Programming Connection

Sex Workers Program 

Montreal, Quebec

Why Was the Program Developed?

In Canada, the exchange of sex for money is not illegal, but many of the activities surrounding sex work are. For example, being found in a brothel or soliciting in a public place is illegal, which makes it difficult to engage in sex work without breaking the law.

Sex workers, particularly those who are street-based, face a range of challenges that affect their health, including legal issues, violence, discrimination, social isolation, poverty, unstable housing and addiction. Barriers to accessing health and social services include restrictive office hours at health facilities, concerns of privacy and disclosure, and limited means of transportation to service locations.

Before 1998, when RÉZO’s sex worker program started, services targeted to men engaged in sex work were entirely lacking in Montreal, though services for women engaged in sex work in the city (such as Stella) had existed since 1995. Through the organization’s regular outreach activities to gay men, RÉZO realized that there were unmet needs among sex workers in Montreal’s gay village, which runs along Sainte Catherine East between Berri and Papineau Streets.

In addition, RÉZO determined that male sex workers often have different needs than other men who have sex with men. In general, male sex workers are an exceptionally marginalized and disaffiliated group, often retreating from family, social networks and society in general. What’s more, they may or may not identify as gay. Therefore, RÉZO’s programming for gay men did not meet the needs of sex workers.

Furthermore, businesses and residents were unsupportive or even hostile toward sex work in their community. Sex workers, largely due to a lack of services accessible to them, were engaging in sex work and drug use and were hanging out close to local businesses and homes.

RÉZO concluded that there was a need for the creation of a new program for men engaged in sex work that addressed their unmet health and social service needs and the negative and unstable relationship of sex workers with residents and businesses in the gay village. The Sex Workers Program was born out of this need.