I believe research should reflect the needs/aims/dreams of those being researched, and should only exist with the aim of creating real tangible change to positively impact the researched community. In addition to meaningfully engaging community in the research process, public scholarship means creative and accessible outputs where community members are acknowledged and celebrated.
Community Mobilization (CM), the sharing of resources and grassroots support alongside demands for structural change, has played a key role among criminalized and stigmatized communities, including many sex workers, and has remained essential to sex workers’ health, safety and wellbeing. However, stigma and criminalization also hinder sex workers’ collectivization among traditional and digital communities by limiting shared workspaces, and censoring online sex work spaces. In this cyclical manner, CM among sex workers is based on meeting urgent and everyday needs, while working towards better, alternative worlds. In addition to ongoing criminalization, sex workers have been forced to navigate additional internet censorship policies, compromising digital work environments, online community resources and digitally facilitated CM. As sex workers continue to rely on CM and increasingly on online spaces to promote their health, safety and wellbeing, my proposed research, using epidemiological and participatory, arts-based methods will be the first to examine the outcomes of digital CM among sex workers in Canada, and how sex workers conceptualize the role of digital CM in building ‘Communities of Care’. My research is based in a transformative paradigm, wherein the nature of data collection is theory-informed and community-led, and the central purpose is to advance the needs of participants. This project represents a community-based, participatory, sex worker “by and for” model, in which the work is led by sex workers, to meet the needs of sex workers. My theoretical framework draws on abolition feminism, anti-work theory and mutual aid practices to generate a “Community of Care” framework useful in critical public health research. The proposed research is nested within AESHA (An Evaluation of Sex Workers’ Health Access). AESHA includes a longitudinal cohort of 900+ women sex workers (with semi-annual questionnaires, voluntary HIV/STI testing, and outreach), and a qualitative and arts-based study exploring lived experiences of sex workers of all genders.
What does being a Public Scholar mean to you?
Borrowed from the disability rights movement, the phrase “nothing about us, without us” has been utilized by sex workers to encourage community collaboration around law reform, and increasingly academic research. I believe research should reflect the needs/aims/dreams of those being researched, and should only exist with the aim of creating real tangible change to positively impact the researched community. In addition to meaningfully engaging community in the research process, public scholarship means creative and accessible outputs where community members are acknowledged and celebrated.
In what ways do you think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative?
I think the PhD experience can be re-imagined with the Public Scholars Initiative by acknowledging community and participants as co-creators and experts, and by problematizing the hierarchies and dichotomies that exist within academia.
How do you envision connecting your PhD work with broader career possibilities?
Whether within academia or by working with not-for-profit organizations or community collectives, I look forward to continuing to work in community-led research and leading future arts-based interventions aimed at improving sex workers' access to digital health and safety resources and mutual aid.
How does your research engage with the larger community and social partners?
PACE Society, a by, with and for sex work support and advocacy group, with whom I have been involved for many years, is the main community partner on the arts-based component of my thesis work, and has helped facilitate and advise on all aspects of the project. Lastly, an essential asset to my qualitative work is the expertise of the Community Advisory Team (CAT) I am so grateful to be working with a team of current and former sex workers, of diverse backgrounds and experiences in sex work, who are consulted on every stage of the project. As the project progresses, I will be working with experiential analysts, artists-in-residence, and curators, with diverse experience in the sex industry, including folks who take part in the project as participants and CAT members.
Why did you decide to pursue a graduate degree?
My academic pursuits are largely informed and inspired by my lived experience and community reactions to the ongoing erasure of online spaces used by sex workers, and the need for counter discourse and evidence that support sex workers’ wellbeing.
Why did you choose to come to British Columbia and study at UBC?
Following my Masters studies, I was very fortunate to have joined the AESHA Project, a long term community-based project housed at UBC’s Department of Medicine, as a research assistant. With encouragement from my supervisors at AESHA, now my PhD supervisors, continuing my academic pursuits as part of the AESHA team and at UBC felt like an organic and well-supported next step.