Harm Reduction

I apologize to anyone who may still be curious about this blog. It’s been near an entire year since I’ve posted, for a number of reasons. First have been some challenges with my health. Nothing terribly serious, but I do have Crohn’s Disease and had a flare-up almost three years ago. It’s currently under control and 95% stable with Remicade (infliximab) treatment, but there are times when I’ve eaten something that disagrees with me vehemently and it takes me a few days to get back to normal. Accompanying the Crohn’s is a form of inflammatory arthritis that we Crohn’s patients are susceptible to, and the closer I get to treatment date the more it starts to bother me. Living in a temperate rainforest climate does make it uncomfortable at times but for the most part Tylenol and a natural anti-inflammatory called Infla-Heal Plus from New Roots Herbal keep it largely under control. Then – yes, there’s more – I’m still getting used to living with tinnitus, which started about 18 months ago, possibly linked to flying with a sinus infection which also spread to an ear infection. These days it doesn’t bother me quite as much as I am able to tune it out most of the time, but after a long day at work in front of a computer monitor under fluorescent lights, there are days when it overwhelms me. And then I have to continue the thesis writing process in spite of it.

The second main reason I haven’t posted in so long is mostly due to more mundane reasons: working. I took on a teaching assistant position this spring and also had my regular job which has nothing to do at all with my thesis or my education, but it’s been busy in our industry and lately have been putting more hours in at the office.

Yet I can say that there has been progress. I am working on re-framing my current draft, and in doing so with my supervisors we have been able to uncover the main elements of my project I wish to discuss and start re-organizing the draft into a more coherent format.

One of the biggest realizations I’ve had during the whole research and writing process of my damn thesis – yes, that’s how I refer to it now – is that the concept of harm reduction is applicable not only to the issues of addiction in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) and other “inner city” areas of Greater Vancouver (e.g. Surrey, where I live). Harm reduction is a principle that can be easily extended to the challenges of women involved in sex work in our communities, and this is one of the main elements that is coming to light in my research. (Because my own work experience and the bulk of the research available examines women working in the sex trade, I am not ignoring the young men who have chosen sex work as their option, it simply has not been part of my work and research.)

Harm reduction is working in terms of Vancouver’s policies regarding addiction. The InSite safe injection site’s reports have shown that Vancouver’s injection drug users are being helped; users have been treated for overdose by the on-site medical staff, people ready to stop have been referred to treatment and rehab programs, which then gets them in to housing and job training services.

Using this model, then, we could well expect similar successes for women who are still involved in sex work but who may not be ready to exit. Providing them with a safe environment and conditions in which to work, programs and services that do not require them to stop working immediately (e.g. counselling, job readiness, primary health care, self-defence & safety training), and outreach services in areas during the hours when most women are likely to be working (i.e. the MAP van by PACE and WISH, the Maka Project), are ways in which service providers can connect with these women and start to build trust and relationships.

In my last post I talked about working with women “where they are”, and I realized that I meant that literally as well as figuratively. Since that post, I was contacted by Andy Fiore of Fiore Films for a documentary he is working on about survival sex work in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. One of the questions he asked me was whether I was in favour of a “red light” district for Vancouver. At first I wasn’t sure how to answer that; I want the women working in the sex trade to be safe, to be protected from violence, and safe from harassment whether by people on the street or from the police.

But the reality is that it doesn’t matter; young women I’ve worked with have confirmed that sex work still goes on, whether at street level or in indoor venues in Vancouver such as strip clubs, “gentlemen’s clubs”, and the “entertainment district” downtown. One need only turn to the classified section just past the Sports section of the Vancouver Province newspaper to see all the “business personals” advertisements including exotic massage, bodysage, and “outcalls”.

The argument over whether Vancouver should allow sex work to occur is moot; it’s already here and has been for a long time. Moving it to a restricted geographical area is no solution if there is no means of ensuring the safety of the women who are still choosing to work in the sex trade.

Harm reduction can work for those who wish to get out of sex work but aren’t sure how to do it. Service providers can connect with women and help them to identify what they need in order to get out, without pressuring them that they have to get out. Trust me, these women know there’s a better way. Whether it’s supporting women to have safer working practices and environments, or to assist them to find a new way to support themselves and their families, we need leadership and policies that show people that at-risk and disenfranchised women in our communities are valued and protected.


About Kelly Bohl

Graduate student with a day job who enjoys great cafes, exploring restaurants, and the best diners. When I'm not out sampling great dishes at our restaurants, I'm engaged in testing various recipes to make my own great dishes at home.
This entry was posted in At-Risk People, Prostitution and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Harm Reduction

  1. Great heavens, Kelly Bohl! Well, it’s been a long time no hear, really sorry to hear of your health problems, but absolutely terrific to have your blog back. You’re not being exactly non-judgemental though, are you? Surely the important thing is that women (or men) are free to get in to or out of sex work, and that society cares no less about their health and safety than that of any other worker should they choose sex work.

    Working among survival sex workers, you will no doubt be very aware of the constraints on choice that most if not all had when embarking on sex work. Their situations, however, would still have existed if sex work didn’t, so surely it follows that for each individual, survival sex work is a symptom rather than a problem in itself, indeed at one level it could be seen as a means of addressing their problems, albeit in the short term and at high risk.

    Harm reduction would be optimally achieved if it was able, non-judgementally, to address those entering sex work on means of minimising risk.

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