Popular narratives about sex work tend to frame sex workers as victims and johns as predators. But that doesn’t fit reality, says Chris Atchison, co-author of the largest Canadian study of sex workers and customers. Atchison presented the findings to the federal Justice and Human Rights Committee reviewing Canada’s prostitution bill Monday.
MEGA-NEWS: Proposed prostitution bill makes sex work more dangerous, UVic researcher finds
Atchison, a research associate in the University of Victoria’s sociology department, paired up with UVic sociology professor and Centre for Disease and Addictions Research scientist Cecilia Benoit to survey 218 sex workers and 1,252 of their customers in six different Canadian cities last year.
Their report, (Understanding) Sex Work: a Health Research and Community Partnership, found the majority of sex workers did not see themselves as powerless. Over 80 per cent agreed they had power to set terms and limits of a sex transaction, while only 12 per cent of workers and 18 per cent of customers felt customers had more power.
When it came to work safety, over 90 per cent of sex workers screen potential customers, while 82 per cent get the money up front. Seventy per cent of customers said they, too, employed safety measures like discussing terms before sex or money are exchanged.
Atchison says Canada’s proposed prostitution Bill C-36, which criminalizes buying or living off the second-hand profits of sex work, will make sex work more dangerous by pushing it deeper underground.
“It pushes people into unaccountable and unobservable spaces,” he told Megaphone. The proposed bill, he added, will make sex workers harder to find, affecting the ability of outreach workers and researchers to keep track of and provide care to sex workers.
Atchison presented his findings to the federal member committee, primarily comprised of Conservative Party members, on Monday. If the committee passes the bill, a legislature vote is required before it becomes law.