The Cedar Project: a comparison of HIV-related vulnerabilities amongst young Aboriginal women surviving drug use and sex work in two Canadian cities

Azar Mehrabadi, Kevin J P Craib, Katharina Patterson, Warner Adam, Akm Moniruzzaman, Barbara Ward-Burkitt, Martin T Schechter, Patricia M Spittal
International Journal on Drug Policy 2008, 19 (2): 159-68

BACKGROUND: In Canada, Aboriginal women and youth continue to be overrepresented amongst new cases of HIV, and are considered at increased risk for sex and drug-related harm. Young women involved in sex work are particularly vulnerable. The purpose of this study is to determine HIV-related vulnerabilities associated with sex work amongst young Aboriginal women in two Canadian cities.

METHODS: This study is based on a community-based cohort of Aboriginal young people (status and non-status First Nations, Inuit and Métis) between the ages of 14 and 30 who used injection or non-injection illegal drugs (street drugs) in the previous month. Participants lived in Vancouver, Canada, or Prince George, a remote, northern Canadian city. Between October 2003 and July 2005, 543 participants were recruited by word of mouth, posters, and street outreach. A baseline questionnaire was administered by Aboriginal interviewers, and trained nurses drew blood samples for HIV and HCV antibodies and provided pre- and post-test counselling. This study included 262 young women who participated at baseline. Analyses were conducted to compare socio-demographics, drug use patterns, injection practices, sexual experiences, and HIV and HCV prevalence between young women who reported being involved in sex work in the last 6 months (n=154) versus young women who did not (n=108). Logistic regression was used to identify factors independently associated with recent sex work involvement.

RESULTS: Both sexual violence and drug using patterns were found to be markedly different for women having recently been involved in sex work. Multivariate analysis revealed daily injection of cocaine (AOR=4.4; 95% CI: 1.9, 10.1 and smoking crack (AOR=2.9; 95% CI: 1.6, 5.2) in the previous 6 months, and lifetime sexual abuse (AOR=2.5; 95% CI: 1.4, 4.4) to be independently associated with sex work.

INTERPRETATION: Harm reduction and treatment programs that address historical and lifetime trauma amongst Aboriginal people and prioritize emotional and physical safety for young Aboriginal women involved in sex work are required.

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