What are some of the biggest misperceptions about sex work?

Some of the biggest misconceptions about sex work is that everyone involved is forced into it, has a history of sexual abuse, and/or was first forced into it at a young age. In reality, the reasons people end up doing sex work are incredibly varied and for most of the women who access services at WISH it is a necessity. Many people also believe that participating in sex work is inherently degrading and dangerous. It is actually, however, the stigma held against sex workers and the laws that are supposed to protect sex workers that create conditions leaving sex workers more vulnerable to violence and exploitation.

Why does WISH work only with sex workers and not all women?

WISH only works with sex workers because sex workers face particular barriers when accessing support or services. Many places can be dismissive or openly hostile towards sex workers. Other services are, simply, not open or available during hours that sex workers require them (such as overnight hours). WISH provides critical non-judgmental services to a marginalized population with a particular expertise on the needs of this population. Women are able to openly seek support that respects their choices, and are responsive to their particular needs.

Does WISH support the abolition of sex work?

No. Harsher regulations around sex work will not improve the situation of the women who access services at WISH. Research shows, criminalizing sex work isolates sex workers pushing them into the shadows and usually into an adversarial relationship with law enforcement making accessing support extremely difficult and sometimes dangerous.

Does WISH support Trans women?

Yes. WISH supports self-identified women (including cis and trans women) and gender diverse or gender non-confirming people who have traded sex. We recognize that trans women are women and, further, recognize that the particular stigma, barriers and violence that trans, Two-Spirit and gender diverse sex workers face can often be more extreme and targeted than other groups face. Since we take an intersectional approach to supporting sex workers – considering how race and gender intersect to create additional barriers – we seek to make WISH a safe haven for all sex working women.

What is the difference between WISH and other community organizations for women?

WISH works closely and in collaboration with other women-serving organizations in the Downtown Eastside. That collaboration includes recognition of our various mandates and different types of expertise. When a sex worker seeks support at WISH, she knows the other women in the space understand her experiences first-hand, as do many of the staff. She is able to get direct, candid, and appropriate information in order to make decisions about her health and safety. She will come into a caring community environment that will support her own self-determined healthy choices.

What is your hope for the women who visit WISH’s Drop-In Centre or interact with the MAP Van?

That they are treated with respect and dignity: all the time and able to access opportunities resulting in free and healthy choices.

Are the women who access services at WISH trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation?

No. The vast majority of women who access services at WISH participate in the sex industry by choice. However, we also recognize that choice exists within a continuum and is deeply impacted by inequitable access to opportunities and inequitable access to “choice”, itself. Most of the sex workers we support at WISH are made vulnerable by considerable systemic barriers such as extreme poverty, precarious housing or homelessness, ongoing trauma, mental health issues, substance use issues, ongoing impacts of colonization and residential schools, stigma, gender-based and sexualized violence, and by racism and discrimination. These systemic barriers mean that most are resorting to street-based sex work as means of survival.

Understandably, much of WISH’s work is as much about addressing socio-economic issues such as poverty, housing, safe drug supply, and gender-based violence, as it is about addressing issues of sex work and sex worker rights.

Some of the women who access WISH have reported being coerced into performing sexual labour at one time. A larger number have reported being trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation as youth.

It is exceptionally rare that someone comes to WISH and identifies themselves as a victim of sex trafficking. If they do, we would immediately refer them to appropriate supports.

What is the difference between sex work and trafficking?  

Sex work is the exchange of sexual services for money, goods, or other resources and takes place between consenting adults without coercion or force. Trafficking is when someone is forced or coerced into participating in some kind of labour against their will. Trafficking is frequently associated with sexual exploitation. People are trafficked into many industries, including agriculture and domestic work. Some people are trafficked into sex work.

The common conflation of consensual adult sex work and trafficking results in assumptions that sex workers need to be rescued, regardless of whether they choose to engage in sex work. There are many dangers in conflating sex work with sex trafficking, you can read more about them here: https://www.swanvancouver.ca/anti-trafficking-campaigns