Sex Work, HIV/AIDS and Human Rights: From Criminalization to Protection

Thursday, at a panel session
on sex work and human rights, advocates called for the implementation
of effective HIV program and policy interventions based on the respect
for the human rights of sex workers. 

"We are not part of the problem;
we are the solution," said Alejandra Gil of Mexico. "Don’t close
your eyes; we are here: we are youth, men who have sex with men and
women living with HIV.  We are not going away." 

Across cultures, sex workers
have been historically cast as social deviants and victims.  They
have been further stigmatized and discriminated against as disease vectors
in the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  As a result, governments have enacted
policies that criminalize and violate the health and human rights of
sex workers.

While criminalization may have
political appeal, there is no evidence that this is an effective strategy
for protecting sex workers from violence and abuse. In fact, there is
growing evidence from numerous countries, including Sweden, that criminalizing
the sex worker or her/his client is likely to contribute to the abuse
and marginalization of sex workers. Criminalization gives latitude to
the police to abuse sex workers, and leads to other human rights violations.   

Enacting bad policies is not
going to improve the state of HIV/AIDS in the sex worker community. 
Changing the course of the epidemic requires measures that empower sex
workers against HIV/AIDS.  Policymakers and implementers need to
end the conflation of trafficking, sex work and violence by recognizing
that sex work is work, and that men, women and transgenders have the
right to earn a living with dignity and respect. Sex workers need to
be meaningfully involved in the design, implementation and evaluation
of policies and research on sex work so that programs addressing the
gender equality, violence and economic disparities among this population
can be effectively implemented.

These changes are crucial to
move the discussion beyond vice and victim hood and create concrete
policy solutions that respect the rights of sex workers and provide
HIV/AIDS services free of stigma and discrimination. 

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