Courtesy stigma: a hidden health concern among workers providing services to sex workers




Phillips, Rachel E.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Courtesy stigma is the public disapproval evoked as a consequence of associating with a stigmatized individual or group. While there are few examples of research applying the concept of courtesy stigma to the professional associates of stigmatized persons, courtesy stigma has been shown to limit the social support and social opportunities available to family members who come to share some of the shame, blame and loss associated with their family member’s stigma(s). Research on the occupational health of persons performing frontline service work examines various sources of workplace demands and rewards, including the availability of public funding for the health and social service sectors, the devaluation of feminized forms of care-oriented work, and the downloading of responsibility for providing care to poorly paid or unpaid workers in the community and home. This research project blends the literatures on courtesy stigma and the occupational health of frontline service workers to understand the work experiences of those providing frontline social services to sex workers. A mixed methods design is used to study the workplace experiences of a small group of workers in a non-profit organization providing support and educational services to sex workers. The findings reveal that courtesy stigma is a discernable experience among this vulnerable group of service workers, affecting their work, community and family contexts. Courtesy stigma played a significant role in staff perceptions of others’ support for themselves and their work activities, leading to diminished opportunities for collaborative relationships, emotional exhaustion, altered service practices, and a low sense of workplace accomplishment. Thus, courtesy stigma forms part of the package of conditions that leads to high turnover, diminished workplace health, and a loss of service capacity in the frontline health and social service sector. The dissertation concludes with a consideration of the implications of the findings for the literatures on courtesy stigma and frontline service work, arguing that courtesy stigma is an underestimated determinant of occupational health for frontline service providers serving socially denigrated groups.



sex work, stigma, social determinants of health, occupational health, social work, care work