Mapping violence and policing as an environmental-structural barrier to health service and syringe availability among substance-using women in street-level sex work

Int J Drug Policy. 2008 Apr;19(2):140-7. doi: 10.1016/j.drugpo.2007.11.024. Epub 2008 Jan 18.


Background: Within street-based sex work and substance-using populations, there is growing evidence to support the role of place, both physical setting and social meanings attached to place, in mediating the effectiveness and reach of health and harm reduction services.

Methods: Social mapping was used to explore how health service and syringe availability may be impacted at the geographic level by avoidance of physical settings due to violence and policing among women in street-level sex work. Through a community-based research partnership and extensive peer-led outreach over a 6-month period, women were invited to participate in interview-questionnaires and mapping of their community, working conditions, and access to resources. Results were compiled used ArcGIS software and GIS street maps. In secondary analysis, logistic regression was used to model the geographic association (using likelihood ratio and significance at p<0.05) and stratified models were run to assess differential patterns of avoidance based on age, ethnicity and drug use.

Results: The findings reveal a significant geographic relationship between a heavily concentrated core area of health and syringe availability and avoidance of physical settings due to violence and policing by 198 women in street-level sex work in Vancouver, Canada. Of particular concern, this correlation is significantly elevated among younger and Aboriginal women, active injection drug users, and daily crack cocaine smokers, suggesting significant environmental-structural barriers to interventions among these vulnerable populations.

Conclusions: The resultant displacement of sex work to primarily industrial settings and side streets pushes women further from health and social supports and reduces access to safer injection and drug use paraphernalia. This study offers important evidence for environmental-structural level prevention and safer environment interventions, supported by legal reforms, that facilitate safer sex work environments, including spatial programming, peer-based prevention, outreach and mobile resources, and peer-supervised safer sex work settings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • British Columbia / ethnology
  • Crack Cocaine / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Harm Reduction
  • Health Services Accessibility / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American / ethnology
  • Logistic Models
  • Needle-Exchange Programs / supply & distribution*
  • Police*
  • Sex Work / ethnology
  • Sex Work / statistics & numerical data
  • Social Support
  • Substance Abuse, Intravenous / ethnology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / ethnology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data*


  • Crack Cocaine