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Seven myths about sex workers

Source: Tue, 22 Jul 2014 10:15 GMT
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A woman uses a calculator as prostitutes wait for customers in the Dolly district in Surabaya March 24, 2014. REUTERS/Sigit Pamungkas
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MELBOURNE (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Decriminalising sex work would have the greatest impact on HIV epidemics worldwide, and could avert at least a third of HIV infections over the next decade, a paper in the Lancet medical journal said.

The research, based on studies of HIV among female sex workers in Canada, India and Kenya, was presented on Tuesday at an international AIDS conference in Melbourne.

Sex workers are one of the most high risk HIV groups, but there are still many myths about them, researchers said.

These are some of the most common myths:   

1. Sex workers are women

Although most of world's sex workers are female, sex workers can be male or transgender people. Transgender sex workers have heightened risk of HIV and are among the most vulnerable.   

2. All sex workers are single

Many sex workers report being in a relationship, and many are married. Often women, men and transgender people sell sex to support their partners and children.   

3. Sex workers do not want children or avoid pregnancy

In a 2005 study of sex workers in Moscow, more than 80 percent of them were mothers. In another study, carried out in 2013 in Iringa, Tanzania, sex workers said the status of being a mother was especially important because they lacked the status of being a wife.   

4. All sex workers are trafficked or coerced

Most sex workers are not trafficked as it is defined under international law, the Lancet researchers said.

Of an estimated 21 million people trapped in forced labour, roughly 22 percent of them are victims of sexual exploitation, compared with 68 percent in labour exploitation.   

5. Sex workers do not and will not use condoms

Condoms are scarce in many poor countries. Police officers in many parts of the world arrest sex workers carrying condoms, citing them as evidence of sex work which is criminalised to varying degrees in 119 countries.

However, sex workers can consistently use condoms once they are taught how to use them and negotiate condom use with clients.

6. Sex work is not work

Under the International Labour Office's new global standards, sex workers have the same entitlements as all other informal workers. In Brazil, sex workers can register their occupation and have the same rights – such as pensions – as other workers. 

7. Laws against selling or buying sex or owning a brothel prevent trafficking and reduce sex work

The number of sex workers in New Zealand did not increase after sex work was decriminalised in 2003.

Two studies have shown that Swedish laws criminalising the buying of sex and the renting of housing to sex workers were a barrier to prosecuting trafficking cases. This was because clients who had previously assisted victims by alerting the authorities now feared self-incrimination.   

Source: The Lancet series on HIV and sex work, July 2014

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