Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The BCCEW was formed out of two regional meetings of women in and from the sex industry in 2002 and 2003. Renamed the BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (BCCEC), members include men and women from across the province who have over 30 years combined experience in advocacy, research, service delivery and management, and well over 50 years experience in all facets of the sex industry. Members have founded, operated or significantly contributed to eight sex worker organizations including the BC Coalition of Experiential Men. Mandate: The B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities works to inspire experiential leadership toward the elimination of oppressive systems and forces that create harm within the sex industry.
It was identified during the BCCEC "Confronting Bad Dates: Research, Collaboration and Action to Reduce Violence against Survival Sex Workers project" that:
- § provincial victim services were unavailable to collaborate on strategies like the redesign and distribution of a new Bad Date sheet and a 1-800 line for reporting violence;
- § the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General victim support services were largely unknown and had barriers to accessibility by sex workers;
- § Sex workers who had past experiences with Victim Services shared that their identification as sex workers limited or eliminated their chances to receive supports; inclusive of counselling and compensation.
These issues led to Victim Services attendance at the Confronting Bad Dates March 2007 multi-stakeholder meeting and later collaboration on victimization issues among sex workers.
With financial support from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, monumental alliances were built and sex workers had access to training from a leading professional psychologist in the area of Post Traumatic Stress.
Additionally, sex workers and community organization staff members peer reviewed "The 411" a document created by the BCCEC, based on literature developed by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
- Members of the BCCEC reviewed and vetted the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General brochures and resources for the purposes of creating an accessible document for sex workers and service providers. This document incorporates tips on what to do if one becomes a victim of crime and identifies resources, techniques for emotional health, rights information and information on all other relevant topics;
- The BCCEC had the privilege of utilizing Victim Services funding to host two Post Traumatic Stress Meetings among sex workers and front line staff July 26th and 27th, 2007. The July 26th meeting was attended by over 20 front line workers from Vancouver, Richmond and Surrey health and sex work organizations in addition to experiential professional working on the front lines. The July 27th meeting was intended to be exclusively for experiential professionals and active or former sex workers. There were around 12 individuals in attendance. Issues that limited these numbers were the timing of this second meeting.
- During these meetings;
- Sex workers learned that very little work has been done to research the levels of PTSD experienced by sex industry workers in particular those who work in the dangerous street level environment. Some sex workers had been on the street for more than 30 years and had endured and witnessed unimaginable violence and hardship.
- Sex workers expressed that this environment was akin to a war zone and that the levels of PTSD affecting us could be compared to those affecting soldiers who have served in a war zone, Vietnam war veteran's or holocaust survivors.
1: a zone in which belligerents are waging war; broadly: an area marked by extreme violence
2: a designated area within which rights of neutrals are not respected by a belligerent nation in time of war.
- Sex workers learned how the children of trauma survivors or the children of holocaust survivors show a distinct set of symptoms and noted that trauma on these levels for this extended period of time will affect generations of people for years to come.
- Sex Workers acknowledged that the residential schools disaster has had a great impact for first nation's people and first nation's sex workers. The group acknowledged that a strategy specific to first nation's sex workers would be absolutely necessary.
- Sex workers identified being re traumatized or made to feel unworthy by police, service providers, social workers, nurses and many others when seeking to report violence against them, access support or find assistance.
- Sex workers now understand addiction as a symptom of or coping mechanism for post traumatic stress and as such mandatory sobriety to access services becomes harmful to those using drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism. These barriers are seen as one of the greatest contributors to society's failure to address these issues in a way that does not compromise people's safety.
- Sex workers now understand that the misdiagnosis of our symptoms has lead to wide spread harm through out our community. With symptoms that can be as extreme as hallucinations and strongly resemble the symptoms of schizophrenia, many have been prescribed mind altering drugs that they do not need and in fact harm them.
- Sex Worker Support Workers expressed frustration at the gaps that currently exist in services ie, mandatory sobriety.
- Sex Worker Support Workers expressed how lack of sex worker specific programming creates problems for finding safe places for sex workers.
- Sex Worker Support Workers expressed frustration with sex workers suffering with the symptoms of PTSD and now have a greater understanding of it's causes and effects.
- Sex Worker Support Workers now have greater understanding of complex PTSD and it's symptoms as it relates to vicarious trauma for the support workers themselves.
- Sex Worker Support Workers expressed a will to move forward together to design a strategy to raise awareness, capture best practices and fill the gaps that currently exist.
Recommendations and Next Steps
Information provided by the psychologist was in direct conflict with practices and policies of the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. For example, PTSD was noted as being cumulative however those who experience violence over long periods of time and who access Victim Services for compensation or counselling must link their trauma to one incident at one particular time.
In order to recognize PTSD among sex workers and provide them with the counselling and support they require, more research needs to be done to define the disorder among sex workers. With empirical evidence, advocacy initiatives influence policies that currently exclude our most vulnerable members from the services they desperately need;
A series of focus groups/work shops which engage all stakeholders will work to identify gaps, increase awareness of complex PTSD, increase understanding of factors contributing to PTSD amongst sex workers, and create a strategy which can be embraced by the systems responsible for caring for sex workers that ensures the problems of the past are addressed and eliminated.