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Intersectionality: sex workers who use drugs

In this video Natasha Potvin shares her personal story on intersectionality of sex work and drug use

I started drugs when I was 13 and I started injecting when I was about 15, but when I fell pregnant at 18 with my first child, I stopped. So in my life, I have not always been a drug user at the same time as beeing as sex worker. And the majority of sex workers don’t take drugs when or if they are working. For a start, it’s very uncomfortable to do sex work if you’re high and also you lose feeling and you don’t have as much control over your body or what happens to you.
We sell services like a musician will provide service by playing an instrument to make music to get money. Sex worker work is like any other job. I mean, to get enough money for paying for somewhere to live or to feed and clothe your children or to pay for health care or even university education.
In addition to stigma associated with being a sex worker or drug user, there’s a risk of catching AIDS or HIV or having to deal with violence and abuse or even be coerced or and exploited. And violence against sex worker is a constant worry. In 2007, my best friend was killed. She was a sex worker too. One night two men recognized her on the on the bar like a regular bar and give her some really strong drugs. And then the kidnapped raped her and killed her. The drugs they gave her were too much for her. She was usually using cocaine and it was heroin instead. So I was very devastated and her body was covered of bruise.
Then her credit card and her jewellery has been stolen, too. She had clearly been violently assaulted, but the police said she died of an overdose and did nothing to investigate it because she was a sex worker and she had at that time a criminal record for being a sex worker. And they didn’t want to investigate due to her prostitution criminal case. I was really, really frustrated. And it’s when I start working as an advocate for violence against sex worker, also for Harm Reduction. My goal is to help sex worker avoiding risks they could control, like using condom or injecting with needles, clean needles and help them to denounce violence.
I wanted to give them a voice to speak up for their rights and safety and help lift their self-esteem of how the they see theirself.
For a sex worker, finding somewhere to live can be a real problem. In Canada, being a sex worker is no longer illegal, but being a client or a customer of a sex worker is illegal, so if a landlord know what you do, then might call the police to have their client arrested, which makes sex workers, which makes sex worker feel like feel very vulnerable and open to exploitation. A landlord also often assume that you are going to be taking illegal drugs in your home and could call the police at any time because of that.
What happened is a sex worker won’t admit to a landlord what they do, and then it’s difficult to prove that they can pay that they can pay the rent if the landlord wants to do financial check on you The majority of a sex worker are unseen, they are independent or working in like an example, as in the massage parlour or inside a hotel or at their home. And they work from home and only a majority are on the street. But that’s all people really see when the judge, a sex worker. If they have children, they may work during school time. But people assume that you can’t you can’t be a responsible parent.
I myself was checked out by child protection officer one time when my son was still at school. Someone knew that I I was a sex worker. And to make money and the school start asking a question to my son about how he was treated at home and did is his mom like to party, take drugs, things like that. And these officer then came to my home to check whatever my son had his own bedroom or even if there was enough food in the fridge or even like if the mattress was comfortable. And it is scary. And despite it being being illegal to be a sex worker in Canada, those with children live in fear of being separated from them.
Four years ago in 2016, I had a terrible neck pain, really bad. So I went to see my doctor. I was honest and told that doctor that they used to be injecting drug in the past and I had to started again because of the pain. From that moment, he treated me like an addict who was trying to get opiate painkiller to get high. He wasn’t interested to helping me in any way. On one visit, I was in such pain and he just told me that to stop crying like a baby. He didn’t investigate why my neck hurt. Then I move in another province in Canada for work.
I collapsed one day and the doctor there investigated and told me that I have a tumor on my neck. This doctor asked, ask me why my old physician hadn’t helped me because by now it was too late to operate and or to remove that tumor. What could I say? I was a drug user and I was a sex worker and I carried the double stigma of that. And I have to live with that consequence of that mistake of stigma of the first doctor gave me
And the truth is, we are just as individual as everyone else and shouldn’t be stigmatized for our choice. But anyway, I am proud to be someone who fought for that.

In this video you will hear Natasha Potvin talking about the intersectionality of sex work and drug use and the tremendous double stigma that this can cause.

In the previous video, Palani Narayana expended on the horrific stigma that people who use drugs are exposed to. He explained that drug users are often seen as the scum of society and that stigma pushes people to the fringes of society. Stigma is an unfortunate reality for many other communities, including for sex workers.

Natasha Potvin shares her personal story of living through the double stigma of being part of the sex worker community and the community of people who use drugs.

The second topic of this week ‘The public health dimension of drug use and harm reduction’ will further expand on the notion that stigma is often a far greater health threat than the drugs itself.

Note; This course approaches the topic of sexwork only from the perspective of the intersectionality with druguse. However it is important to note that the same principles and interventions of harm reduction are applicable to other communities, such as sexworker, men who have sex with men and other ‘key populations’. Harm Reduction is not exclusive to drug use.


Below you can find a report from Harm Reduction international: “When sex work and drug use overlap” (or follow this link). We highly recommend you read the compelling foreword by Pye Jakobsson on page 7.

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Drug Use and Harm Reduction

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