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Interviewing Sex Workers

You’re a journalist. You have a tight deadline. How will you interview a sex worker in the next couple of hours? 

You probably won’t.

Including sex workers’ voices in your stories is crucial to combatting misinformation, bias, stereotypes and other harms to their community. However, because many aspects of sex work is still criminalized and highly stigmatized in society, the risk to sex workers is often too steep to agree to an interview. How then can journalists do the responsible thing when writing about sex work?

Check out SWAN’s resource on why a journalist’s language matters in sex work reporting.

See here for a resource on how journalistic representation directly affects im/migrant women engaged in sex work. 

What can affect a sex worker’s decision to speak with a journalist?

There can be many barriers to engaging with the media for sex workers, including: 

  • Risk of criminalization — There are still many ways that sex work is criminalized under Canada’s partial decriminalization model. This leaves sex workers in a vulnerable position where any exposure can lead to unwanted attention from law enforcement.
  • Risk of deportation — For sex workers with precarious or no legal status in Canada, involvement in sex work is completely prohibited. For this group, drawing attention to their livelihood could mean being forcibly removed from the country.
  • Loss of income — Any detention or deportation could result in an inability to pay bills and/or support dependents, like children or aging parents. 
  • Exposure to (increased) discrimination and/or threats to safety — Media exposure could increase the risk of sex workers experiencing discrimination and/or violence. Due to stigma against sex work in society, sex workers may not be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. Additionally, due to the risks of criminalization, a sex worker may not be able to report discrimination, abuse or other violence when it occurs.

See our full resource for more details on what journalists should expect when attempting to interview sex workers.

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