Intersecting Inequalities in Access to Justice for Trans and Non-binary Sex Workers in Canada

Ayden I. Scheim, Heather Santos, Sophia Ciavarella, Jelena Vermilion, Freddie S.E. Arps, Noah Adams, Kelendria Nation, Greta R. Bauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Introduction: In the context of renewed debate about Canada’s “end demand” sex work laws, we took an intersectional approach to characterize experiences with the criminal legal system and perceived access to justice among transgender (trans) and nonbinary sex workers in Canada. Methods: The Trans PULSE Canada community-based study collected multimode survey data in fall 2019. Data were cross-stratified by lifetime sex work and sex assigned at birth, ethnoracial group, or household income. Age adjustment did not meaningfully impact results. Results: Of 2012 included participants (median age = 30, 66.5% assigned female at birth, 48.9% non-binary), 280 (16.1%) had ever done sex work. While access to justice was limited for trans and non-binary people overall, sex workers were more likely to anticipate (72.1% vs. 50.5%) and experience (43.2% vs. 15.7%) police mistreatment. In the previous 5 years, sex workers were more likely to experience violence for any reason (61.4% vs. 27.4% of other participants) or due to being trans or non-binary (41.4% vs. 14.0%), and to have avoided calling 911 for police (51.4% vs. 18.1%). Few sex workers trusted that they would be treated fairly by police if they experienced physical (10.8% vs. 34.9%) or sexual (4.7% vs. 20.6%) violence. Intersectional inequalities included that sex workers assigned male at birth and street-based workers were most likely to have experienced gender-based violence, and that Indigenous and racialized sex workers reported higher levels of police mistreatment and 911 avoidance. Conclusions: Overall, trans and non-binary people in Canada reported high levels of violence and limited access to justice. Sex workers faced large inequities in these outcomes, which were exacerbated for transfeminine, Indigenous, racialized, and street-based workers. Policy Implications: These findings challenge the notion that Canadian sex work laws protect sex workers and highlight the limitations of formal legal protections for trans people. These inequities must be addressed in sex work legal reform efforts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1245-1257
Number of pages13
JournalSexuality Research and Social Policy
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


  • Intersectionality
  • Justice
  • Policing
  • Race
  • Sex work
  • Transgender
  • Violence


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