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Structural barriers to condom access in a community-based cohort of sex workers in Vancouver, Canada: influence of policing, violence and end-demand criminalisation


Objectives Sex workers (SWs) face a disproportionate burden of HIV/sexually transmitted infections (STIs), violence and other human rights violations. While recent HIV prevention research has largely focused on the HIV cascade, condoms remain a cornerstone of HIV prevention, requiring further research attention. Given serious concerns regarding barriers to condom use, including policing, violence and ‘end-demand’ sex work criminalisation, we evaluated structural correlates of difficulty accessing condoms among SWs in Vancouver over an 8-year period.

Methods Baseline and prospective data were drawn from a community-based cohort of women SWs (2010–2018). SWs completed semi-annual questionnaires administered by a team that included lived experience (SWs). Multivariable logistic regression using generalised estimating equations (GEE) modelled correlates of difficulty accessing condoms over time.

Results Among 884 participants, 19.1% reported difficulty accessing condoms during the study. In multivariable GEE analysis, exposure to end-demand legislation was not associated with improved condom access; identifying as a sexual/gender minority (adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.62, 95% CI 1.16 to 2.27), servicing outdoors (aOR 1.52, 95% CI 1.17 to 1.97), physical/sexual workplace violence (aOR 1.98, 95% CI 1.44 to 2.72), community violence (aOR 1.79, 95% CI 1.27 to 2.52) and police harassment (aOR 1.66, 95% CI 1.24 to 2.24) were associated with enhanced difficulty accessing condoms.

Conclusions One-fifth of SWs faced challenges accessing condoms, suggesting the need to scale-up SW-tailored HIV/STI prevention. Despite the purported goal of ‘protecting communities’, end-demand criminalisation did not mitigate barriers to condom access, while sexual/gender minorities and those facing workplace violence, harassment or those who worked outdoors experienced poorest condom accessibility. Decriminalisation of sex work is needed to support SWs’ labour rights, including access to HIV/STI prevention supplies.

  • condom
  • sexually transmitted infections
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