Frequently Asked Questions

1. Isn’t sex work illegal?

  • Sex work has never been illegal in Canada. However, it is illegal to communicate for the purposes of prostitution in a public place, to own or operate a bawdy house, to live off the avails of prostitution, to transport a person to a bawdy house, and to procure someone to become a prostitute.
  • It is an offense to obtain or to communicate for the purpose of obtaining the sexual services of any person under 18 for consideration, so solicitation of a prostitute who is a minor is always illegal. It is no defense to say that the accused believed the complainant was 18 years old.

For more info on laws in Canada related to sex work, go to The Law.


2. Why are you focusing on health and safety for sex workers?

  • Street-level sex workers face extremely high rates of violence. A 2005 Vancouver study with street-level sex workers found that 90% had been physically assaulted in sex work, 78% had been raped in sex work, and 72% met the criteria for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  • There is an increasing level of violence experienced by sex workers in the last decade in Vancouver.
  • Sex workers working off-street are less likely to face violence than those working on the street. A study with indoor sex workers in Vancouver found that 63% of the study participants—who work in massage parlors, for escort agencies or independently out of their homes—have never experienced violent behavior.
  • Street-level sex workers have a higher risk for HIV/AIDS transmission. In 2007, the MAKA Project in Vancouver found that drug-use, working in public spaces, working away from main streets because of policing and violence from clients makes it more difficult for street-level sex workers to negotiate condom use with clients.
  • Homelessness and inability to access drug treatment is associated with an increase in physical and client-perpetrated violence for female street-level sex workers.


3. How many sex workers are there in Collingwood?

  • SAFE does not keep any records on the sex workers we provide outreach services to.  Nobody knows with accuracy how many sex workers operate in any neighbourhood, as this demographic info is not included in our census counts. Some estimates have approximated 2,000 sex workers in Vancouver but this is debated to be an undercount.


4. What if I have a concern about a Sex Worker who is working near my child’s school?

Sex workers often feel threatened and may be scared of you too.

  • Acknowledge the sex worker’s presence
  • Be respectful
  • Explain your concerns
  • Politely ask them to find a different place to stand

Sex workers are often parents too, and are usually agreeable to moving when they understand there is a concern and are approached politely.


5. What is “Trafficking”?

  • Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Definition: “Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction of fraud, of deception of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability, or of the giving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation”.
  • Trafficking in persons is not the same as sex work. Trafficking happens for many purposes (sex work, domestic work, factory labour), and not all sex work involves deception, violence or exploitation.

6. Do you have demographic information on sex workers in Vancouver?

  • Demographic information tells us that 5-20% of sex work takes place on the street. The remainder occurs through independent escort agencies and in massage parlours, private residences, brothels, bars, clubs, trick pads, and bathhouses.
  • Both men and women are engaged in sex work. An estimated 75-80% of sex workers are female, and between 25-30% of sex workers are male and transgendered.
  • Sex workers come from all ages, ethnicities, educational and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Aboriginal women are highly overrepresented in visible sex work among women. In a 2005 study, 52% of women working in the lowest paying tracks in Vancouver were young, Aboriginal women. Generally, Aboriginal people make up only 1.7-7% of the population.
  • Street-level sex workers have extremely high rates of sexual abuse. A 2005 study with Vancouver street-level sex workers found that 82% reported a history of childhood sexual abuse, by an average of four perpetrators.


7. What about the johns? Who is buying sex from sex workers?

  • Almost all sex buyers are male. Of the participants in a 2010 study, 99.4% of sex buyers were male.
  • A 2010 study found that sex buyers come from all educational, ethnic, occupational backgrounds, ages and all sexual orientations.
  • Sex buyers fear the stigma, persecution and prosecution associated with buying sex. A 2010 study found that 80% of sex buyers actively attempted to hide their sex buying from others and that they experienced some degree of anxiety or worry at the thought of being “outed” as sex buyers.


8. I’m concerned about sex work happening in my neighbourhood – how can I express my concerns?

  • The open sex trade was identified as a concern for several neighbourhoods in Vancouver during the Cityplan and Community Visions processes carried out by the City of Vancouver. Specifically, impacts of the street-level sex trade were identified by the communities of Hastings Sunrise, Sunset, Renfrew-Collingwood and Mt. Pleasant. Sex acts in cars and public places, traffic from people looking for prostitutes, loud arguments, condoms on streets and schoolyards where kids might play with them, and concerns about the safety of workers were all identified through these community processes .
  • Most residents and businesses support safer working conditions for street level sex workers. In a 2009 survey, all residents and businesses of Strathcona and the Downtown Eastside agreed that street prostitution is more dangerous than other high-risk jobs, and that sex workers need safe working conditions.
  • SAFE strives to address health and safety for everyone in Collingwood. If you have concerns or ideas for solutions, we’d like to hear from you. Call SAFE at 604-435-0323.


9. What is community development and why is that important for this issue?

  • Community development that is asset-based, focused on the internal needs of the community and relationship driven has been shown to be more effective in creating social change
  • Effective community processes must empower individuals, as well as community-based organizations if efforts to solve community-based problems are to be sustainable .
  • Processes that engage citizens and stakeholders creatively in dialogue, deliberation, shared reflection and action to improve the conditions and capacities of their community are key to creating vibrant sustainable communities.