Saturday, December 26, 2015

Negotiating Place & Gendered Violence in Canada’s Largest Open Drug Scene

Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside is home to Canada’s largest street-based drug scene and only supervised injection facility (Insite). High levels of violence among men and women have been documented in this neighbourhood. This study was undertaken to explore the role of violence in shaping the socio-spatial relations of women and ‘marginal men’ (i.e., those occupying subordinate positions within the drug scene) in the Downtown Eastside, including access to Insite.

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with 23 people who inject drugs (PWID) recruited through the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, a local drug user organization. Interviews included a mapping exercise. Interview transcripts and maps were analyzed thematically, with an emphasis on how gendered violence shaped participants’ spatial practices.

Hegemonic forms of masculinity operating within the Downtown Eastside framed the everyday violence experienced by women and marginal men. This violence shaped the spatial practices of women and marginal men, in that they avoided drug scene milieus where they had experienced violence or that they perceived to be dangerous. Some men linked their spatial restrictions to the perceived 'dope quality' of neighbourhood drug dealers to maintain claims to dominant masculinities while enacting spatial strategies to promote safety. Environmental supports provided by health and social care agencies were critical in enabling women and marginal men to negotiate place and survival within the context of drug scene violence. Access to Insite did not motivate participants to enter into “dangerous” drug scene milieus but they did venture into these areas if necessary to obtain drugs or generate income.

Gendered violence is critical in restricting the geographies of men and marginal men within the street-based drug scene. There is a need to scale up existing environmental interventions, including supervised injection services, to minimize violence and potential drug-related risks among these highly-vulnerable PWID.

...Women commonly spoke of the additional risks of violent sexual assault. For example, one woman in her late twenties who engaged daily in outdoor sex work noted:

I’ll smoke [crack cocaine] in the alley and I hate it…It’s scary. Anybody could walk up behind you with something and beat you and try to rob you ‘cause they want your drugs. It’s just scary…I’ve been raped [in an alleyway].

Gendered violence was understood to be a natural consequence of drug scene involvement, and thus operated as a form of symbolic violence. Many participants expressed that this normalized, gendered violence was most evident in the expectation that dominant men would seek to control the money and drugs or labour (e.g., contexts in which they exchanged sex) of women and marginal men. For example, as one older man noted during his interview:

The girls make the money [through involvement in sex work]. Guys know they got the money. The guys don’t make money, and that way they have to beg, borrow or steal in between cheques…So, of course they [women] are going to be manipulated…These guys, you know, [are] muscling them or doing anything to get what they’ve got [i.e., drugs or money]...

Full article at: 

1BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
2Department of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
3Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
4Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada

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