Sex work and harm reduction discourse • Reflection guide [➦]
• Health, social services and education professionals
• Action research project
• Practical guide
Stella, l’amie de Maimie
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network
Release Date and Last Update
2020 (no update as of the review date)
Using the word “harm” in discussions around sex work may suggest that sex work itself is harmful. As a result, people who seek to eradicate sex work and sex workers may try to co-opt the language of harm reduction. Also, these days, public conversations around criminalized activity, such as drug use or sex work, often suggest that policy options are limited to either prohibition through criminal law enforcement or harm reduction. Oversimplifying responses to sex work in this way excludes other frameworks like labour rights and other human rights from policy discussions. At the same time, harm reduction has been a rallying point across many criminalized communities, particularly around responses to the overdose crisis.
It is important to use harm reduction language in the context of sex work in a way that is nuanced, clear and remains in solidarity with broader communities of people who use drugs.
• summarizes basic features of harm reduction – as identified and articulated by Stella and Butterfly;
• describes how these basic features can be erased, distorted or overshadowed when public harm reduction conversations extend outside of criminalized or marginalized communities and to new issues, highlighting how sex workers’ rights are ignored and violated because of flawed understandings of harm reduction;
• serves as a guide for identifying discourse, programs and policies that use harm reduction language yet run counter to basic harm reduction principles, and for responding to such discourse, programs and policies; and
• compiles research on existing harm reduction discourse, particularly as it relates to sex work (e.g. government sources, NGOs, academic, media).
*** Note that this description was written by the authors of the tool. ***
Santini, T., Klein, A., Stella, l’amie de Maimie & Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Worker Support Network. (2020). A reflection on… Sex work and harm reduction discourse. https://chezstella.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Sex-Work-and-Harm-Reduction-Discourse.pdf