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UVic sociologist to help sex workers reach out

A UVic sociologist has been awarded a grant to head across Canada engaging sex workers in a project to help them reach out and help others.
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UVic sociology professor Cecilia Benoit has been awarded a $225,000 fellowship from the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation to spend three years working to improve social justice for prostitutes in Canada.

A UVic sociologist has been awarded a grant to head across Canada engaging sex workers in a project to help them reach out and help others.

The Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation has awarded University of Victoria professor Cecilia Benoit a three-year, $225,000 fellowship for her project, Beyond the “Missing Women Inquiry”: Empowering Sex Workers as Social Justice Advocates.

Benoit plans to use the money to engage with grassroots sex worker organizations in cities across Canada, assisting them in weeklong sessions to help each other with improving their health, safety and well-being.

“So they are coming in and learning about health issues and going out into their communities to spread what they have learned,” she said.

Benoit said she undertook a similar project with the Peers Victoria Resources Centre.

She has also done work with street youth and substance users, members of groups living on the margins of society and their associated issues of social justice.

The Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation was established in 2003 to assist researchers who are proposing creative solutions to current issues. It was named for former prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Benoit said she plans on working to bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous sex workers together so they can learn from each other. “Beyond just recording what’s wrong, let’s look at what they would like to see in regards to programs going forward, beyond the stories of victimization,” she said.

Benoit said she plans to present the outcome of her work to the federal government in 2020, when it reviews its the 2014 Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act, which makes paying for sex illegal.

The combined elements of working with sex workers, helping them help themselves and hoping to influence legislation makes the whole project a unique experience for Benoit.

“This is probably the least traditional research project I’ve even done,” she said. “We are working with people in their communities to go forward with social justice perspective.

“That’s really what the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation is all about.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com