“We Knew No One Else Had Our Back except Us”: Recommendations for Creating an Accountability Care Framework with Sex Workers in Eastern Canada
Supports and Notions of Care
2. Materials and Methods
2.1. Profile of Participants
- Self-care: Involves the acts taken at an individual level to care for oneself;
- Community care: Describes a larger network of supports that, at times, is reciprocal. Includes individuals as well as programs and agencies;
- Collective care: Includes the systems and structures that create a ripple effect that support and/or hinder people engaged in sex work—legislation, policies, funding, and government services;
- Accountability care: The methods by which individuals, programs, and systems are held responsible and accountable. This accountability is necessary to build capacity for collective care and includes recommendations based on research findings.
“I need some kind of support system.”
I started the sex workers support group and that has been a really great community. It’s mostly a [social media] group where we can kind of just share things, like I posted this there and told them to sign up. And, so, yeah, it’s really nice to be able to ask someone like ‘have you seen this guy before’ and be like ‘oh yeah, he likes ’em young, oh yeah he’s … don’t see him.’
I’ve heard so often, like, ‘I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have someone to talk to that understands’ so, you know, to be able to have someone to message at two o’clock in the morning or a call that understands and has been there and done the same kind of work. That makes a big difference.
Like you gotta have somebody know, like just in case, or if there is any way you could have security, or get to know the person first, just to be sure. ‘Cause it’s, scary. Like the sex worker died here not long ago, was murdered by an out-call, so, you never know.
There’s some girls, like myself, who are still in the industry, and there are some that are still kind of there because they have no choice, you know, to feed their kids or whatever and there are other women who are out completely but still go there for, like, therapy.
Because there’s [Program B] and then there’s [Program A], both are separate things …. [Program A] has the case management support to help those exit sex work, while [Program B] has the community support aspect, and having both of those services under one roof would be ideal.
…She was there and talked about, “Do you want to report it, and what would that look like if we did? We don’t have to. Would you feel comfortable with an emergency protection order?” Or like, “What would make you feel safe right now?” And she covered everything, right? … Everything. They are the best support. If they were everywhere that would be awesome.
There’s nothing out there, as far as I’ve seen … Just because where it is such a small community, nobody thinks that people out there are doing it but like I always tell everyone, there’s a lot more of us than you would think.
If you do access a service, then someone’s gonna go see you access the service. Right? If you walk into some building in a rural community of like 500 people, some lady’s gonna be watching you out her window. And if she knows who you are she might call your mother, right?
4. Collective Care
[I] didn’t know whether it was legal, illegal, you know; what the boundaries were cause like I heard from some girls that it was legal to sell it but not legal to buy it … So I was kind of not entirely sure how to go about that, um, but where [Name of Street] is so close to the police station, um, I always had that fear, whenever I heard sirens, that they were coming for us.
I have like a business and it needs to be, you know, legit. I don’t wanna be just you know, I need to have things on paper. I need to be real … I have this money, I hired an accountant, I had a financial advisor, I want to pay taxes. Just tell me how to do it the right way.
Safe working conditions is an issue when you’re working on your own, even when you’re working on the street. Part of the Canadian law is that you’re not allowed to materially benefit from someone else’s work. So that means if my friend and I are working together we have a brothel, and that is a really big issue.
I feel that legalizing sex work is the only way, because if sex work was legalized they could regulate it. They could tax it if that’s what they really wanted. But for the most part, women should have somewhere, men should have somewhere safe that they feel they are able to go. There should be regular STD checks because every time you go see a sex worker it’s a risk you’re taking, as well as the sex workers themselves taking this risk … It should be safe, and clean, and consensual.
Decriminalization takes away all of the [laws] … so you can do sex work. And there’s no conditions put in place … Because a lot of people don’t understand the difference and so you’ll hear well-meaning people saying, “We should really legalize sex work.” And I’m going, “No, we shouldn’t.” Us sex workers don’t want that, we don’t want it to be legalized. That just makes it, it’s more problematic because we could still be charged for things because there’s still laws about sex work.
I had a doctor who I just never felt comfortable enough to say, ‘Hey, this is what I do, can I get, like, monthly testing or whatever?’ So, it’s definitely hard for people who don’t have access to good doctors to, to feel, I guess, safe enough, not judged, to say, ‘Hey, I’m a sex worker can I get monthly testing or whatever?’
And so, you’re not going to go to a therapist or a psychiatrist, the one prescribing you medication, and say that, “I’m having a bad day. And it’s not because I don’t enjoy sex work but because these experiences have happened to me this week and it’s …” They don’t want to hear it because you’ve put yourself in that situation.
One of the last meetings I had with my worker, she looked at me and said, ‘Just because you look good on paper doesn’t make you a good parent.’ Oh really? But it’s kind of funny when the public health person doesn’t have an issue with me … [Name] works with Child Services doesn’t have a problem with me, says I’m doing an awesome job, and for you—as a child worker—to come into my home or anybody else’s home … and say [that].
I didn’t go to the police because of, I was an escort and the stigma [of] that, or the role that police play in our, in our life is not a positive one. I didn’t need to go to the police station and be judged for being an escort, you know? To be judged for finding food to put on my children’s plate, you know?
If you get beaten up at work you are less likely to go to the police and say, ‘Hey, these are the details surrounding me being assaulted.’ If you were assaulted at any other type of job, you would have no fear [of] going to the police station right away. But when it comes to sex work, it’s something that you have to think over in your head. You know, am I going to get in trouble if I go to a police officer and say I’ve been assaulted and this is what happened. Or another big one is, are they going to believe that I was raped if I’m a sex worker? Which is a huge issue, because chances are if you had sex with someone against your will, they’re not going to believe you were sexually assaulted. You’re a sex worker. It sounds like you’re asking for it, but you’re not.
These are people too. These are women. These are somebody’s daughters, somebody’s mothers, somebody’s sisters that … [it] doesn’t matter what kind of background you come from—because I’m a mom, coming from a bad home … Something’s got to be put in place to protect these girls as well, because someone’s, somebody’s been hurt or killed because an asshole wanted to, “Well I can shoot a whore” for lack of a better word or lack of a better term. “She’s a whore so she’s just trash.”
There’s a fear of telling people you’re a sex worker, right? And so, for a lot of sex workers, it’s not that they don’t have access to certain things, but it’s that they are too embarrassed to seek them out, or they’re too ashamed to seek them out.
5. Limitations and Considerations
- Creating a liaison/task force between people in the sex work industry and municipal regions and provincial government;
- Developing guidelines and best practices across identified areas of collective care; and
- Creating education and training sessions led by and in consultation with sex workers.
6.1. Task Force Liaison
6.2. Guidelines and Best Practices
- Inclusive supports for all genders;
- Access to affordable housing and shelter;
- Improving access to food, clothing, no-wait counselling, the Internet, and cell phones;
- Uncomplicated healthcare access and universal dental and optical insurance;
- Rural supports for sex workers linked to broader programs so people can access them confidentially or anonymously;
- A central resource hub accessible in person or online, with 24 h support offering information on sexual and mental health topics, marketing, managing clients, and balancing finances;
- Creating policies and bylaws that affect the work safety for sex work is needed.
6.3. Ongoing Education and Training Led by and in Consultation with Sex Workers
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Conflicts of Interest
- Ahmed, Sara. 2014. Selfcare as Warfare, Feministkilljoy Blog. Available online: https://feministkilljoys.com/2014/08/25/selfcare-as-warfare/ (accessed on 1 July 2022).
- Barnett, Jeffrey E., and Natalie Cooper. 2009. Creating a culture of self-care. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice 16: 16–20. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Battle, Nishaun T. 2021. Black girls and the beauty salon: Fostering a safe space for collective self-care. Gender & Society 35: 557–66. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Begum, Sufia, Jane S. Hocking, Jan Groves, Christopher K. Fairley, and Louise A. Keogh. 2013. Sex workers talk about sex work: Six contradictory characteristics of legalised sex work in Meborne, Australia. Cultural, Health & Sexuality 15: 85–100. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Benoit, Cecilia, Mikael Jansson, Michaela Smith, and Jackson Flagg. 2017. “Well, it should be changed for one, because it’s our bodies”: Sex workers’ views on Canada’s punitive approach towards sex work. Social Sciences 6: 52. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Benoit, Cecilia, S. Mikael Jansson, Michaela Smith, and Jackson Flagg. 2018. Prostitution stigma and its effect on the working conditions, personal lives, and health of sex workers. The Journal of Sex Research 55: 457–71. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Bressi, Sara K., and Elizabeth R. Vaden. 2017. Reconsidering self care. Clinical Social Work Journal 45: 33–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Department of Justice. 2014. Prostitution Criminal Law Reform: Bill C-36, the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. December 6. Available online: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/c36fs_fi/ (accessed on 1 January 2020).
- Desyllas, Moshoula Capous. 2014. Using photovoice with sex workers: The power of art, agency and resistance. Qualitative Social Work 13: 477–501. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Duff, Putu, Jean Shoveller, Jill Chettiar, Cindy Feng, Rachel Nicoletti, and Kate Shannon. 2015. Sex work and motherhood: Social and structural barriers to health and social servies for pregnant and parenting street and off-street sex workers. Health Care for Women International 36: 1039–55. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Ginwright, Shawn. 2018. The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Medium. May 31. Available online: https://ginwright.medium.com/the-future-of-healing-shifting-from-trauma-informed-care-to-healing-centered-engagement-634f557ce69c (accessed on 10 July 2022).
- Godfrey, Christina M., Margaret B. Harrison, Rosemary Lysaght, Marianne Lamb, Ian D. Graham, and Patricia Oakley. 2011. Care of self—Care by other—Care of other: The meaning of self-care from research, practice, policy and industry perspectives. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare 9: 3–24. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Grittner, Alison L., and Christine A. Walsh. 2020. The role of social stigma in the lives of female-identified sex workers: A scoping review. Sexuality & Culture 24: 1653–82. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Guillemin, Marilys, and Sarah Drew. 2010. Questions of process in participant-generated visual methodologies. Visual Studies 25: 175–88. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Ham, Julie, and Alison Gerard. 2014. Strategic in/visibility: Does agency make sex workers invisible? Criminology & Criminal Justice: An International Journal 14: 298–313. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Hensley, Laura, and Olivia Bowden. 2020. Some Sex Workers’ Income Has ‘Completely Dissolved’ Due to COVID-19. Here’s How They’re Surviving. Global News. May 2. Available online: https://globalnews.ca/news/6883831/sex-workers-coronavirus/ (accessed on 15 January 2021).
- Hobart, Hi’ilei Julia Kawehipuaakahaopulani, and Tamara Kneese. 2020. Radical care: Survival strategies for uncertain times. Social Text 38: 1–16. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Huang, Amy L. 2015. De-stigmatizing sex work. Building knowledge for social work. Social Work & Social Sciences Review 18: 83–96. [Google Scholar]
- Jeffrey, Leslie Ann. 2018. Managing sex work: Bringing the industry in from the cold. In Getting Past the Pimp: Management in the Sex Industry. Edited by Chris Bruckert and Colette Parent. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 123–40. [Google Scholar]
- Kunimoto, Erica. 2018. A critical analysis of Canada’s sex work legislation: Exploring gendered and racialized consequences. Stream: Inspiring Critical Thought 10: 27–36. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Lanau, Alba, and Andrea Matolcsi. 2022. Prostitution and sex work, who counts? Mapping local data to inform policy and service provision. Social Policy and Society, 1–15. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Lazarus, Lisa, Kathleen N. Deering, Rose Nabess, Kate Gibson, Mark W. Tyndall, and Kate Shannon. 2012. Occupational stigma as a primary barrier to health care for street-based sex workers in Canada. Culture, Health & Sexuality 14: 139–50. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- McBride, Bronwyn, Kate Shannon, Alka Murphy, Sherry Wu, Margaret Erickson, Shira M. Goldenberg, and Andrea Krusi. 2021. Harms of third party criminalisation under end-demand legislation: Undermining sex workers’ safety and rights. Culture, Health & Sexuality 23: 1165–81. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Mercer, Juanita. 2020. St. John’s Sex Workers to Government: ‘Don’t Turn Your Back on Us’ Amid COVID-19 Pandemic. The Telegram. March 27. Available online: https://www.thetelegram.com/news/local/st-johns-sex-workers-to-government-dont-turn-your-back-on-us-amid-covid-19-pandemic-430210/ (accessed on 1 July 2022).
- Shareck, Martine, Maha Hassan, Pearl Buhariwala, Melissa Perri, Ermelina Balla, and Patricia O’Campo. 2021. Double jeopardy: Maintaining livelihoods or preserving health? The tough choices sex workers faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Primary Care & Community Health 12: 1–8. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Sitter, Kathleen C. 2015. Participatory video analysis in disability research. Disability & Society 30: 910–23. [Google Scholar]
- Sitter, Kathleen C., Alison L. Grittner, Taryn Fritz, Amy C. Burke, and Emily Ophus. 2022. Exploring the role of place in sex work through participant photography. Sexualities 2022: 1–22. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Stanczak, Gregory C. 2007. Visual representation. American Behavioral Scientist 47: 1471–76. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Wilson, Asif, and Wytress Richardson. 2020. All I want to say is that they don’t really care about us: Creating and maintaining healing-centered collective care in hostile times. Occasional Paper Series 2020: 79–89. [Google Scholar]
- Zangger, Catherine. 2010. For Better or Worse? Decriminalisation, Work Conditions, and Indoor Sex Work in Auckland, New Zeland/Aotearoa. Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada. [Google Scholar]
Publisher’s Note: MDPI stays neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
© 2022 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).
Sitter, K.C.; Grittner, A.; Pabia, M.R.; Jarvis, H. “We Knew No One Else Had Our Back except Us”: Recommendations for Creating an Accountability Care Framework with Sex Workers in Eastern Canada. Soc. Sci. 2022, 11, 366. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080366
Sitter KC, Grittner A, Pabia MR, Jarvis H. “We Knew No One Else Had Our Back except Us”: Recommendations for Creating an Accountability Care Framework with Sex Workers in Eastern Canada. Social Sciences. 2022; 11(8):366. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080366Chicago/Turabian Style
Sitter, Kathleen C., Alison Grittner, Mica R. Pabia, and Heather Jarvis. 2022. "“We Knew No One Else Had Our Back except Us”: Recommendations for Creating an Accountability Care Framework with Sex Workers in Eastern Canada" Social Sciences 11, no. 8: 366. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci11080366