Posted by: ndowlatshahi | 08/02/2011

Re: IAS 2011 examines most-at-risk populations: commerical sex workers

This post is a response to the various comments received to the original post with the above title available here.

I want to thank Cheryl Overs, Thierry Schaffauser and Calum Bennachie for their comments to my summary of the sessions I attended at IAS 2011 concerning sex workers. I am glad this point of police intervention has had the opportunity to be explored here as it  is clearly one of contention and I wanted to take the opportunity to offer a response on my own behalf.

It is true that GIPA (Greater Involvement of Police and Army) might not work in all situations or contexts, but if it has shown to be effective in some cases (and if there has been input and buy-in from the police,  the sex workers, madams/pimps and the implementing NGO or outreach group) then it should still be considered an option for intervention where appropriate. However, if it is not an appropriate intervention (or has never been an appropriate intervention as per the feedback from the commentators), then this is valuable information as well. Cheryl mentioned sex workers unify around this issue and agree that they do not want GIPA. This itself is also valuable information and should not be ignored. To be most effective in reaching policy makers, a combination of systematic research and advocacy on the issue would need to be needed. If the global health community can gather an evidence base (and this includes collecting qualitative interviews from sex workers and madams/pimps on their experiences with police involvement) then the argument becomes much stronger. Then we can promote this argument among diverse stakeholders and create broader support around this issue. Collaboration to change the attitudes towards sex work and the best ways to promote the safety of sex workers will be key as most countries still criminalize it. As mentioned by Calum and Thierry, the criminalization of sex work gives police the space to harm the sex workers (directly or indirectly) and in the end this of course will not only impact the well-being of the sex workers themselves but of their clients as well. We have at least seen progress this past July in the US with the federal court repealing the policy that required AIDS organizations receiving federal funds to explicitly oppose sex work.

Lastly, and in response to another section of the comment, I do not think the presenters were solely focusing on preventing the spread of HIV from sex workers to their clients. Many presenters made the case for how and why we need to protect the sex workers from getting infected from their clients, as sex workers like any other individuals, deserve the right to health. Of course this comes with much complexity, but we need to keep trying new strategies and promote those strategies that work, are contextually appropriate and have respect for and include the participation of those affected.

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