Sex workers are the solution not the problem – Sex work, HIV and human rights

Sex workers are the solution not the problem – Sex work, HIV and human rights


No one pays any attention to the human rights of sex workers and what they want, the police arbitrarily and constantly fine them. They don’t have access to the mass media. I cannot speak for all of Spain because in every region there is special laws, but I think the most endangered are street sex workers and arbitrary police persecution continues against them. Sex work is not always legal in Turkey so that is the biggest human rights violation actually. We are working but we are being punished arbitrarily. Our state doesn’t accept us as sex workers, but that’s our profession. One practice is to arbitrarily arrest sex workers, usually without any evidence just the possession of condoms. Evidence enough to get a misdemeanour offence, and having a misdemeanor record is reason enough to get them convicted and jailed. Several human rights violations, poverty and severe sigmatisation pose structural and social barriers to sex workers’ access to confidential, affordable and respectful HIV prevention, treatment and care services thus making sex workers vulnerable to HIV. Sex workers of all genders therefore bear a disproportionate burden of the epidemic, also in the European region. According to international standards, HIV services should be available, accessible, appropriate and acceptable. However, sex workers often face severe barriers when trying to access HIV services in criminalising environments. Sex workers are facing severe barrier when willing to reach different HIV services, like access to HIV prevention for migrant sex workers, for transgender sex workers, for male sex workers is very limited accross the region. There are some services for female sex workers, mostly female outdoors sex workers, but not all of them are provided with respect and in a non-discriminatory manner. And in many ways, sex workers’ human rights are violated with respect to HIV, for example, in many countries of the region, sex workers are subjected to mandatory testing. A lot of sex workers report that they are subjected to forced testings during police raids and detention. Very frequently, after these raids and after mandatory or forced testing sex workers are being prosecuted, criminalised for transmitting HIV or other infections if they are HIV positive. What are sex worker groups doing to fight the situation? STAR-STAR provides materials, lubricants, condoms and education. Also when we visit hot spots, we as outreach workers are delivering them plenty of materials, condoms, lubricants and what is very important for us is to convey them the message what their human rights are in relation to HIV and sex work. With the help of our lawyers we are trying to fight the cases of violence and try to educate trans sex workers as much as possible. We have some leaflets to inform sex workers about the house raids and their rights. Our lawyers are available 24 hours and there are times we don’t even sleep and try to give legal advice to sex workers. We do trainings for them, we try to involve as many sex workers as possible, trans and male sex workers as well. And we teach them to speak up and to be aware of their rights, that they have rights and they are human, they should not be stigmatised. Many of them are mothers and wives and they do have the right to access to health services and other services. I am an activist in a group called Putas Indignadas (Outraged Whores) from Raval in Barcelona, we really try to work against police persecution towards sex workers. Sex workers provide their fellow sex workers with condoms, with lubricants, but it is not, this is just one simple element of successful HIV prevention interventions because actually the most crucial part of it is addressing structural barriers to sex workers’ access to different services, and different factors, like criminalsation of sex work, criminalisation of clients, criminalisation of third parties as well, which contribute to sex workers’ vulnerability in terms of HIV. There are many ways of providing sex workers with effective HIV prevention. It consists of paralegal training, training on human rights, it means also addressing issues related to housing, for example. Actually, we have wonderful, very powerful resources in our struggle for sex worker involvement in HIV response, there is the SWIT tool, sex worker implementation tool, that was developed by UNAIDS and WHO with sex workers, that describes, actually that states that sex worker involvement in development of HIV programming is minimum necessary for effective response among sex workers, and also during the International AIDS conference this year in Melbourne, the latest issue of LANCET was published and this issue is solely dedicated to sex work and HIV. According to its findings, decriminalisation of sex work could lead to 33-46 % reduction in HIV infections in a decade among female sex workers and their clients, safer work environments could reduce infections by 21-45 %, upscaling anti-retroviral therapy could cut back HIV by 9-34 %. Finally, the elimination of sexual violence could also contribute to decreasing the number of HIV infections by 17-20 %. We have very powerful evidence saying that sex workers are the solution not the problem. My message is: be strong girls, try to fill yourself with a lot of positive energy anytime you feel weak and you don’t have the power to say no. I am normalising what I do and I want everybody to do the same thing because we are not wrong and we are not alone. I think we are also a social movement, we are part of the society, we are immigrants, black people, feminists as well, we are women, we are transgender, homosexual, we are of the worst and we are of the best, it is of utmost importance to interact with society and participate in social movements so that we can relate to other social movements and that they can relate to our social movement as well. No matter what you do, because you are doing what you like, because that is what you are. We are not coming from the outer space, we are coming from amoung you, heterosexuals! Message for all my colleagues to be more networked, to work on resolving all our issues, no matter how small they are and to love each other and let someone love you and in the end I love you!

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