As I began my search for a practicum I knew that that finding a harm reduction program was top priority. In a sea of abstinence based programs in Calgary, I was ecstatic to find the Shift program, a pro-choice, client centered, program for adults who have ever been involved in sex work. To be honest, I had never really thought of harm reduction outside of the realms of needle exchange and safe sex supplies, but I have had the opportunity to broaden my understanding of harm reduction and have fallen in love with it. The term harm reduction itself implies that sex work is inherently harmful, which is not the case. It is the stigma, and lack of support and recognition of the sex industry that is the source of the harms associated with sex work. What I have noticed is that, “although involvement in the sex industry may not be a “free” choice for all, the context and environments in which sex work takes place can be safe, sex worker directed and free from harm” (Davis & Bowen, 2007, pp. 4). Some choose sex work, some enter into it due to factors outside of their control such as poverty or addictions. Regardless of how people enter into this work, they have the right to be safe and be treated with respect and dignity.
Here at Shift “the safety and human rights of sex workers are our focus” (HIVCL, 2015). Working from a harm reduction approach means that I get to say “you are going to make the choices that work for you, I will support you to stay safe in whatever choice you make”. Meeting a person where they are at and supporting them through whatever change they see fit for them, without judgement or expectation. I have come to see that the value of having one person in your life who you know is going to have your back regardless of your decisions is enormous for those who are not ready for immediate and possibly forced change.
Davis, S. & Bowen, R. (2007). Developing capacity for change: Cooperative development exploration report.
HIV Community Link. (2015). Shift: Support services for people in the sex industry. Retrieved from: http://www.shiftcalgary.org/