Preventing HIV: the decriminalisation of sex work

August 11, 2014 - openDemocracy.

A new bill, together with moves by some police departments in American cities to end the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution, has given hope to activists fighting to reduce the spread of HIV, secure human rights for sex workers, and to decriminalize sex work.

by Aziza Ahmed and J.M. Kirby

At the recent International AIDS Conference, The Lancet released a special issue on sex work and HIV. Acknowledging that sex workers constitute a disproportionate burden of people with HIV, Kate Shannon and colleagues modeled various interventions to measure how change in structural determinants of health would impact HIV transmission. Researchers found that the decriminalization of sex work would have the largest impact on the course of HIV epidemics by "averting 33-46% of HIV infections in the next decade."

While sex worker organizations advocated for the decriminalization of sex work long before the HIV epidemic in the United States, it was HIV that brought new attention to the need for sex workers to access safe sex materials to stop the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Sex workers, epidemiologists and lawyers noted that criminal laws, as well as police practices, played a large role in frustrating the ability of sex workers to access public health education, as well as key tools in preventing the spread of HIV, including condoms. Continue reading




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