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HIV and Sex Work: The View from 2012

Sexual-health outreach, Machala, Ecuador, Photo Rosa Manzo

Research for Sex Work #13 is out, and as its editor this year I am happy with it. This journal was first published by Vrije Universiteit Medical Centre in Amsterdam in 1998 and since 2004 is published by the NSWP. Writings by sex workers and research that centre their words and concerns have priority for publication.

The NSWP has five official languages: English, French, Spanish, Russian and Chinese. Each issue is published in English plus one other of these; this edition is bilingual English-Chinese. Articles come from all over the world.

The call for submissions went out last June. Some editions are general, but most have a special theme. This year’s theme is HIV and Sex Work – but hold on before you click away because that sounds uninteresting, disease-oriented, victimising or too technical – the view from 2012 is different! Read my introduction to the edition below to hear why; the table of contents follows.

HIV and Sex Work – The view from 2012 Issue 13, December 2012

Not so long ago a journal issue called HIV and Sex Work would almost certainly have focused on epidemiological studies of female prostitutes. More sensitive authors might have said sex workers and acknowledged that men and transgender people also sell sex. They might have stopped calling sex workers vectors of disease and begun calling them a high-risk group, and when that term was recognised to be stigmatising they might have switched to talking about at-risk populations. In discussing efforts to diminish the spread of HIV, researchers might have talked about harm reduction, and they might even have invoked the need to ‘involve’ sex workers in health promotion. But sex workers would rarely have been the protagonists in research, the writers of published critiques or the strategists of campaigns. HIV and AIDS as topics were the terrain of institutions. This issue of Research for Sex Work reflects a small shift. Here HIV and Sex Work doesn’t mean an array of epidemiologically-oriented studies but the frame for critiques of and questions about policy, laws and programmes. Articles not written by sex workers themselves base their conclusions on what sex workers say. Here no one tells sex workers how to run their lives.

CSWONF at IAC 2012, Photo Hou Ye

Research from CSWONF in China shows how policing is a central issue for HIV-prevention. In her speech at the International AIDS Conference Cheryl Overs highlights how technological fixes threaten to push aside sex workers’ rights. Brendan Conner exposes how the Global Commission on HIV and the Law erases problems of male sex workers by using epidemiological-style ‘populations’. Empower Foundation tell how they were ousted from the Global Fund’s HIV programme for sex workers in Thailand when they criticised priorities. Matthew Greenall and Abel Shinana propose research that foregrounds local sex workers’ needs. And Tiphaine Besnard shows how stigma against women who sell sex has been behind discriminatory policy since the 19th century.

Condoms from St James Infirmary, Photo PJ Starr

Audacia Ray and Sarah Elspeth Patterson describe how activists have brought such critiques into the world of political lobbying through a campaign against the use of condoms as evidence against prostitutes in New York State. The concept of outreach takes on new meaning in Ecuador, as sex workers from Asociación ’22 de junio’ and Colectivo Flor de Azalea educate men about sexual health. Not all the news is good. Nicoletta Policek’s study reveals how HIV-positive women not involved in selling sex refuse to accept sex workers as equals. But even in the more repressive settings described by Kehinde Okanlawon/Ade Iretunde and Winnie Koster/Marije Groot Bruinderink, sex workers resist stigma and subvert discrimination. Diputo Lety tells Elsa Oliveira the story of how one sex worker empowered herself after testing positive for HIV. And although the fragility of African sex-worker networks is noted, this Research for Sex Work has no fewer than four contributions from Africa. Numerous high-quality images enhance our understanding of HIV and Sex Work. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this issue.

Table of Contents

  • HIV and Sex Work: the View from 2012 (Laura María Agustín)
  • Anti-Pornography Crackdowns: Sex Work and HIV in China (China Sex Worker Organisation Network Forum)
  • Living With HIV: How I Treat Myself (Told by Diputo Lety to Elsa Oliveira)
  • Men At Work: Male Sex Workers, HIV and the Law (Brendan Michael Conner)
  • Blaming Disease on Female Sex Workers: A Long History (Tiphaine Besnard)
  • Working With the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Empower Foundation Thailand)
  • Sexual-Health Outreach in Machala, Ecuador (Asociación ‘22 de junio’ and Colectivo Flor de Azalea)
  • Promoting Sex Worker-Led Research in Namibia (Matthew Greenall and Abel Shinana)
  • The Tide Can Not Be Turned without Us (Cheryl Overs)
  • Gay Parties and Male Sex Workers in Nigeria (Kehinde Okanlawon and Ade Iretunde)
  • No Condoms as Evidence: A Sex-Worker Campaign in New York (Audacia Ray and Sarah Elspeth Patterson)
  • ‘The Space Which Is Not Mine’: Sex Workers Living With HIV/AIDS in Venice and Edinburgh (Nicoletta Policek)
  • Female-Condom Use in Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Nigeria (Winny Koster and Marije Groot Bruinderink)

Direct link to the pdf of HIV and Sex Work – The view from 2012.

Angela Villón at the Kolkata Freedom Festival, Photo Luca Stevenson

Laura Agustín, the Naked Anthropologist

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  1. THis sounds terrific– and you really read my mind to anticipate that I’m one of those people who usually flinches when someone announces a project on “hiv and sex work” — you usually prepare to be bored stiff or mightily offended! I can tell you’ve turned that on its head. Going to order now…

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