Understanding Sex Work: Impacts


The majority of sex work customers are male, but some are female and transgendered. They come from diverse backgrounds and professions, representing all socio-economic groups, ethnicities and cultures[i]. They give various reasons for why they purchase sexual services, including loneliness, sexual problems at home, curiosity, desire for specific sexual acts that a spouse or partner would not or could not do, desire for a sense of domination or power over another person, sexual addiction, closet homosexuality and the desire to avoid the hassle of a more typical relationship.

Sex buyers fear the stigma, persecution and prosecution associated with buying sex. A 2010 study found that 80 per cent of sex buyers tried to hide their sex buying from others and that they experienced some degree of anxiety or worry at the thought of being “outed” as sex buyers.[1]

Some customers are the perpetrators of violence against sex workers, particularly street-based survival sex workers. Customer violence can be broken down into situational and premeditated violence[ii].

In situational violence, a dispute arises during an interaction between the sex worker and customer and escalates into violence.

Predatory violence is premeditated and includes planned robbery, injury or death. The stigma associated with sex work contributes to the perception of predators that sex workers are easy targets. This was borne out by the missing and murdered women of the Downtown Eastside. Advocacy organizations emphasize the need to make a distinction between the paying customer and the predator.

[1] Atchison, C. (2010). Johns’ Voice: A study of adult Canadian sex buyers.

[i] Chris Atchison, Laura Fraser, and John Lowman, “Men Who Buy Sex: Preliminary Findings of an Exploratory Study,” in Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers, and Johns, ed. G. Brewer (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1998), 172-203.

[ii] Lowman and Fraser, Violence against People who Prostitute.