This nation-wide study examined victimization in Canadian off-street commercial sex. Working in collaboration with sex workers, I recruited 109 adult women, men and transgender sex workers to take part in a self-administered survey, and I interviewed 42 sex workers. The survey focused on rates of several forms of violence, including threats, threats with weapons, assault, sexual assault, and confinement. Other forms of victimization included: theft, harassment, the refusal to use condoms, refusal to pay full price for services provided, and pressure to provide sexual activities beyond the worker's service parameters. Participants identified the perpetrators of their victimization—clients, co-workers, bosses, police, significant others—and the frequency with which they experienced victimization. In addition, I collected biographical information and data on risk management, crime reporting practices, and the real and perceived effects of criminal, family, taxation, and immigration laws.My participants described a wide range of experiences in several types of off-street commercial sex work, including adult film, exotic dance, online adult entertainment, and fetish-related erotic labour. A majority of the participants reported never experiencing violence in the course of their sex work (68% or 74 of 109 participants). While victimization occurs in the off-street sex industry, the findings demonstrate that violence is not inherent to commercial sex exchanges. Consequently, to reduce the types and frequency of violence experienced by off-street sex workers, we need to understand the individual, contextual, and structural factors that lead to varying levels of victimization in different sectors of the sex industry. In this dissertation, I outline the existing evidence on victimization in off-street sex work and then I present the evidence gained through this study. I explain the legal implications of the findings and demonstrate how this evidence contrasts with the assumptions that form the basis of criminalization policies in Canada and globally. Finally, I describe sex workers’ recommendations to increase safety and reduce stigma in the sex industry. My participants challenged dominant and oppressive discourses about their work and suggested that the Canadian commercial sex industry is diverse and complex. Our policy responses ought to reflect a nuanced understanding of victimization in commercial sex.
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Thesis advisor: Lowman, John
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