Programming Connection


Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS (ASIA)
Vancouver, British Columbia

Why Was the Program Developed?

Though the majority of sex work in Canada takes place indoors, outreach and research addressing the needs of sex workers in Canada has largely been focused on those who work at street level. Indoor sex workers can also be vulnerable to violence and face multiple barriers to accessing services and education, particularly when the workers are newcomers to Canada or do not speak English as a first language. And, while exchanging sex for money is not illegal in Canada, many of the activities that surround it are, including being found in “brothels” and soliciting sex in a public place. Consequently, brothels or indoor commercial sex establishments are often disguised as massage parlours, which regularly close and reopen elsewhere, making it difficult for service providers to locate and keep track of them and their employees.

Specific challenges faced by female Asian indoor sex workers when it comes to protecting themselves from STIs include:

  • Absence of condom-wearing policies
  • Lack of access to nonjudgmental health resources, social services and police/legal support
  • Reluctance of massage parlour managers (who are usually male) to discuss the sexual health issues of their female employees
  • Difficulty negotiating safer sexual practices in English
  • Heightened risk of violence, discrimination, social isolation, poverty and addiction

In recognition of the impact of these issues, in 2004 the Asian Society for the Intervention of AIDS (ASIA)—in collaboration with the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University—began to develop an outreach program for Asian women working in sex establishments disguised as massage parlours. The resulting project has been continuously revised to improve its capacity to meet the needs of women employed as sex workers in massage parlours in the Vancouver area. It is a unique example of successfully building relationships with indoor commercial sex work establishments over a long period of time.