The Cedar Project: a comparison of HIV-related vulnerabilities amongst young Aboriginal women surviving drug use and sex work in two Canadian cities

Int J Drug Policy. 2008 Apr;19(2):159-68. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2007.07.005. Epub 2007 Sep 17.


Background: In Canada, Aboriginal women and youth continue to be overrepresented amongst new cases of HIV, and are considered at increased risk for sex and drug-related harm. Young women involved in sex work are particularly vulnerable. The purpose of this study is to determine HIV-related vulnerabilities associated with sex work amongst young Aboriginal women in two Canadian cities.

Methods: This study is based on a community-based cohort of Aboriginal young people (status and non-status First Nations, Inuit and Métis) between the ages of 14 and 30 who used injection or non-injection illegal drugs (street drugs) in the previous month. Participants lived in Vancouver, Canada, or Prince George, a remote, northern Canadian city. Between October 2003 and July 2005, 543 participants were recruited by word of mouth, posters, and street outreach. A baseline questionnaire was administered by Aboriginal interviewers, and trained nurses drew blood samples for HIV and HCV antibodies and provided pre- and post-test counselling. This study included 262 young women who participated at baseline. Analyses were conducted to compare socio-demographics, drug use patterns, injection practices, sexual experiences, and HIV and HCV prevalence between young women who reported being involved in sex work in the last 6 months (n=154) versus young women who did not (n=108). Logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with recent sex work involvement.

Results: Both sexual violence and drug using patterns were found to be markedly different for women having recently been involved in sex work. Multivariate analysis revealed daily injection of cocaine (AOR=4.4; 95% CI: 1.9, 10.1 and smoking crack (AOR=2.9; 95% CI: 1.6, 5.2) in the previous 6 months, and lifetime sexual abuse (AOR=2.5; 95% CI: 1.4, 4.4) to be independently associated with sex work.

Interpretation: Harm reduction and treatment programs that address historical and lifetime trauma amongst Aboriginal people and prioritize emotional and physical safety for young Aboriginal women involved in sex work are required.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • British Columbia / ethnology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Counseling
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / ethnology
  • Harm Reduction
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Surveys
  • Hepatitis C / epidemiology
  • Hepatitis C / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / ethnology
  • Logistic Models
  • Sex Work / ethnology
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sexual Behavior / ethnology*
  • Sexual Behavior / statistics & numerical data
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / epidemiology
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Violence / ethnology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data