Sex Work 101

There is a real lack of understanding about sex work and the laws surrounding it in our community. This lack of understanding helps perpetuate myths and stereotypes, which in turn leads to stigma and discrimination. Part of our mission at Peers is to provide sex workers, their families, potential donors and volunteers, and the public at large with accurate information about the sex industry so that we can design effective service and advocacy for the diverse people involved and associated with the sex industry. Below we have attached some easy to read “primers” that provide some insight into these issues.

People who sell sexual services:  This primer provides some basic information about who works in the sex industry, and for what reasons. The purpose is to debunk many of the myths and stereotypes about people working in the sex industry by providing a more complex and nuanced picture.

People who purchase sexual services: This document provides some of what we know about the general characteristics of people who purchase sexual services as well as their reasons for doing so.

People who work as managers in the sex industry: This primer unpacks some of the many stereotypes that exist about the people who help manage the sex industry.

Canadian laws and the sex industry:  This primer clarifies the different legal models dealing with prostitution worldwide. It provides a short history of evolving prostitution laws and reforms in Canada.

Stigma and the sex industry: This primer explains what stigma is, and how it impacts the health and well-being of sex workers. Some academic research is drawn on to explain how stigma can have a direct impact on the health and welfare of people who are stigmatised.

Health and the sex industry: This primer talks about the physical, mental, and emotional health of people working in the sex industry, including some of the health problems that are common in the industry, and why.

For footnote references for the above PDF documents, please click here.

We would like to thank Cecilia Benoit and the rest of the research team working on the project entitled, “Team Grant on contexts of vulnerabilities, resiliencies and care among people in the sex industry” for providing us with the above primers. More information about that project, and the original files can be found at:

For deeper reading please read some of these reports, articles, and academic papers that touch on different aspects of the sex industry.

10 Ways to Explain Prostitution Law Reform to Your Constituents (2014):  This document tackles some of the common questions and concerns people have when thinking about reforming prostitution laws and particularly what it would mean for Canada to move toward a decriminalization model. The Pivot Legal Society has written extensively on this subject so please visit their site if wanting more information.

A Guide to Occupational Health and Safety in the New Zealand Sex Industry (2004):  These guidelines for sex work in New Zealand (where sex work is 100% decriminalized) are based on those developed by the Scarlet Alliance, an Australian forum for sex workers’ rights organisations, and the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations titled A Guide to Best Practice: Occupational Health and Safety in the Australian Sex Industry, compiled by David Edler.

After Bedford: Developing a Health and Safety Framework for Sex Workers and Canadian Communities (2014):   This document considers the 2010 Bedford ruling and the implications it has for law reform in Canada. It focuses specifically on the idea of moving toward decriminalization.

Behind Closed Doors: Summary of Findings (2008):   This report is a summary of a research project that looked at the working conditions and specific opportunities and challenges associated with indoor sex work. This report provides insights into a highly secretive but well-developed industry that employs thousands of British Columbians.

Briefing Note—Bill C-36 (2014):   This document provides an analysis of the recent changes to the criminal code regarding prostitution laws in Canada. It considers the impact of criminalizing the purchase of sexual services.

Dispelling Myths and Understanding Realities: Working Conditions, Health Status, and Exiting (2001):   This report looks at the sex trade from a work perspective and considers how a person’s sex work location (e.g., escort agency, independent home-based or street-based) shapes their health, safety, and well-being in distinct ways.

Impossible Eh? The Story of Peers (2001):   This is the story about the beginnings of Peers Victoria and its early history.

Is Anyone Listening? A Gender Analysis of Sex Trade Work (2000):   With support from Status of Women Canada, Peers conducted a gender-based analysis of the sex trade, looking at how the experiences of men and women are different and similar in the trade.

Making Sex Work Safe (2011):   This report aims to stimulate and guide rights-based responses to HIV that respect and involve sex workers, using an international perspective.

Managing Sex Work: Information for Third Parties and Sex Workers in the Incall and Outcall Sectors of the Sex Industry (2014):   This is one of the first studies in Canada focusing on the often overlooked role of third parties in the Canadian Sex Industry. This includes such peoples as managers, receptionists, website developers, drivers, and the like.  The authors explore how third parties are affected by the law, why sex workers choose to work with third parties, and the various organizational models that exist.

Pimps, Managers and Other Third Parties: Making Distinctions Between Third parties and Exploitation (2014):   This document considers how laws impact people who work with, and for, sex workers.

Sex Work—14 Answers to Your Questions (2007):   This booklet is intended for social services and health professionals, police officers and community workers, as well as people from the media, the justice system or the government. Its purpose is to shed light on some preconceived ideas about sex work and to suggest a few ways to improve services offered to these women and to support them in a respectful and empathic way.

Sex Workers Addressing Treatment (2010):   This paper explores barriers and challenges to successful substance misuse treatment for sex workers. It describes the development and evaluation of an innovative sex-worker-specific treatment model that shows promise for reducing the harms incurred through substance misuse and sex work. The research was conducted by the Canadian National Coalition of Experiential Women (CNCEW), which developed the treatment program in conjunction with Peers.

The Peers Story: Effective Services Sidestep the Controversies (2004):   This article is based on the findings of three community action research projects conducted by Jannit Rabinovitch in collaboration with sex workers in Victoria between 1996 and 2001. It explains how Peers’ success stems in part from the involvement of sex workers in the planning, development, and delivery of its programs and services and in part from sidestepping the controversies that destroyed many sex trade worker organizations.

Trade Secrets for Sex Industry Workers (n.d.):   This is a guide created and written by sex workers. It provides information about workers lived experiences; these experiences inform recommendations for best practices for operating in the industry.

What Canada Can Learn from Sweden’s laws that Criminalize the Purchase of Sexual Services (2014):   This article provides a summary of what the “Swedish Model” of prostitution law looks like, and what it may look like for Canada given recent law reforms.

Why Decriminalization is Consistent with Public Health Goals (2014):   This document looks at the direct impact legislation has on the health and well-being of sex workers with a focus on decriminalization.

Work on the Hill: A Guide to Getting Involved in the Legislative Processes that Impact on Our Lives (2014):   This document is written for sex workers and their allies to help better advocate for law reform.

Bill C-36 Are There Protections for Sex Workers Under Existing Labour Legislation (2015): This document examines the extent to which sex workers can access existing labour legislation, including questions of whether they are contractors or employees.  The document also addresses how the prostitution legislation recently adopted by Bill C-36 creates barriers to potential labour protections for sex workers in Canada.