I have been involved in sex work rights advocacy, anti-oppression organizing and community development in western Canada since 1990s which included building alliances across public, private and voluntary sectors, and developing capacity toward the social, economic and political inclusion of people who trade sex that supports their equal and safe participation in civil society. I provided direct outreach and support to sex workers at PACE Society (1995-2000) and became its Executive Director (2000-2006). I co-founded a number of sex worker organizations and programs in Vancouver including the BCCEC (BC Coalition of Experiential Communities; the Mobile Access Project (MAP); FIRST–a feminist advocacy group; and I helped write the first funding proposal for HUSTLE a netreach and support service for male and trans*sex workers.
In 2006, sex workers named a service award after me that is given to those who provide outstanding service towards the advancement of health, safety and rights for sex workers. I’ve presented this award to 11 people since then. I also won a Lifetime achievement award from The Naked Truth (TNT).
Most recently, I worked as a Program Manager at the University of British Columbia, School of Nursing on an off-street sex work research project called SPACES (Sex, Power, Agency, Consent, Environment and Safety) that interviewed 116 sex workers, clients and 3rd parties about their health and safety tips and strategies. I am the visionary and co-founder of the Hooker Monologues theatre project that performed in Vancouver Canada in March 2016.
In the UK, I sit on the Board of Directors of Scot-PEP a sex worker advocacy organization, and I provide administration support on a limited basis to the UK Sex Work Research Hub that connects researchers from across institutions who do sex work research.
Elucidation of the sex work and survival sex activities of diverse (but most accessible) populations have been the preoccupation of sex work research worldwide. Literature on sex work is ubiquitous and informs gender and violence studies, criminology and sociology, labour and sexuality, economics, health research, and law and policy. Studies about how people enter and leave the sex industry make up a good portion of this literature. My PhD study is inspired by my Master’s project where I examined the transition experiences of 22 “ordinary” off-street sex workers who problematized how the exit process has been theorized. Five individuals in this study led dual lives by holding jobs in sex work and square work concurrently. My PhD project entitled “In Plain Sight: an examination of ‘Duality’, the simultaneous involvement in sex work and square work” will hone in on how people negotiate duality, who challenge simplistic binary understandings of sex work involvement. This inquiry will expand the ways in which we can speak about and comprehend sex work and the ways that we oppress or embrace those who live dual lives. This project promises to produce a nuanced understanding of sex work needed to create effective social policies and programs for increased rights, safety and protections. Key themes include:
the exploration of interactional experiences in the two fields of interaction (sex work and square work); selective disclosure; micro and macro role transition rituals and routines; stigma; identity management and how income and paid work is managed within larger economic constructs. Those who hide ‘in plain sight’, will inform interventions aimed to increase health and safety for those in sex work and for those wishing to transition to other careers.
Bowen, R. (2016). “Squaring Up: Experiences of Transition from Off-Street Sex Work to Square Work and Duality—Concurrent Involvement in Both—in Vancouver BC.” Canadian Review of Sociology, Vol 52(4): 429-449. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cars.12085/abstract
O’Neill, M., Maggin, P., Hubbard, P., Bowen, R., & Laing, M., (2015). “Decriminalisation of Sex Work and Social Justice for Sex Workers: Time for Evidence-based Policy.” Written Submission for English Collective of Prostitutes Evidence Gathering Symposium on the Decriminalisation of Sex Work, 3rd November 2015, House of Commons. *Available upon request.
Bowen, R., & Bungay, V., (2015). “Taint: An Examination of the Lived Experiences of Stigma and its’ Lingering Effects for Eight Sex Industry Experts.” Culture, Health and Sexuality, Vol 18(2): 184-197. http://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/fcJfsUFPCISe4crNhSZz/full#.VqYcoVLo6Dk
Bowen, R., Bungay, V., Zangger, C. (2015). “Making SPACES: Advancing Recommendations from the Off-Street Sex Industry in Vancouver.” Report on the findings of interviews with 116 off-street sex workers, clients and 3rd parties. Prepared for the Making Spaces conference September 11th, 2015.
Bowen, R. and O’Doherty, T. “Participant-Driven Action Research (PDAR) with Sex Workers in Vancouver, BC”, Pp 53-74. In Negotiating Sex Work: Unintended Consequences of Policy and Activism, Edited by Samantha Majic and Carisa Showden, 2014. Available at: http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/negotiating-sex-work
Arthur, J., Davis, S., Shannon, E. Contributors: Bowen, R. and O’Doherty, T. “Overcoming Challenges: Vancouver’s Sex Worker Movement.” In Selling Sex: Experience, Advocacy, and Research on Sex Work in Canada,2013. Edited by Emily van der Meulen, Elyam Durisin and Victoria Love. UBC Press. Available at: http://www.ubcpress.ubc.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=299173904
Bowen, R. (2013). “They Walk among Us: Sex Work Exiting, Re-entry and Duality” (MA thesis). Simon Fraser University Library Catalogue (b6258038). Available at http://troy.lib.sfu.ca/record=b6258038~S1a
Janssen, P., Gibson, K., Bowen, R., Spittal, P. and Petersen, K. (2009). “Peer Support using a Mobile Access Van Promotes Safety and Harm Reduction Strategies among Sex Trade Workers in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.” Journal of Urban Health Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 86:5, 804-809. http://www.mendeley.com/research/peer-support-using-a-mobile-access-van-promotes-safety-and-harm-reduction-strategies-among-sex-trade-workers-in-vancouvers-downtown-eastside/
Bowen, R., Shannon, E. (2009). “Human Trafficking, Sex Work Safety and the 2010 Games: Assessments and Recommendations.” On Vancouver Police Department website:
Bowen, R. (2007). “Protection for All: Bad Date Reporting and Response Strategies.”
Gibson, K., Bowen, R., Janssen, P., Spittal, P. (2006). “Evaluation of the Mobile Access Project.” Report to the Vancouver Agreement Women’s Strategy Task Team.
Bowen, R. (2006). “Research Ethics: A Guide for Community Organizations.”
Bowen, R. (2006). “Tips for Individuals Participating in Community Based Research.”