  • The mobilization training program has been developed, and interviews about the interactive process with the executive directors or designate of each organization have been conducted.  
  • A project update was presented at a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Community Retreat in 2000.
  • Additional community partners, local not-for-profit sex worker organizations, have been recruited who prioritize the needs and concerns of more marginalized sex workers, including those from Indigenous and migrant backgrounds and those who use drugs.
  • The Sex Workers’ Activist School Facilitation Guide (SWASFG) has been co-created by the team and research funds have been redirected to the participating community partners to focus participants’ time on curriculum development.
  • We have conducted two sets of formal interviews with community partner members, focused on:
    1. An evaluation of the integrated knowledge translation research process we have been engaged in during the first two years of operation;
    2. The ongoing efforts of community partners during the COVID-19 pandemic to carry out what they see as their dual role – filling service gaps, responding to the needs of sex workers in their communities, and advocating for their broader occupational and social rights.

Working with one doctoral student and one post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Benoit’s team has to date published six peer-reviewed articles The research findings have been presented at the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) conference (November 2021) and the IUHPE World Conference on Health Promotion (May 2022).

The mobilization training programs, despite being postponed due to the COVID 19 pandemic restrictions, have been held in four of the seven communities to date.

The team’s final activity was the face-to-face national symposium, held in Victoria in March 2023 - Apprising the evidence: A national symposium on understanding the diversity of people in sex work.  This was funded by a CIHR Planning and Dissemination Grant.