Canadian study shows harms of 'end demand' laws

Source (institute/publication)
Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity (CGSHE) at the University of British Columbia, and University of Ottawa

'End demand' legislation, which criminalises the purchase of sex and third parties, impedes sex workers’ ability to seek police assistance when they are in danger, according to a new study from the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity (CGSHE) at the University of British Columbia, and University of Ottawa.

The study draws on data from a community-based research project with sex workers in five cities across Canada. It highlights the serious harms to sex workers, including disproportionate harms to Indigenous sex workers, caused by an 'end demand' approach. The Canadian government implemented 'end demand' legislation in 2014.

“The ‘end demand’ criminalisation framework reproduces many of the same life-threatening harms to sex workers as previous criminal laws. We see this most explicitly with the experiences reported by Indigenous street-based sex workers. Our research shows that the laws urgently need to be changed,” said Dr. Anna-Louise Crago, PhD, first author, CGSHE Project Lead, and Banting Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Ottawa.

The study found that almost one third (31%) of sex workers report being unable to call 911 due to fear of police detection of themselves, their co-workers, or their managers. Indigenous sex workers are twice as likely to report being unable to call 911.

“’End demand’ legislation forces sex workers to choose between foregoing access to police protection in a safety emergency and putting themselves, their co-workers or their managers in potential legal jeopardy,” Dr. Crago explained. “This criminalisation framework was justified as necessary to protect the most marginalised in the sex industry and to assist sex workers in reporting violence against them. But our data demonstrate that the legislation has clearly failed to achieve its stated goals.”

The study also offers the first known data in Canada on who is helping sex workers escape situations of violence and confinement. The most commonly reported source of assistance was other sex workers (40.5%), followed by friends, family or partners (29.7%), and clients (24.3%). Police were one of the least reported sources of assistance, at 5.4%. 

"Law and policy reform are urgently requireds, said senior author, Dr. Kate Shannon, PhD, Professor of Social Medicine and Executive Director of CGSHE at UBC. “This research highlights the urgent need to recognize the harms of the “end demand” criminalisation framework on sex workers and the immediate need for law and police reform.” Dr. Shannon said the findings call for urgent policy recommendations, including full decriminalisation of sex work and an immediate end to the targeting of sex workers by police and the practice of police carding and street stops linked to racial and social profiling.

You can read more about the study on the Centre for Gender & Sexual Health Equity's website.

For more research on the impact of 'end demand' legislation, see NSWP's Policy Brief: The Impact of ‘End Demand’ Legislation on Women Sex Workers.