Unique report sheds light on risks faced by sex workers in parts of BC

APR. 12, 2023

Unique report sheds light on risks faced by sex workers in parts of BC 

Xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səl̓ilwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh)/Vancouver, B.C. — A 100% sex worker-developed and sex worker-run report is shedding light on the unique needs and risks faced by sex workers in the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island.  

The By Us, For Us (BUFU) report is the first of its size in the area, surveying more than 200 sex workers. The research project was undertaken in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic and the criminalization of sex work, and set against backgrounds of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a national inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), and a public health overdose crisis.  

Some of the major themes to emerge from the report include:   

  • Risks and unique needs faced by sex workers with intersecting oppressions   
  • Need for diverse harm-reporting and justice systems  
  • Risks of violence experienced by sex workers   
  • Need for robust government response to the overdose crisis  
  • Need for mental health supports  

The report identifies the need for a robust government response—like the response to COVID-19—to the overdose crisis, including raising income assistance and disability rates to COVID-19 support levels. And, because of a general distrust of police among sex workers, there is a need for diverse ways for sex workers to report the harms they experience. 

At a glance: 
  • 73% of sex workers surveyed were living with disabilities 
  • 60% were worried about a loved one overdosing  
  • 46% had difficulties paying for food   
  • 45% were Indigenous   
  • 35% were not safely housed   
  • 29% had dependents   

The report was developed and written by the Metro Vancouver Consortium, a rights-based and sex work-positive collaboration between multiple sex worker rights organizations and service providers who provide a wide range of programming to people in the sex industry in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. 

Government calls to action: 

  1. Decriminalize sex work.
  2. Follow-through on stable, long-term funding for the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Call for Justice.
  3. Increase disability assistance rates to match the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), issued by the government of Canada in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Urgent, compassionate approaches and responses to the overdose crisis.
  5. Increase availability, access to, and facilities of public washrooms.
  6. Funding for experiential frontline workers providing support to sex workers who have experienced harm.


“This was a first-of-its-kind, 100% experientially led, highly adaptable process in which the participants and researchers identified ways to meet needs and minimize risks for diverse sex workers in the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island.” – Sylvia Machat, Lead Evaluator 

“Sex workers with intersecting oppressions such as living with disabilities, Indigenous background, gender minority identity, or being a person of colour face unique needs and risks such as higher needs for mental health supports, specific care needs for Indigenous sex workers, risk of homophobic or transphobic violence for men and gender minority sex workers, and added risks of racist aggression or violence towards people of colour. Further, income and disability assistance rates need to be raised immediately to COVID-era support levels to reduce the added risks that people in poverty or living with disabilities are forced to take on to make ends meet.” – Spencer Johnston, Program Manager/Community Engagement, Health Initiative for Men 

Sex workers have been telling us their needs for decades, and now we have robust data and approaches to systemic change for all levels of government to act on. Sex workers’ safety, needs, and well-being must be centred in all systemic, health, legal, and policy changes that impact sex workers’ lives. This report validates that sex workers’ rights are human rights, that decriminalization of sex work must be at the forefront of systemic changes that take place at all levels of government, and that support organizations must shift their practices to include sex workers’ needs” – nour kachouh, Co-Executive Director, PACE Society

“We’re encouraged to see such rich data and information that validates much of what we know and hear anecdotally from sex workers. It’s also a clear and distinct reminder that sex worker rights are fundamental human rights. Many of the calls to action in this report align with those of other sectors and segments of the community. This is a clear invitation for all of us to pay attention to, and advance the rights of, sex workers across BC.” – Mebrat Beyene, Executive Director, WISH Drop-In Centre Society 

Read the full By Us, For Us: A needs and risks assessment of sex workers in the Lower Mainland and Southern Vancouver Island here

For more information and to arrange interviews, please contact Lisa Akinyi May at 236-886-7646, [email protected]