Sex workers from over thirty countries have gathered in Melbourne at the AIDS 2014 Conference to address some of the big issues that all sex workers face.
Thai sex worker Sachumi Mayo said ” The hottest issue for sex workers from Thailand are migration and the potential impact of rapid testing. We are forced to volunteer to have a test over and over again, until we are found to be HIV positive, and then “nothing” – no treatment, no support.”
Sachumi added “Sex workers need treatment services, not just testing. Testing just leads to us getting the sack!
“We need money for our sex worker programs, not more testing!”
Cathy Ketepa from the Papua New Guinean sex worker organisation Friends Frangipani said “Sex workers rights are human rights.”
Cathy Ketepa said “ It’s important to understand that our ability to protect ourselves from HIV, access services and care, and stay on treatment is directly linked to the laws we work under that affect our lives.” And added “ To see a real change, reduce HIV and improve people’s lives, sex work needs to be decriminalised.”
Rose from Fiji said “UNAIDS, WHO and the Global Fund have adopted policies calling for sex work to be decriminalised. We are still waiting for them to step up the pace of this change”
Rose added “Evidence shows that decriminalisation of sex work is the best legal framework for reducing stigma and discrimination, increasing access to healthcare and services, improving human rights and reducing HIV”.
Only two countries in the world, New Zealand and the state of New South Wales in Australia have decriminalised sex work. The evidence shows it supports a strong effective HIV response for sex workers and leads to very low rates of HIV.
Singapore sex workers said “We are forced to volunteer to test constantly. We need money for our own programs, not just more testing.”
Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association CEO (and sex worker) Janelle Fawkes said “As sex workers we have heard enough words. We are calling on our governments and HIV funders to take action.” Janelle Fawkes added “We are the experts in our lives and need to be listened to, not just talked about.”
Sex workers want the laws to change, because until decriminalisation, sex workers face stigma and discrimination, and that in turn acts as a barrier to HIV prevention, treatment and care.
A special edition on sex work of the world leading scientific journal, The Lancet, was launched at the AIDS 2014 conference, and provides comprehensive scientific evidence that decriminalisation of sex work would be a major step forward in reducing the transmission of HIV, and increasing sex workers access to health services and human rights.