Exploring the gendered dimensions of place, risk, and violence among street-involved youth who do sex work in Vancouver, Canada: A longitudinal ethnographic investigation

A growing body of evidence has shown that violence and other health-related risks are highly gendered, with a disproportionate burden experienced by young women and youth who do sex work in many settings. In Vancouver, escalating gentrification, the recent creation of supportive housing for “at-risk” youth, and legislative shifts in criminal policies around sex work and drug use have the potential to transform the landscape of violence, risk, and safety that youth who do sex work must navigate.

The proposed ethnographic study will explore how these processes of urban transformation are altering youth’s experiences and health outcomes over time. Key focuses will be youth’s social-spatial transitions in sex work (e.g. the transition from more isolated outdoor spaces to potentially safer indoor venues), and how these transitions exacerbate or mediate the production of violence and risk.

This research will be particularly concerned with how gender relations and inequities intersect with the production of violence and risk in particular sites. Moreover, it will focus on the continuum of violence experienced by youth in the city and how structural violence can produce interpersonal violence and risk in particular places.

This study will help produce a more nuanced understanding of young people’s lived experiences in the city over time, and the gendered production of risk and violence in urban space. This understanding is critical to developing and advocating for policy and “safer environment interventions” that are relevant to youth’s needs and capable of addressing the complex social processes that shape health outcomes for this youth population.