From sex workers to social justice advocates

UVic sociologist Cecilia Benoit gets $225,000 fellowship to further reduce barriers to social inclusion of sex workers

A nationally recognized scholar, UVic sociologist Cecilia Benoit has illuminated the need for equitable treatment of marginalized populations, especially women, for more than 25 years. To support this important work, the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation has awarded Benoit a $225,000 fellowship over the next three years.

The foundation fellowship will fund Benoit’s work across Canada with sex workers in week-long transformative learning sessions held at local sex worker agencies for her project, “Beyond the ‘Missing Women Inquiry’: Empowering Sex Workers as Social Justice Advocates.”

“This recognition validates my research but also the goals I hold dear­—including justice and equality for everyone—regardless of their social location or identity or what they do for a living,” says Benoit.

Benoit will present the outcomes of her work helping to empower Indigenous and non-Indigenous sex workers at a national policy forum in Ottawa in 2020, coinciding with the Canadian government’s five-year mandate to review the 2014 Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act. Benoit will also publish a peer-informed practical manual for training of sex workers as social justice advocates that will be publicly available.

“[Cecilia] is acutely aware of societal attitudes and stereotypes, especially where they could take us. Her research has given voice to people who are not usually heard,” says Tim Stockwell, director of UVic’s Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, where Benoit is a scientist.

Benoit has had a significant impact on policy at the national, provincial and local level. Her research has benefited the legalization of midwifery, health inequities of Indigenous women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, youth health stigmas linked to obesity and asthma, street-involved youth in transition to adulthood, pregnant women and their families dealing with poverty and substance use, and sex workers of different genders.

“My top priority is to reduce barriers to social inclusion of sex workers in Canadian society posed by stigma, discrimination and regressive social policies,” says Benoit.

Benoit is the fifth UVic professor to be honoured with a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship, established in 2003 to support scholars who propose creative solutions to important issues and to encourage initiatives and projects that might not necessarily receive support through traditional funding mechanisms. The awards are made by an independent jury of researchers and intellectuals and support the winners as they pursue the next stages of their academic research.

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