October 20, 2010
An outreach targeting female sex workers in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is making inroads, a new study finds. Prostitutes who interact with the mobile van's staff of former sex workers are four times more likely to enter detox programs.
The Mobile Access Project, or "MAP van," operates seven nights a week between 10:30 p.m. and 5:30 a.m. It offers the women a safe place to rest, access to free condoms and clean syringes, and referrals to health resources. Staff also take reports on abusive clients, alerting police on behalf of sex workers wary of directly contacting authorities.
MAP began in 2003 in response to a wave of violence against prostitutes -- attributed to now-convicted serial killer Robert Pickton. From 2006 to 2008, the B.C. Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the University of British Columbia (UBC) evaluated MAP's impact.
"The van's been really effective in making connections with people who need them," said Kate Gibson, whose drop-in center, WISH, operates the van.
Key to the van's success is its staff, Gibson said. They have established trust and can relate to the sex workers, based on their past experiences. "The peer-based component is certainly an important piece," agreed Kate Shannon, the study's lead author and an assistant professor of medicine at UBC. "It's sex workers reaching out, creating a very non-judgmental and safe place to access services."
The study, "A Peer-Led Mobile Outreach Program and Increased Utilization of Detoxification and Residential Drug Treatment Among Female Sex Workers Who Use Drugs in a Canadian Setting," was published online in Drug and Alcohol Dependence (doi:10.1016/jdrugsalcdep.2010.07.007).
10.13.2010; Tamsyn Burgmann
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