The sex trade industry is broad and encompasses a variety of activities including escort services, street-level sex workers, pornography, exotic dancing, massage, internet work, phone sex operators and third-party support (drivers, managers, bartenders etc.)
For some people, sex work stems from a background of poverty, addiction, lack of education and abuse. A significant number of sex workers are survivors of sexual abuse including rape, sexual assault and incest. Additionally, many sex workers have been part of the child welfare system (adoption, foster care, juvenile detention) in their youth or childhood.
For some people, however, becoming a sex worker is a conscious and informed act or choice; this is particularly true for people engaged in higher-end work including exotic dancing, pornography and private escort services.
Sex work, and therefore sex workers, are often victimized and marginalized. Violence against sex workers is continual and for women working on the street especially the fear of kidnapping, rape, physical assault, theft and harassment is constant. Despite sex work being mostly legal in Canada, moralization of sex work – especially as it pertains to women – often causes problems and leads to arrests and harassments. Businesses and neighbourhoods may protest visibility of street level sex work in the area, leading police to conduct sweeps.
Some people experiencing homelessness turn to sex work as means of staying alive or obtaining the necessities of life. Known as “survival sex” this includes the exchange of sex for money, as well as food, clothing, shelter or a place to stay. This is particularly common amongst female street youth, but also affects men, women and transgendered individuals of all ages.
See the Sex Trade topic for more information.