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Monday, May 14, 2012

Supportive Housing Improves Safety for Female Sex Workers: B.C. Study

Female sex workers who reside in supportive-housing units feel more control over negotiating condom use and have less trouble with the police than prostitutes working the streets, a new Canadian study found. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the BC Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS surveyed 39 FSWs living in Vancouver for the study.

The Atira Women’s Resource Society and the RainCity Housing and Support Society (RHSS) run the FSWs’ housing programs in Downtown Eastside under a harm-reduction model. The FSWs have a place to live and pay rent; what they do in their own units is their business. Security measures include female-only buildings, public surveillance cameras, onsite staffing, and sign-in for guests and clients.

The women reported less exposure to violence and diseases such as HIV when operating from the units, and more power to refuse unwanted services and avoid violent abusers. The FSWs interviewed from July 2009 to March 2010 were ages 22-58, and all reported a history of illegal drug abuse.

Leslie Remund, associate director of RHSS, said that under the program, a Vancouver police liaison makes onsite visits to build relationships with the women. In addition, an onsite advocate helps clients navigate the criminal justice system.

One interviewee who previously had reported feeling “paranoid” about the police said officers now greet her; another said she thought the police were pleased about the unit because it kept the women off the streets.

[PNU editor’s note: The study, “Negotiating Safety and Sexual Risk Reduction with Clients in Unsanctioned Safer Indoor Sex Work Environments: a Qualitative Study,” was published in the American Journal of Public Health (2012;102(6):1154-1159).]

The Friends of AIDS Foundation is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for HIV positive individuals and empowering people to make healthy choices to prevent the spread of the HIV virus. To learn more about The Friends of AIDS Foundation, please visit: