Courtesy stigma: a hidden health concern among front-line service providers to sex workers

Courtesy stigma, also referred to as ‘stigma by association’, involves public disapproval evoked as a consequence of associating with a stigmatized individual or group. While a small number of sociological studies have shown how courtesy stigma limits the social support and social opportunities available to family members of stigmatized individuals, there is a paucity of research examining courtesy stigma among the large network of people who provide health and social services to stigmatized groups. This article presents results from a mixed methods study of the workplace experiences of a purposive sample of workers in a non-profit organization providing services to sex workers in Canada.

The findings demonstrate that courtesy stigma plays a role in workplace health as it shapes both the workplace environment, including the range of resources made available to staff to carry out their work activities, as well as staff perceptions of others’ support. At the same time, it was evident that some workers were more vulnerable to courtesy stigma than others depending on their social location. We discuss these results in light of the existing literature on courtesy stigma and conclude that it is an under-studied determinant of workplace health among care providers serving socially denigrated groups.

Publication Date: 
November 21, 2011
Journal Name: 
Sociology of Health & Illness