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Making Sex Work Safe  >  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework 
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Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

Making Sex Work Safe

Making Sex Work Safe
Acknowledgements
Foreword
Commercial sex in context
Developing a policy framework
Strategies for education
Enabling strategies
Safe (commercial) sex
Health and safety for mobile populations and drug users
Making projects successful
Further reading
Key information sources and suppliers

 

 

 

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  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

 

Developing a policy framework
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2.1  Policies and philosophies

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Core values

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Individual experiences

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Management principles 

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Staff and skills

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Commercial sex and the law 

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A perspective on law reform

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2.2  STD/HIV policy

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Living with HIV and the double stigma

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2.3  Coercion and human rights

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Young people and sexual exploitation

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Trafficking 

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Sex tourism

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2.4 Drug policy

 

 

 

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  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

2.1 Policies and philosophies

Sex workers throughout the world demand fair treatment and civil rights
Sex workers throughout the world demand fair treatment and civil rights

An international AIDS agency which is responsible for health policy recommends that governments "discourage recourse to commercial sex" by allocating resources for "large scale campaigns to promote respect for women". This reflects a particular ideology - that paying for sex is disrespectful to women (and it ignores male sex work entirely). Another agency believes that commercial sex is an integral aspect of consensual sex between adults. It therefore recommends that resources be spent on supporting sex workers' self-organising and on initiatives which aim to improve conditions in the sex industry. ....

  
"Policy framework" means the laws and policies which affect how the sex industry operates. It includes such things as:
 

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whether prostitution is legal or illegal

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where and how sex workers can work, if they can advertise, share premises etc

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whether homosexuality and transsexualism are tolerated 

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whether sex workers have equal access to affordable health care and whether they must undergo compulsory medical examinations

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how police behave towards sex workers and how reports of crimes against them are dealt with.


Policy usually reflects laws and regulations that are imposed by governments. However, policy decisions and subsequent practices are often less formal. For example, police in some places traditionally do not prosecute certain types of sex work, even when they are illegal.

Policy affects the way that health projects work. Project staff need to I understand the policy framework in which they are working. Often health services are expected to contribute to the development of policy. This is an important opportunity to improve conditions for sex workers and to improve the effectiveness of the project.

Agencies which provide services to sex workers must also develop their own policy. Organisational policy guides projects in such matters as what advice is given to service users; whether HIV testing will be provided or encouraged; whether families and associates are targeted or sex workers only; if both genders or only one are included; whether current, or only former, sex workers can be peer educators; whether to participate in research; and many more.

Donors, managers and project staff including peer educators should consider their own views about commercial sex. Learning about local policy, and formulating organisational policy can be an ideal opportunity for staff and managers to explore their own opinions about sex work and to become more informed. The following paragraphs could be used to begin discussion about a range of policy issues which affect the sex industry.



    

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"When I hear project staff say 'the women in our project don't want to be prostitutes, they are forced into it', I know from experience that this is not the full picture. More than likely the project worker is projecting her view of sex work.

Namely that she would never do it unless forced. Every time I have heard that, and then I meet the sex workers I find the same thing - different attitudes, different life stories, different experiences. Some hate it, some don't."
International health promotion consultant
 

Dignity and solidarity in the red light district of Calcutta.
Dignity and solidarity in the red light district of Calcutta.

"Negotiating condom use is always in the hands of the sex worker and depends on how good she is at her job. Women who come from the temple system [devdasis] have very few taboos regarding sex and have been successful in getting their clients to use condoms. They respect their bodies, take baths, ask clients to bathe, serve food to the client and are in control of the situation. [In our project] we have begun to think that sex work should be professionalised. "
Gram Barati Samiti. India 


Core values 
Commercial sex invariably raises complex questions about gender relations, human rights, sexuality and political economy. Almost everywhere people who sell sex are stigmatised. In many cases the stigma is compounded by association with homosexuality, transsexualism, drugs, ethnicity or race.

Discussions about commercial sex from community to international level are widely reported, particularly when changes are being proposed. Churches, governments, health, welfare and law enforcement agencies, human rights and women's organisations may all have influence on policy about commercial sex. In recent years sex workers themselves have had a greater role in determining policy which affects them in many countries. 

Questions which influence policy remain. Is sex work inherently exploitative? Are people forced into it or is it a valid choice? Can it ever really be safe? Should it be treated as ordinary work or actively discouraged? Why are sex workers so often powerless? What do sex workers think?

These issues can be confusing but they cannot be ignored. Different core beliefs about sex work lead to different ways of approaching health promotion for sex workers. This means that it is impossible to take a neutral position.

A new project observed dreadful conditions at the local STD clinic. Women were lining up to receive a few seconds of substandard treatment. There was no privacy or counselling and hygiene standards were low. The project director, who believes that sex work is degrading, regarded conditions at the STD clinic as evidence for that view. She cited her visit to the STD clinic as reason to dedicate project resources to helping women to stop working in the sex industry. A project manager with a different perspective might have viewed conditions at the STD clinic as a violation of the woman's right to proper treatment and argued for improvements at the clinic.

It is helpful for projects to express their core values in writing. These are the principles which guide the STD/HIV Intervention Project in Sonagachi, Calcutta: 
 

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A basic humane approach dealing with the essential dignity of a person and valuing individual convictions

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Absolute confidentiality 

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Respect for the professionalism of sex workers and for their need to earn income

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Democracy and sex worker involvement at all levels

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Flexibility 

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"... taking sides in the community, in matters of oppression and repression... within feasible limits. This approach has boosted the morale of the sex workers and willed them to find the grit to resist persecution by all and sundry". 



Dr Smarajit Jana, Project Director


Individual experiences 
Do sex workers like being sex workers?

Like any other work, sex work is not experienced in the same way by all women, transgendered people or men, even in one area or one culture. The way people feel about providing sexual services for income varies enormously. Some find it to be an easy, worthy or acceptable occupation while others dislike it and find it shameful, frightening or boring. Often individual sex workers change their attitude as they either become used to the work or tired of it. This means that projects must consider a range of individual experiences within the sex industry. It may be appropriate to assist one person to stop working while assisting another to advance her or his "career" as a sex worker.



    

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  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

 

Management principles 
Health promotion services and advocacy are provided by a range of agencies from government departments and hospitals to projects of development agencies. local collectives and many more. All of these have quite different management structures and this handbook doesn't attempt to list or analyse them. However there are some principles which have been identified as effective management philosophy by various agencies:
 

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Flexibility 
Projects should be managed in a flexible way so that they can respond to rapid changes in the commercial sex environment and incorporate lessons learned from new experiences. Sometimes projects will need to experiment with new approaches. 

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Accountability 
Projects should explain their work and account for its effects both to official "stakeholders" such as donors and authorities and to sex workers. This can be done, for example. by inviting sex workers to join management groups and committees and by developing a culture which sex workers understand and in which they are comfortable. For example. meetings should be held at convenient times and conducted in ordinary language rather than jargon.

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Transparency 
All aspects of the project should be open to scrutiny and criticism. These include which information is being gathered and why, and what roles various staff and volunteers have. Again, this information must be presented in a way that is easily understood.

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Recognition for sex workers' skills 
The range of skills should be identified. recognised and used. If sex workers occupy the least skilled roles in the project over a period of time there should be a review of methods and appropriate training should be provided.


There are several management challenges unique to sex work projects such as managing sex worker peer educators. involving sex workers in project design. co-ordination and negotiating with police and local communities. Many managers benefit from networking with others who are doing similiar work. The Network of Sex Work Projects, or other organisations listed in the Key information sources and suppliers section of this book. may assist in locating projects and technical advisors who can offer management support.

 

Planning strategies in Kenya
Planning strategies in Kenya

Appropriate training enables outreach workers to contact people in a variety of settings.
Appropriate training enables outreach workers to 
contact people in a variety of settings.



    

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  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

 

"You don't have to get arrested to be affected by the law. The sex industry is run by the law about prostitution, and we are all affected. I pay big money to the club so every day I choose between that and keeping all my money but risking arrest. It's the club owners who profit of course. They don't want the law to change."
Sex worker, Germany
 

Staff members of a government funded project in Melbourne, Australia are able to campaign for the rights of sex workers.

Staff members of a government funded project in Melbourne, Australia are able to campaign for the rights of sex workers.


Staff and skills 
There is general agreement that sex worker involvement in projects is essential, but it is not always easy to organise and it requires good planning. Sex workers and professional staff need relevant training and team-building. Good models of training are not always available. Again, established projects may be able to offer training and technical support and consultancy to newer projects. Some important principles: 
 

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Sex workers should not be treated as a source of cheap labour, nor exposed in any way by becoming involved in the project. Projects should protect anonymity with policies such as forbidding media access to the project. 

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Peer education is not a substitute for professional health and welfare services.

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Peer educators should not be expected to go into more dangerous or unpleasant circumstances than other project staff.

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Sex workers should have the same rights as other staff. One peer educator commented that she was subject to employment conditions similiar to parole conditions for prisoners (see Chapter 3).

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Sex workers are entitled to training and career opportunities on an equal basis with non-sex worker staff members.

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Peer education should not be confused with sex worker involvement in decision-making. Unless projects are developed by skilled sex workers agencies must develop ways of bringing sex workers into decision-making processes through training and making complex information accessible.


Commercial sex and the law 
Some or all aspects of commercial sex are illegal in many countries. Laws against homosexuality, public order provisions and local regulations are also used against sex workers and the sex industry.

Levels of enforcement vary from place to place and often change over time. Some countries have very repressive laws that are weakly enforced, some have less harsh laws that are strongly enforced. The impact of law on sex workers' daily lives can limit the effectiveness of interventions. The situation assessment for a project should identify what laws exist, how they are enforced and what effect they have on sex workers locally.

Prohibition is where the act of accepting payment for sex, and, sometimes, paying for sex, is illegal and is punished. This is the situation for example in Islamic Gulf states and in most parts of the USA. There is prohibition in a number of other countries and areas but often the enforcement is weak or arbitrary.

Criminalisation of prostitution-related offences is where the law forbids certain activities related to paying for sex rather than paid sex itself. These activities include soliciting for clients, advertising, living off the earnings of prostitutes, using premises or communicating for the purpose of prostitution, recruiting sex workers, helping them to travel and many more. This is the most common legal framework for commercial sex as it exists throughout Western Europe, India, South East Asia, Canada, Australia and the Pacific and most of Latin America.

Regulation of the sex industry is when exceptions to criminal law are made for those parts of the sex industry which comply with certain conditions. In the case of female sex workers such systems are often linked to official requirements that sex workers are tested for STDs/HIV.

In recent years a number of governments have enacted stronger penalties against customers. This is a response to protests that laws which penalise those who sell sex but not those who buy are unfair (and sexist because they usually apply to women). Sex workers usually disagree with this. They say that criminalising their clients makes the situation more difficult for them as well.



    

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  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

 

Sex work projects usually work with diverse sexual behaviours, even where those behaviours are denied

Sex work projects usually work with diverse sexual behaviours, even where those behaviours are denied
 

International protest against anti-prostitution
International protest against anti-prostitution laws in Amsterdam,


Some examples of government legislation: 

Australia 
Australia has eight sets of quite different prostitution laws in its various states. They range from laws which permit legalised brothels where sex workers enjoy full industrial and civil rights to strongly enforced near prohibition. Overall, sex workers support legalised prostitution, although some marginalised sex workers, such as drug users and transgender sex workers, continue to work in dangerous circumstances such as on the street because they do not have access to legal sex work.

Brazil 
Prostitution itself is not illegal but it is illegal to operate a brothel, rent premises to sex workers, exploit children or live off the earnings of a prostitute. Female sex workers are generally tolerated although they are vulnerable to violence and are not protected by the state. Transgender and male sex workers are particularly vulnerable to persecution by police.

Canada 
The law falls short of prohibiting the act of prostitution but criminalises a wide range of related offences such as soliciting, living off the earnings of prostitution, communicating for prostitution, operating premises etc. There is vigorous enforcement of prostitution laws, often supplemented by municipal laws and public nuisance provisions. 

Denmark 
It is not illegal to provide sexual services as long as sex work is not the main source of income (in which case the charge is vagrancy). Taking sex workers' earnings and recruiting are illegal. Street prostitution has ended since sex workers were allowed to advertise their services in 1973.

Germany 
Like Australia, Germany has different laws in different states with some states permitting legalised brothels for female sex workers. However, workers in legal brothels do not have full industrial and civil rights and there are legal limitations on improving workers' conditions. Most women choose to work outside the legal system. Male sex workers face fewer legal restrictions. In general, there is toleration and relatively civil policing.

Greece and Turkey 
Both countries have legalised sex work. Women must register and attend clinics for regular examination, in some cases as frequently as twice weekly. Registered sex workers have citizenship rights and in Turkey sex workers have joined a local trade union.

India 
There are many laws against the sex industry including laws against traditional caste-based prostitution. Prostitution and illegal trading in people is common despite legislation, and conditions in the sex industry are almost always very bad.

Kenya 
Prostitution is not defined in the legal code. Police harassment of sex workers in the formal sex industry is common. A woman with many sex partners is highly stigmatised and often regarded as a prostitute. 

The Netherlands 
Prostitution is legal or tolerated in most of the Netherlands. Sex workers pay tax and are subject to local by-laws. However, legislation is still structured in such a way as to deny sex workers full civil rights' and social stigma does exist, contrary to popular perceptions about the country. 

Peru 
Brothels in urban areas are licensed and regulated by the state. Sex workers must be registered, carry identity cards and submit to fortnightly checkups. 

Senegal 
It is illegal to aid, abet, procure, live off earnings or run a brothel. Female sex workers must register, carry cards and submit to regular medical examinations. There is a large informal sex industry and most women do not work within the registered system. Enforcement is weak.

Thailand 
It is illegal to be a prostitute or to live off the earnings of a prostitute. The laws are not consistently enforced.

United Kingdom 
Sex work in itself is not illegal but related activities, soliciting, procuring, brothel keeping and living off immoral earnings, are illegal. More recent provisions have been introduced to criminalise men looking for street sex workers. English law seeks to protect the citizen "from that which is injurious or offensive" rather than prohibiting sex work on morality grounds.



    

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Effects of laws against sex work

 
 
Effects of laws against sex work
 

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Sex workers are not entitled to industrial rights such as sick pay and accident compensation nor protection from exploitation, and workplaces are not subject to health and safety regulations

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Self-employed sex workers are not entitled to civil rights such as health care (where it exists), banking facilities, social assistance or civil justice, for example, unbiased treatment in divorce cases.

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Sex workers move frequently or live covertly (secretly) to avoid arrest.

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Sex workers are brought into contact with other criminal activities.

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Frequent arrest or abuse by police increases sex workers' sense of powerlessness and lowers self-esteem.

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Where the sex industry operates more covertly, establishments pretend they don't offer sex. Condoms are sometimes discouraged because they can be used as evidence that prostitution is taking place.

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Laws against clients can mean that sex workers and clients must meet covertly, which minimises the time available to the sex worker to negotiate safe sex.

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Sex workers may not have the right to expect reports of violence against them to be treated seriously by police and courts.

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Laws against third parties being involved in prostitution either prevent sex workers from working from premises, having relationships or employing people to protect them, or those arrangements are made more expensive. This encourages people to work alone, which is generally more dangerous

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Sex workers may have to pay excessive prices for goods, services and accommodation.



    

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Street workers are usually subject to more legal persecution than those who work indoors.
Street workers are usually subject to more legal persecution than those who work indoors.

"We the undersigned work the street of Streatham. We acknowledge and regret inconvenience to residents but we regard it as the responsibility of government to reform the prostitution laws immediately. to enable us to relocate, at reasonable cost, to legal, safe, appropriately located premises."

Sex workers in Britain express their needs in this petition to a committee considering prostitution law reform.

  
A perspective on law reform 
It is clear that anti-prostitution laws don't succeed in achieving their supposed aims and they should be removed. But what should take their place?

In countries where all working conditions are regulated it is unrealistic to expect conditions around sex work to be unregulated. So what laws and regulations should apply to the sex industry?

Some countries have legalised brothels in which sex workers (usually female) are strictly controlled and it is illegal to work anywhere else. This system has been tried in Nevada, USA and in some states in Germany, India and Australia. Many sex workers cannot get jobs in the legal brothels or conditions in them are so harsh that most prefer to work illegally.

In other places individual sex workers are licensed and they can work, sometimes relatively freely, as long as they go to clinics to be tested for STDs. This system has had varied success. Sex workers' willingness to obey these rules depends on matters such as whether they are treated well at the clinics, whether or not the records are confidential and whether registering actually results in less harassment.

Most sex workers' organisations favour repeal of the criminal laws against sex work so that the sex industry is subject to the same controls as other businesses. They argue that nuisance and violence can be dealt with by existing laws and that sex workers with civil rights are better placed to control their lives and secure better working conditions.

In many countries, much of the economy is informal (small scale trading and manufacturing, market gardening etc.) and significant sections of the population are deprived of civil rights and social support. In these situations, existing prostitution laws are problematic and should be repealed because they ensure that sex workers are" permanently deprived of fundamental rights and are vulnerable to arrest and abuse for crimes such as "vagrancy". Being under the age of consent is also a barrier to civil rights, a matter which particularly affects young men who sell sex. Sex work activists in some developing countries argue that where stigma and corruption underpin the persecution of sex workers, reform of sex work laws alone is unlikely to secure sex workers equal civil rights. 



    

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"When we collated information about HIV positive sex workers I was surprised by the interview respondents who accepted the right of HIV-positive people in general to have protected sex but who didn't think that sex workers with HIV should continue to work. Apparently, it's okay to give safe sex but not to sell it. Unless there is a form of transmission I don't know about , on cash or plastic cards, it's difficult to see logic. The brothel owners were at least logical, if morally bankrupt. They saw it as a question of a consumer's right not to be sold faulty goods!"
Diana Allan,
Project manager, Australia

2.2  STD/HIV Policy

Many countries have implemented registration or licensing systems in which sex workers are expected to register with a governmental agency (generally the health department or police) and comply with frequent STD and HIV testing. Most systems aim to prevent a person who has an STD or HIV from selling sex. This is usually done by withholding the card or certificate that the person needs in order to work legally. The documents are checked by police, other authorities or brothel and bar keepers.

The system is controversial both because it is doubtful that it actually identifies infected sex workers or prevents them from infecting others and it is widely regarded as a human rights violation because it forces only one partner involved in sex to submit to medical examination.

 

A response to the arrest of an HIV positive sex worker who had been selling safe service in Australia.
A response to the arrest of an HIV positive sex worker who had been selling safe service in Australia. 


Arguments against compulsory registration and STD testing of sex workers: 
 

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Compulsory testing must include all sex workers. In practice. systems do not include all female sex workers and usually do not apply to male sex workers at all.

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Often there is no incentive to participate because compliance does not guarantee freedom from persecution.

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The sex industry divides into two categories, official/visible and secret/invisible. The most vulnerable sex workers tend to work secretly where conditions which contribute to their vulnerability continue, or are worse, than before registration was introduced.

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There is evidence that sex workers in more formal settings have lower rates of STDs than those who work informally.

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If clients believe that sex workers are subject to medical examination and prevented from working if they have an infection, it may encourage clients to demand unprotected sex.

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It is unfair to subject one partner in a sexual contact to scrutiny while the status of the other remains unknown.

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Lack of access to medical services often motivates sex workers to "self-medicate" which means treating illnesses with drugs purchased from unqualified vendors. Self-medication is a source of ill health in itself.



"In Greece sex workers must register to avoid being arrested and imprisoned. In Thessaloniki, 60 registered sex workers are subjected to compulsory weekly gynaecological and STD tests. The clinic they are compelled to attend has only two staff, who are also responsible for health promotion and social support. Since the resources are not adequate to provide the required services, non-registered sex workers are refused treatment.

Similarly, a clinic in Athens has 130 sex worker patients per day, under conditions in which even skilled and well intentioned staff could not provide quality services. Registered sex workers must attend the clinic twice weekly (no holidays are allowed). Four hundred sex workers are registered and five thousand are not."
EUROPAP


"In Singapore the STD rate among sex workers who are not part of the compulsory medical scheme is significantly higher than the rate among those who are registered. There is evidence that as women join the scheme they become less likely to have an STD, possibly because it is compulsory to attend an educational workshop." Drs Goh and Chan, National Skin Centre, Singapore 

Living with HIV and the double stigma 
People living with HIV and selling sex raises ethical and practical questions. Sex workers who already face stigma and persecution are often faced with a difficult decision about continuing to work in the sex industry. Many do not have other options.

Usually people with HIV are advised that they can be sexually active without infecting others if they have safe sex. Yet often medical practitioners and counsellors are not comfortable giving this advice when the sex is being paid for.

In many countries laws have been passed which are intended to prevent people with HIV from selling sex and these laws are frequently used against sex workers. However, such laws almost always drive HIV-positive sex workers away from the support systems and services which could help them to live well and safely. Where this is the case, such laws and policies are clearly counterproductive.



    

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"Do you truly believe that women don't know what they are going for? Women know but they're thinking 'I have to feed my children, get myself a house'." 
Nury Pernia, Ambar, Venezuela

"If you really want to stop trafficking just open the borders and legalise prostitution." 
Claudia Colimoro, Union Unica, Mexico

"While ostensibly giving these workers a voice, the statements by experts are selectively reinterpreted. They say that trafficked women who have been deported (from Thailand to Burma) are 'lured back into prostitution by brothel agents', which suggests that they are stupid enough to be duped [deceived] twice. When they return home and talk about the money they have made they are said to be lying to 'save face'. When they go back to working as prostitutes after being 'rescued' it is deemed to be 'voluntary' only in the sense that they saw their first experience as having rendered them unfit for anything else." 
Alison Murray, Australian author, discussing a report about trafficking in women by AsiaWatch

"There is a big difference between a young woman who is of marriageable age in her culture selling sex and a girl of 8 or 9. Likewise, there is a difference between paedophiles and men who are not too fussy if the worker they see is 18 or 14. For us that difference can mean the difference between offering counselling and medical care or picking up the phone to the police." 
Social worker, Germany

"In Brazil it is common to see young boys and girls selling sex, as well as being involved in other sectors of the informal economy. We believe that children are meant to be at school or enjoying their childhood, not working at all." 
Paulo Longo, Brazil 


2.3 Coercion and human rights

There is much discussion about those aspects of commercial sexual activity which violate human rights including sex tourism, child prostitution, violent coercion and trafficking in women and young people. Often these issues create practical questions. For example, should projects work with young people or are they supporting abuse by giving them condoms? What should services do when they become aware of people who are being forced to work or held against their will?

Unfortunately for health projects, these debates don't offer useful information or practical insights which could guide service providers. There is no agreement about questions such as what constitutes force. Some say poverty is force while others say force must be physical. At what age, if ever, are people able to consent to sell sex? Some say 16, others 18, 21 or even 25, although in many countries people begin their sexual and reproductive lives at puberty or soon after. Groups which advocate increased punishment and suppression of the sex industry illustrate their campaigns with unsourced statistics and lurid accounts.

Young people and sexual exploitation 
There is some evidence that demand for underage sex workers has increased in some places in the last decade because young people are perceived as being less likely to have HIV. (This underlines the need for health education to encourage safe sex practices with all partners rather than considering the chances of potential partners' HIV status.)

It is true that economic conditions in some parts of the world mean that there are large numbers of impoverished children who sell sex, among other things, to survive in informal economies. But the reality of young people's involvement in selling sex is more complex than the often sensationalising media images.

Health workers should understand that child exploitation and adolescents selling sex are different issues which give rise to different needs. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula for understanding young people, gender and sexuality, either at policy level or when working with individual young people. Some issues require multidisciplinary responses which include health promotion and social work skills, while some require the same responses as adult sex work, even if that presents cultural challenges to professionals.

Service providers must consider their duties and responsibilities to children and adolescents and be able to carry out those duties. Staff should be trained to deal with young people and know which local services are likely to deal appropriately with young people who sell sex.

Where young people sell sex and live away from their families they are sometimes in environments which, although not ideal, may provide forms of social support which are not immediately apparent to service providers. This has important implications for agencies who are considering taking steps which may result in a young person being removed from that environment and placed in another. Will it be better, and on whose terms?

The definition of a child varies legally and culturally between countries and cultures. "Child" prostitution statistics are certainly inflated by lobby groups, who include young people older than the legal or culturally acceptable age of consent in their definition of "child". These statistics blur a distinction which is important for service providers who must develop appropriate responses to the different needs of pre-pubescent children and young men and women aged 18 years.



    

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Most sex workers who travel to new countries to work do so voluntarily.
Most sex workers who travel to new countries to work do so voluntarily.

"There are reports in Japan of a growth industry in paid sex with young girls in their midteens.The girls meet older men through publicity advertised phone clubs or in flats for "enjo kosai" which means compensating dating. There is no question here of coercion or homelessness and hunger, The proceeds go to buying designer label cloths."
The Guardian, 30/10/96

 
Trafficking 
Sex workers who want to work in more lucrative markets often travel to do so, often illegally and often with the assistance of others, sometimes they are assisted by individuals, but often highly organised brokers make unfair profit by providing transport, the necessary paperwork for the journey (passports, visas, letters of support), accommodation and employment in the destination country. Typically brokers recoup their fees by taking the woman's earnings in the destination country. Often her freedom is limited until the debt is paid and even beyond that. This form of labour contract, debt bondage, is illegal but not uncommon.

Recently, women of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states who have travelled to Western Europe and beyond have been subject to these kinds of arrangements, as are some of the women and transsexuals who travel from Latin America and Mica and countries where poverty is endemic or those where leaving is difficult, such as Haiti or Cuba.

Stories of girl children being sold into prostitution are familiar to most people. In some cases women and children are forced or tricked by networks of professional brokers into travelling to work as prostitutes. Others make arrangements voluntarily but find that the brokers have lied about standards of employment and accommodation and the legality of the documents they will provide. The latter typically receive less sympathy. In both instances, women and (in much fewer cases) men exist in slavery-like conditions in the destination country until they are deported, or freed.

In most cases where sex workers reach an otherwise inaccessible country and find opportunities to earn a lot of money, they are satisfied with what they see as a good service, even if the arrangements do not reach standards which are either acceptable to others or legal. Despite sensationalist press and influential "anti-trafficking" lobby groups which disseminate information about the worst scenarios, most arrangements are voluntary and many are, in fact, completed to the satisfaction of the sex worker involved.

The problems for sex workers who have been "trafficked" are similar in many ways to those of other labourers who travel from poor to rich countries for work. These include extreme vulnerability to exploitation or even enslavement and little or no access to health and welfare services. In some places there are organisations which provide assistance for such immigrants, although this is usually seen as different from that offered to other immigrants.

While there is a clear duty to try to assist anyone being held against their will, project staff should not take actions on their own since this situation can be extremely dangerous. There should be clear procedures in services for staff members who come across people in such situations.

When sex workers are subject to agreements with brokers there are additional obstacles to health promotion. They may not be permitted to leave where they are working or staying, or they may be escorted when they do so. Because there is risk to the brokers if police or immigration authorities are notified, they may be deliberately prevented from making contact with anyone in the destination country. Nevertheless, in many places outreach workers have had successes at reaching women on contracts and even gained enough trust to enable them to visit health services.

Organised networks do not appear to control the movement of men for sex work from poorer to richer countries, although there are reports of boys being trafficked, particularly within Asia.



    

Making Sex Work Safe    27  Page 28  29  top of page

  Chapter 2: Developing a policy framework

 



" I have been to Australia. Germany, Japan, Austria and Belgium and back to Australia, The first time was dreadful. I had to see dozens of men each day, no condoms. I don't want to talk about it. But since then I have found a much better [broker], I will come back again, I hope I am not arrested next time until I have made plenty of money, I had only Just started making money this time." I pretend to the police that I was not a prostitute in Thailand and that I want to go back. That way I will get voluntary departure rather than being deported."
Thai sex worker awaiting deportation

Commercial sex and tourism often mix
Commercial sex and tourism often mix


Sex tourism 
Awareness of exploitation by tourists who travel to developing countries for cheaper or exotic sex has also increased. Some countries are introducing laws which enable them to prosecute their own citizens for crimes committed abroad. Tour operators who organise sex tours are also being targeted for prosecution.

Some governments and NGOs provide safe sex advice to travellers. There are a number of projects which work with sex workers in developing countries whose clients are Western tourists. These projects often arrange language classes aimed at increasing a sex worker's ability to negotiate safe services with her or his client.

 

2.4 Drug policy

In some cases projects are required to comply with national policies, or policies of potential donors, who may have guidelines about how drug services are delivered. Sometimes organisations who work with sex workers have input into the formulation of local drug policy. Again, this is an important opportunity.

HIV prevention and social support services for sex workers are more successful in places in which there is realistic drug policy. Realistic drug policy is access to a variety of effective treatments, clean needles and syringes, and accurate information about drugs. Unrealistic drug policy is that which criminalises drug users, deprives them of support and forces drug prices upwards - all of which impact negatively on sex workers' capacity to excercise control over their personal circumstances.

 

 

 
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