Towards evidence-based public health for sex workers in British Columbia

Youth and women working in Vancouver’s sex industry are among the most marginalized and vulnerable in Canadian society. The persistently high rates of health-related issues, violence, and mortality among sex workers, both in Canada and globally, highlights a desperate need for renewed public health interventions targeting the reduction of harms in this industry. Dr. Kate Shannon is working to investigate the different factors influencing the health and safety of youth and women working in the sex industry in Vancouver. Her team is studying the social (violence, work conditions) and structural (laws, regulations, urban renewal) contexts of sexually transmitted infection (STI) in this population. Specifically, her team is examining the different factors that influence the worker’s negotiating power during transactions and how this influences the risk of HIV/STI acquisition. Her research will involve the study and long-term follow-up of two groups of women: (1) 500 existing and new adult women working in both the street and indoor sex industry; and (2) 250 female youth aged 14 to 20 years who have exchanged sex for money, drugs, gifts, shelter, or other commodities in the previous 30 days. By evaluating and integrating different types of data, including individual mapping and neighborhood environment data (including violence and housing) from publicly available sources, she hopes to identify policies and harm-reducing interventions for this population. This study is among the first prospective studies of sex work in North America. Dr. Shannon’s team possesses a wealth of expertise in observational and intervention research, policy, and sex work. They are uniquely positioned to conduct this study, which aims to directly improve the health of some of the most marginalized youth and women in Canadian society.