Criminal Sanctions On Prostitution Associated To Violence Against Female Sex Workers
The authors point out that gender-based violence has been acknowledged as a global public health priority that can lead to ill-health and death. However, abuses against female sex workers are rarely debated.
Professor Kate Shannon at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the University of British Colombia is the lead author. She and her team interviewed over 250 female street-based sex workers in Vancouver. The average age of participants was 36. The majority had begun prostitution at 15 years of age.
On up to three occasions they were interviewed. The questions were:
• "Have you been physically abused by someone (excluding clients) in the last six months?"
• "Have you been forced to have sex against your will (excluding clients) in the last six months?"
• "Have you experienced a 'bad date' in the last six months?"
57 percent of the participants had experienced violence at least once in the 18-month follow-up period. 38 percent reported physical violence, 25 percent reported rape, and 30 percent said their clients had been violent towards them.
The majority (87 percent) said they had lived on the street at least once in their lifetime. One fifth had tried but was incapable of accessing drug treatment in the last 18 months. A fifth had at least one dependent child and three in ten (32 percent) reported having a child removed by social services.
Shannon explains: "The persistent relationship between enforcement of prostitution and drug use policies (e.g. confiscation of drug use paraphernalia without arrest, and enforced displacement to outlying areas) suggests that criminalization may enhance the likelihood of violence against street-based female sex workers."
In addition, she comments that the fact so many female sex workers fail in accessing drug treatment is most upsetting. As a consequence this doubles the risk of physical and client-perpetrated violence. The authors explain that the demand for addiction treatment exceeds availability in British Colombia, since in 2008 waiting time was from four to twelve weeks and only a few beds were available for mothers with children.
In conclusion, Shannon states that "the findings support global calls to remove criminal sanctions targeting sex workers."
"Prevalence and structural correlates of gender based violence among a prospective cohort of female sex workers"
Kate Shannon, assistant professor, T Kerr, assistant professor, S A Strathdee, professor and chair, J Shoveller, professor, J S Montaner, professor and director, M W Tyndall, associate professor
BMJ 2009; 339:b2939
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