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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. This study explored Sex with local women Fairview United States and transitional housing environments of women sex workers and their role in shaping agency and power in negotiating safety and sexual risk reduction in Vancouver, Canada.
A series of 12 focus group discussions were conducted with 73 women currently involved in street-based sex work. These women were purposively sampled for a range of experiences living in low-income housing environments, including homeless shelters, transitional housing, and co-ed and women-only single room occupancy SRO hotels. Drawing on the risk environment framework and theoretical constructs of gender, agency and power, analyses demonstrate that women continue to be vulnerable to violence and sexual and economic exploitation and have reduced ability to negotiate risk reduction resulting from the physical, structural and social environments of current dominant male-centred housing models.
Within the physical environment, women described inhabitable housing conditions in SROs with infestations of bedbugs and rats, leading women to even more transitional housing options such as shelters and couch-surfing. In many cases, this resulted in their economic exploitation and increased sexual risk. Within the structural environment, enforcement of curfews and guest policies forced women to accept risky clients to meet curfew, or work outdoors where their ability to negotiate safety and condom use were limited.
These included flexible curfews and being able to bring clients home. The social environments of co-ed single-room occupancy hotels Sex with local women Fairview United States in repeated violence by male residents and discrimination by male building staff. The narratives expressed in this study reveal the critical need for public health interventions and safer supportive housing to for the daily lived experiences of women sex workers. Furthermore, research has shown that marginal housing is not evenly distributed across populations Aidala et al.
The basic shelter of SROs were developed in the s and s for largely male migrant labour workers and the unemployed who would travel to cities in search of work on a short term, temporary basis. As in most cities across North America, these buildings are often centuries old, unkept and unsanitary, with shared bathroom facilities, no kitchen space and rooms averaging ft 2. Yet, popular discourse continues to portray homelessness as a social problem affecting a certain type of person, rather than an economic one related to housing affordability Pascale, The of homeless and marginally housed males far outs the of homeless and marginally housed females Hwang, Among homeless and marginally housed adults, biological sex and gender are among the strongest predictors of poor health Wenzel et al.
The socio-economic and cultural environment of homelessness and marginal housing must be contextualized to understand how gender and power relations structure risk behaviours Bourgois et al. Unstable housing has been found to be independently associated with exchanging sex for money as a means of basic survival Corneil et al.
Epidemiological evidence suggests risks may be amplified for women engaged in sex work in low-income and transitional housing environments Shannon et al. Longitudinal research in Vancouver, Canada found homelessness to be independently associated with increased odds of both client violence Shannon et al, and sexual violence by primary non-commercial partners Duff et al, With a shift towards a more neo-liberal governmentality in many settings, there has been an increased focus on health promotion and prevention, with the responsibility falling on the individual to stay healthy Moore, However, this approach does not acknowledge potential constraints that individuals may face in making choices and negotiating risk Bourgois, ; Moore, To date, most studies evaluating current models of service delivery focus on improving outcomes, decreasing barriers to accessing services and maintaining client retention, while ignoring existing power dynamics between clients and service providers Moore, This qualitative investigation was part of a larger community-based HIV prevention research project, in partnership with local sex work agencies, exploring the HIV risk environment of women in a street-based sex work market.
The development, process and methodologies of this partnership have been described in detail elsewhere Shannon et al. Between May and August,a series of 12 focus group discussions were conducted with 73 women participants in each engaged in sex work. Participants were purposively sampled to reflect a range of lived experiences in different low-income and transitional housing environments that included homeless shelters, transitional housing, co-ed and women-only single-room occupancy SROs hotels. In the overall sample, the median age of women was 38 years interquartile range: years.
Overall, 24 While women reported ificant mobility in housing over the six months, at the time of interviews, 33 All participants identified as women, of whom 6 8. Our thematic analysis drew on all focus group discussions, with our representing key emergent themes and narratives related to gendered risk environments.
As ly described elsewhere Shannon et al.
All focus groups were co-facilitated by a sex worker and community researcher. Discussion groups Sex with local women Fairview United States audiotape recorded, transcribed verbatim and checked for accuracy. Risk is Sex with local women Fairview United States product of the interplay between factors operating across and within physical, social, economic and policy environments Rhodes et al. We also drew on concepts of gender, agency and power in interpreting our. Ethnographic field work with street-level drug users has demonstrated the importance of contextualizing how gender and power relations work to produce and structure negotiation of individual risks shaping HIV transmission Bourgois et al.
Externally imposed power constraints have been shown to impact everyday practices resulting in different levels of risk among populations. Living in co-ed buildings facilitated the development of support systems with other working women that resulted in safer sex work practices. All of the women in the study had current or experiences of living in housing that suffered from poor physical upkeep.
Women described deplorable physical environments, including common infestations, and that they were forced to live with bedbugs, mice, rats and cockroaches. I caught two mice within two weeks under my door, the bedbugs kept multiplying, I swear to god, whatever they were spraying was making them multiply. I mean nobody should have to and the mouse, the mouse droppings and stuff is a cause for illness Participant residing in a women-only shelter referring to a women-only SRO where she ly lived. Women described how their poor health status due to many years on the street was further compromised by high rates of infestations and unsanitary living conditions present in SRO buildings.
There were rats, the place was being renovated and they, anyways, big huge rats in my bathroom, and in my house and I was terrified. Fuck you. When building managers refused to address infestations, women were forced to leave their homes and cycle between homelessness and temporary accommodations. Participant: Way up Participant residing in a women-only shelter.
Housing policies varied across emergency shelters, transition houses and SRO hotels, but most had some regulations surrounding curfews and guests. The enforcement of strict curfews upheld by many residences minimized the abilities of women who sell sex to decide when to work. In residences with strict curfews, women felt that their safety was placed at risk and the policies directly limited their ability to decide when and where to work, causing them to make decisions that negatively impacted upon their safety. Instead of enforced curfews, women favoured a model used by one of the shelters that required residents to check-in with support staff at least once during a hour period.
This type of flexible check-in provided the women staying there with increased agency in deciding when to work and which dates to accept. You just have to make yourself known. Along with the enforcement of curfews, management also enacted policies related to guests visiting the building. Many SROs did not allow any guests at all, while others had complex regulations about who could visit, when, and how often, with many of the rules unclear to the residents. These restrictive guest policies alienated women from their support networks, including friends, family and partners, as well as impacted their work with clients, forcing all of their social interactions onto the street.
Who the f- pardon me, who died and made you god? Participant residing in a co-ed SRO. While technically, servicing clients alone in your own apartment would not contravene these laws, the ambiguity leaves much up to the discretion of managers and building owners in more marginalized housing environments. Some SROs -- often the only option for long-term low-income housing for many of these women-- were particularly known for refusing to house women involved in sex work.
I got two points to make. They may not say that right out front, but no women live in the building Participant residing in a women-only shelter referring to other SROs. I, um, my landlord when he found out I was working he gave me an eviction notice.
Back then, they really put their nose up at you. Women had difficulty in fighting unjust evictions because of their involvement in sex work. Due to the quasi-criminalized nature in which sex work occurs in Canada, under which sex work is largely unregulated and highly policed, many women feared losing their anonymity in a public battle and chose not to pursue legal action, instead returning to transient housing options.
Many of the shelters and SRO hotels available to women were co-ed residences, also housing men. Even when men slept on different floors of the buildings, interactions between residents were common. Women sometimes relied on emergency shelters to escape from unhealthy relationships and felt vulnerable to falling back into these same patterns of abuse and exploitation when staying in co-ed buildings.
Women felt vulnerable to violence and sexual assault when staying in co-ed residences and described feeling unsafe around male residents. These narratives of violence and sexual exploitation were associated with co-ed SRO environments. Women also described experiences of discrimination by male building staff, some who differentially enforced policies for men and women, particularly when women were suspected of being sex workers.
These dominant male-centred housing models shaped gendered risk environments by placing women in positions of powerlessness and further reinforcing gender inequities. Policies enforced in attempts to prevent women from doing sex work, such as asking guests of female residents to display IDs, reinforce the stigmatization of sex workers and increase their vulnerability to violence and exploitation.
The social contexts of these women-only spaces afforded the development of personal friendships and informal peer supportive networks with other working women. By living together in women-only spaces, women described getting to know each other on a more personal level than they were able to while working on the street. These peer support mechanisms also acted as informal safety strategies with women looking out for each other.
By developing peer support mechanisms in their living environment, women were then able to carry those relationships out to the streets when working. As women got to know and trust each other, they more freely exchanged information about bad dates and were more likely to work together in groups.
While these peer support networks formed an important safety strategy, the majority of women were still forced to see clients on the street due to strict guest policies, and restrictions by management to bringing clients indoors. While these women-only shelters and SROs provided largely temporary spaces that facilitated peer networks, women also described the critical need for removal of strict guest policies on bring dates indoors to support their agency and control in negotiating safety and risk reduction with clients in indoor environments. The lack of supportive guest policies and curfews in many of these buildings, coupled with the temporary nature, limited the ability of these housing environments to fully mitigate the gendered risk environments faced by women sex workers in their daily lives.
The women in this study shared ongoing experiences of marginalization, sexual and economic exploitation and increased safety risks produced and reproduced by the gendered risk environments of the dominant male-centred housing models.
At the macro level, there is an urgent need to ensure that available housing meets basic minimum standards. The United Nations has stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that every person has the right to safe and secure housing, and that this housing must be habitable United Nations, Women in our study described a lack of options for habitable low-income housing in Vancouver and a lack of recourse for management to improve these deplorable housing conditions.
The poor physical environments that shaped risks were further compounded by the gendered risk environment of largely male-dominant housing models, in which women were vulnerable to sexual exploitation and violence by male building staff and residents, and feared disclosure of sex work due to current quasi-criminalized nature of prostitution. When leaving uninhabitable spaces, women returned to situations of homelessness or temporary housing, such as couch-surfing. Research has shown that this pattern of unstable housing is associated with chronic stress, where daily survival is prioritized over efforts to reduce HIV risks Aidala et al.
Substance-using women entrenched in poverty, including women in this study, typically avoid absolute homelessness by finding places to stay, increasing their powerlessness and vulnerability to sexual and economic exploitation Maher et al. Women who stayed with friends or acquaintances felt financially exploited, findings which have been mirrored in other research where women reported feeling pressured to provide drugs or sexual favours in return for temporary accommodation Dickson-Gomez et al. In other qualitative studies, women often described these friends as older men, further reinforcing gender-power inequities Shannon et al.
These highlight the human rights and public health imperative of ensuring access to safe and secure housing.
The narratives of the male-centred housing models describe a symbolic violence Bourdieu, where female subordination to existing policies combined with pervasive messaging about individual-level harm reduction strategies work to reproduce risk and normalize violence Bourgois et al. Women describe how these policies within their own homes force them to rush sexual transactions to meet curfew and service clients in outdoor public spaces, ly associated with elevated violence Shannon et al. Whereas a neo-liberal governmentality advocates for less government involvement, individuals living in poverty who seek government interventions, such as welfare and housing, actually face increased regulations Pollack, Instead, the current ambiguity of the laws in Canada leave the door open to discretionary and exploitative policies adopted by managers and business owners and differentially applied to the most marginalized.
Within dominant male-centred housing models, women in our study describe experiencing violence and sexual exploitation, as well as being more vulnerable to developing highly gendered relationships with other male residents. Normalized violence in street-based cultures often le women to enter into relationships with older men for protection, as a rational, economic and safety strategy in the face of gendered and structural constraints Shannon et al.
These relationships can be physically abusive and economically exploitative, with romantic discourses surrounding love overshadowing gender-power imbalances Bourgois et al. In dominant male-centred street ideology, women may be placed into subordinate positions Epele,The choice becomes one of tolerating physical violence from a boyfriend or facing repeated sexual harassment and exploitation from other male acquaintances Bourgois et al. Paradoxically, the protection sought from a partner may result in higher levels of physical violence, whereas single women Sex with local women Fairview United States avoid the pervasiveness of domestic abuse while simultaneously facing greater risks from others by being alone Epele, Qualitative interviews with homeless women have found that what women desire is both autonomy and protection from further victimization Padget et al.
The lived experiences of women-only spaces offer a critical opportunity to develop models that counter the gendered risk environment of the dominant male-centred housing models. Instead, the environment of women-only spaces fostered the development of peer relationships and informal support networks among sex workers.
There are several limitations to this study that should be taken into consideration. Although a purposive sample was used to ensure a representation of different ages and low-income and transitional housing models, the experiences represented in our sample may not be representative of all street-based sex workers in low-income, transitional housing.Sex with local women Fairview United States
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