WHAT IS “SEX WORK”?
Sex work is defined by the World Health Organization as the exchange of sexual services for money or goods. The term sex work covers a range of activities, such as employment in adult film and pornography, erotic performances, peep shows, escort services, web cam work, phone sex, fetish work, bondage/dominatrix/sadomasochism (BDSM), some forms of waitressing/bartending, streetlevel sex work, massage and bodywork, and hustling. There is also a spectrum of “sex for reward” that does not always involve the exchange of money for sexual services.
The term sex work situates these activities in a labour context. It recognizes people involved in the sex industry as workers who have the right to safe working conditions and labour protections.
What sex work isn’t
As sex work is often conflated with coercion and trafficking, it’s important to make clear distinctions between sex work and forms of violence. The organizations Stella and the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS note that:
- Forced sex and violence against sex workers is sexual assault, not sex work.
- Coerced or forced work and trafficking are forms of labour exploitation, not sex work.
- Consent is central to the definition of sex work. If an exchange is not consensual, this is not sex work.
BACKGROUND ON SEX WORK
Many people wonder why someone would become involved in sex work. Sex workers have responded with a wide range of motivations and reasons. As in mainstream employment, one primary reason that individuals choose to work in the sex industry is that it provides them with an income. Besides an economic rationale, sex workers also describe many vocational, personal, and professional reasons for choosing to participate in the sex industry, including the flexible hours, enjoying managing their own business, satisfaction from providing emotional support to their clients, or feeling comfortable with sexuality. Sex workers may engage in sex work for a very short period, intermittently, or throughout their careers. It is important to note that an individual may or may not identify as a sex worker, and that sex workers may be people of any gender, age or class.
Similarly to workers in other jobs, a sex worker’s economic and class status, race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, (dis)ability and other social and structural determinants can influence their work, safety, and options. For example, some sex workers have safe working conditions, a high income and wide access to options and opportunities, while others face poor working conditions and restricted options. In Metro Vancouver, many street-based sex workers engage in this type of sex work to meet their basic needs. Due to a multitude of intersecting factors including past and present trauma, poverty, homelessness, substance misuse and mental health issues, street-based sex workers often face dangerous conditions and extreme barriers to accessing the appropriate services and social supports to ensure their health and safety, and to meet their everyday and long-term needs. These same systemic barriers also restrict sex workers’ ability to exit the sex industry if they wish to.
WHAT IS TRANSITIONS?
Transitions is based on an innovative model designed to provide highly coordinated support to sex workers from diverse backgrounds. This five-year program was specifically developed to engage sex workers who wish to transition into safer sex work, and/or reduce their reliance on, transition out of, retire from or exit sex work altogether.
Participants in the program come from a variety of backgrounds, and include street-based sex workers, Indigenous sex workers, migrant and immigrant indoor sex workers, and survivors of violence and sexual exploitation. The program is open to people of all genders who are 19 years of age and older. Most importantly, participants in the program are ready and willing to engage with Transitions.
To assist sex workers in meeting their employment and other goals, program participants are supported through four key areas:
- Individualized Support & Intervention
- Supported Employment
- Pro-Social/Cultural Activities
- Academic Support
Through this comprehensive continuum of services, Transitions aims to support participants’ objectives and achievements in:
- Gradual replacement of income with non-sex work
- Securing safer, more stable, long-term housing
- Decreasing or ceasing drug and/or alcohol use/misuse
- Increasing engagement with a continuum of health and mental health care
- Increasing involvement and participation in positive cultural and community activities
- Decreasing association with abusive partners, coercive third parties/pimps, drug dealers, and other triggering individuals
- Increasing association with positive role models and activities
- Increasing involvement with, and attachment to, children/guardians
- Increasing enrollment in skills building programs and mainstream educational programs
- Increasing participation in lower-barrier, supported employment opportunities
The final goal of Transitions is to assist program participants through a gradual change towards sustained involvement in independent and mainstream employment. Beyond ensuring that participants are provided comprehensive services and support to reach their employment goals; the Transitions Program aims to see participants feeling safe, healthy, and independent within their lives.