AIDS, Monkeypox, Palermo, & the Erasure of Sex Workers in Canadian Health Care

During a recent conversation with veteran Vancouver sex worker activist, Susan Davis, we touched on a few hot topics in Canadian Health Care: the continual erasure of sex workers from important Canadian preventive health strategies, such as AIDS and Monkeypox.

We also discussed how the UN Palermo Protocol plans to eliminate human trafficking, and how the decriminalization of consensual adult sex work worldwide can easily become a shared reality one day.

I was surprised to hear Susan tell me that at the AIDS Conference, sex workers were completely overlooked as a distinct Priority Group; instead we were relegated to the catch-all term, “others.”  

Erasure of Sex Workers in the Health Sector

Susan mentioned that this type of erasure of sex workers in the health sector is happening all across the country; sex workers are not being identified among other at-risk community groups, such as the LGTBQIA2+ community, and are therefore denied access to timely, and potentially life-saving, medical care.

One example is the 5-year accelerated Sexually Transmitted and Bloodborne Infections (STBBI) Action Plan (Canada’s AIDS Response Plan), where sex workers are not mentioned on the front page; in fact, we only appear in the footnotes as consulted organizations. 

It seems the government wants us to consult on these policies, but they choose not to protect us with them.

Exclusion of Sex Workers in Vaccine Strategies

It’s a similar story with Monkeypox here in Vancouver.  At first, the only sex workers included in the Monkeypox vaccine strategy were trans, gay, bisexual, or other men who have sex with men.  And that’s only because the LGTBQIA2+ community is prioritized as a distinct Priority Group, but sex workers, specifically, are excluded.  

Later, the health authority expanded the vaccination program to non-cis women sex workers, then eventually to all women sex workers.

The Future of Sex Work: Decriminalization & Anti-Trafficking Organizations

Our last topic of discussion was about the UN Palermo Protocol plans to reduce the demand for goods and services made by trafficked people, and how working towards that while also working towards the worldwide decriminalization of consensual adult sex work would be a benefit to all.

Susan expanded, if sex work is decriminalized, and neither sex workers nor clients/consumers face penalties for engaging in these consensual business activities, it will create a climate where it’s easier for us to report child abuse or other sex trafficking activities we may discover in the course of our day.  

The volunteer power that the sex work community could provide to anti-trafficking organizations would absolutely help make all our neighbourhoods – and the vulnerable at-risk people who live there – so much safer.