Sex workers and sex buyers aren’t who we thought they were, the first national report on the Canadian sex industry has found, only one of the findings from the five-year study, led by Cecilia Benoit of the University of Victoria’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC (CARBC).

Evidence from the six surveyed sites (St. John’s, Montréal, Kitchener, Fort McMurray, Calgary and Victoria) suggests that the majority of sex workers — most of whom are Canadian-born, Caucasian, in their 30s or 40s and have some form of education or training beyond high school — do not feel exploited and say that most buyers are not oppressors.

“Based on our study, many of the people linked to Canada’s sex industry — workers and their intimate partners, managers and clients — have much in common with other Canadians,” said Benoit, in a release on September 19.

While most studies of the sex industry have focused on the individual characteristics of people in the industry, Benoit and her team took a broader view.

They also examined to what extent things such as public attitudes and institutionalized messages, stigma, discrimination, fear, isolation, punitive sex work laws and the environments in which sexual transactions take place influence sex workers’ quality of life.

Investigators interviewed people involved in all aspects of the sex industry: 218 sex workers, 258 clients, 35 spouses/intimate partners of sex workers, 55 sex industry managers (38 escort services, 17 massage businesses) and 106 people involved with creating and enforcing laws and regulations or providing social services related to the sex industry.

The research team includes UVic’s Chris Atchison; Lauren Casey, Mikael Jansson, Dan Reist and Rachel Phillips CARBC; as well as Concordia University’s Frances M. Shaver and Bill Reimer; and Bill McCarthy of the University of California at Davis.

This working paper is an early output from a national research program that involves five interconnected studies.

These studies have examined the perspectives and experiences of each of the following: 1) those who sell sexual services, 2) intimate partners of workers, 3) those who buy sexual service, 4) those who manage the services, and 5) those involved in regulating the industry or providing health and social services. 

“The ultimate goal of the project is to broaden the knowledge base relative to the sexual service industry in Canada and to produce knowledge that can usefully inform policies and practices aimed at improving the safety and health of all involved in the industry,” said the research team. 

“This paper is a first step in fulfilling that mandate. But in order for us to reach our goal of broadening the knowledge base, we need to engage a wide network of collaborators (people in the industry, policymakers, providers of health and social services, and the community at large) in the process of reflecting on and understanding the emerging picture of the Canadian sex industry.

“To start that process, we are hosting an international symposium and workshop in Ottawa on September 22-23, 2014. Whether you are able to participate in those events or not, we welcome your feedback related to the data presented in this paper. Please visit contact to find ways to send comments to us.”

Further information about the research program is available at: 


John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.