Tag Archives: sex workers

Sex workers are part of the solution

Argentinian sex worker activist receives standing ovation for speech at World AIDS Conference, Mexico.

Elena Reynaga finishing her speech in Mexico this week

Elena Reynaga finishing her speech in Mexico this week

We don’t want to sew, we don’t want to knit, we don’t want to cook. We want better work conditions.

We want sex work to be recognised as ‘work’.

We want to be free to do, free to make mistakes and free to learn.

Free to decide what we, as sex workers, need.

Free from repression – this is the best way to build an effective response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Sex workers are not the problem; we are part of the solution’

(Elena Reynaga, Mexico, 2008)

Elena’s voice cracked with emotion as she spoke the last few words of the speech that left both her and the 10,000 attendees emotional at the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico this week. Many in the audience cried while the gave her a standing ovation. The moment was tense, as a small group with placards attempted to boycott the speech by the Argentinian sex workers’ rights, but were unable to do so.

While others talked statistics and wore grey suits, Elena Reynaga walked on stage in a pink t-shirt emblazoned with the word ‘Somos Parte de la Solucion’ (We are part of the solution). She began her speech as the first sex worker to speak at a Plenary session in fourteen years at the seventeen year old global conference on AIDS. She ended it having reinforced her position a leading voice on HIV prevention, as a hero of the sex workers’ rights movement and having converted into a public figure in her home Argentina, emblazoned the next morning across all of the most important national newspapers.

Drawing on experiences of sex workers across the world, in India, Cambodia and Africa, as well as in Latin America, she emphasised the important relationship between sex workers’ human rights, poverty and HIV prevalence. In particular, the link between the criminalisation of sex work and the violation of sex workers rights, and its contribution to the prevalency of HIV/AIDS.

“Some may say, sex work is not decent. We reply, indecent are the conditions in which we work”.

Calling for the recognition of sex work as a form of labour equal to any other, Reynaga raised frightening statistics on the consequences of failing to recognise sex work as work. 34 sex workers have been killed in Latin America in the last ten months alone. All with complete impunity. In Bolivia sex workers were public lynched earlier this year and in Congo and Cambodia there is evidence of systematic rape of sex workers by security forces.

In contrast to this disturbing picture of the violation of sex workers rights, Reynaga also outlined the successes of the sex workers rights movement. In particular, the speech critiqued the use of funds around sex work, calling for international donors including the UN, to stop imposing their own agendas and ideologies. Instead she demanded that sex workers be given the autonomy to managing their own funds and resources.

Today, in front of the whole world, we stand and say: we, sex workers, will no longer hang our heads in shame”.

The speech was historic in placing sex workers as agents not only in HIV prevention, but also in defining their own realities and articulating their own needs and desires.

Elena Reynaga is General Secretary of AMMAR, the Female Sex Workers’ Trade Union of Argentina and President of RedTraSex, the Latin American and Caribbean network of sex workers’ organisations.

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Anti-trafficking law resulting in rights abuses in Cambodia

Sex wrokers protest in Cambodia

The “Law on Suppression of Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation” passed recently in Cambodia, which aims to eliminate trafficking by stamping out the sex industry, is resulting in serious abuses of sex workers’ human rights. The law was passed in order to meet standards inline with the United State policy on trafficking in persons. However, since crackdowns which began in March when police shut down brothels and rounded up male, female and trans sex workers, sex workers have been forcibly detained and attacked, raped and robbed in rehabiliation centres.

Not only is this affecting the right to coporeal self-determination by the workers and their ability to earn a livelihood, but is also having a profound impact on health. HIV positive sex workers are having difficulty accessing anti-retroviral drugs, condoms are being used as evidence of sex work and many are afraid to access STI services. Andrew Hunter from the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW), one of the organisations condemning the crackdown, additionally claims that ‘national HIV prevention programs for sex workers have completely broken down’.

However, in the face of all this violence and repression, sex workers’ organisations are not sitting down. Three grass-roots sex workers’ oprganisations, The Women’s Network for Unity, Cambodian Prostitutes Union and Cambodian Network for Men’s and Women’s Development, alongside the APNSW organised a day of action. Over two hundred sex workers protested, using role play, speech and video evidence to demonstrate the brutality and misery that the new law is causing.

Attendees at the event also heard from two sex workers from India speaking about their fight against trafficking using an effective model of anti-trafficking that respects human rights and which is not in conflict with HIV prevention programs. Further highlights included a video about the anti-trafficking activities of sex workers in Sonagachi, India and The Messenger Band, presenting songs on sex workers defending the right to livelihood.

Condoleeza Rice speaking for The US government, who demanded the changes and which pumped over $14 million into the crackdown have supported the Cambodian authorities and praised their efforts. Though they stated that Cambodia still needed to do more to comply with US anti-trafficking standards.

How you can help
APNSW calls on all those organisations who support the human rights of sex workers to sign onto demands by declaring their support for WNU’s call for this situation to be urgently addressed by the government of Cambodia and for UNAIDS and other UN agencies to openly declare their support for sex workers human rights and to reject the anti-trafficking law itself as a violation of sex workers human rights.

For more information contact Andrew Hunter at www.apnsw.org

Photo credit: WTOP News

Report on demand found to be unethical, ‘irresponsible’ and ‘disrespectful’

‘Challenging Men’s Demand for Prostitution’ a report on male clients of female sex workers released this month, has been criticised in an open statement by a group of prominent academics from the UK, the US and Canada.

The report, published by the Women’s Support Project and funded by Greater Glasgow & Clyde NHS Health Board, Scottish Government Equality Unit, Community Regeneration Fund (via Routes Out of Prostitution Partnership), and Glasgow City Council, has been lambasted for amongst other criticisms, failing to fulfill ethical criteria. The commentary released by the group argues that that the report divorces sex work from the economic, cultural and social nexus in which the exchange of sex for money takes place and reduces it to an over-simplified issue of violence. At the extreme, this results in a call to categorise men who buy sex alongside ‘rapists, paedophiles and other social undesirables’ (Challenging Men’s Demand in Scotland 2008: 27).

‘Gladiatorial conditions’

The central criticism of the commentary is founded on a lack of evidence of ethical process in undertaking the research. The group claims that the research design violates ‘fundamental principles of human research’ to which all research should be subject. They also point to an absence of submission to an ethics committee, a process which is increasingly mandatory for research projects in all academic institutions and the NHS.

The statement accuses the report of evading ethical procedures including gaining informed consent, providing control groups, engaging in peer review and the inclusion of research tools in appendices. It is claimed that the apparent lack of ‘informed consent’ – the principle that all participants should be fully aware of the purposes of the research – could result in significant psychological damage and social stigmatisation. Further still, it states that the failure to include a risk assessment in the research design also shows disregard for the researchers on the project, who claimed to have been traumatised through their experiences during the investigation.

Peer Review/Under Review

At at time in which the government is reviewing the demand for sex work, contributions to the debate are timely, but they must also be constructive. There is already a wealth of research on the clients of sex workers, published in peer reviewed journals, which meets academic criteria and which has undergone processes of ethical approval. The commentary demonstrates that the majority of this research was excluded by the authors of ‘Challenging Demand’. It is this rich body of literature which should be referred to in the government’s review of demand, rather than commissioning expensive and unhelpful research which falls short of basic parameters to ensure the protection of participants and researchers.

For more research on sex work and clients:

Brooks-Gordon, B. (2005) ‘Clients and Commercial Sex: Reflections on Paying the Price: A Consultation Paper on Prostitution’, Criminal Law Review: 425-443.
— (2006) The Price of Sex: Prostitution, Policy and Society: Willan Publishing.

Campbell, R. (1998) ‘Invisible Men: Making Visible Male Clients of Female Prostitutes in Merseyside’, in J. Elias, V. Bullough, V. Elias and G. Brewer (eds) Prostitution. On Whores, Hustlers and Johns, New York: Prometheus Books. pp. 155-171

Campbell, R. and Storr, M. (2001) ‘Challenging the Kerb Crawler Rehabilitation Programme’, Feminist Review 67(Spring): 94-108.

Grentz, S. (2005) ‘Intersections of Sex and Power in Research on Prostitution: A Female Researcher Interviewing Male Heterosexual Clients’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 30(4): 2091-2113.Kinnell, H (2006) ‘Clients of Female Sex Workers: Men or Monsters?’ in R. Campbell and M. O’Neill (eds) Sex Work Now, Cullumpton:Willan. pp. 212-262

Lowman, J., and Atchison, C., (2006) ‘Men Who Buy Sex: A Survey in the Greater Vancouver Regional District’, Canadian Journal of Sociology and Anthropology 43(3): 281-296.

Monto, M. A. and Hotaling, N. (2001) ‘Predictors of Rape Myth Acceptance Among Male Clients of Female Street Prostitutes’, Violence Against Women 7(3): 275-293.

O’Connell Davidson, J. (2003) ”Sleeping with the Enemy’? Some Problems with Feminist Abolitionist Calls to Penalise Those Who Buy Commercial Sex’, Social Policy and Society 2(1): 55-64.

Peng, Y. W. (2007) ‘Buying Sex. Domination and Difference in the Discourses of Taiwanese Piao-ke’, Men and Masculinities 9(3): 315-336.

Phoenix, J. and Oerton, S. (2005) Illicit & Illegal. Sex, Regulation and Social Control, Cullompton: Willan.

Perkins, R. (1999) ‘How much are you love?’ The customer in the Australian sex industry. Social Alternatives 18(3) 38-47

Sanders, T (2008) Paying for Pleasure: Men who Buy Sex, Willan, Cullompton

Scoular, J. (2004) ‘Criminalising ‘Punters’: Evaluating the Swedish Position on Prostitution’, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law 26(2): 195-210.

Van Brunschot, E. G. (2003) ‘Community Policing and “John Schools”‘, Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 40(2): 215-232.

A Dialogue on the Sex Industry

On 20th May, a dialogue on the sex industry will take place in The Forest Hall, Edinburgh. The debate brings together sex worker activists, academics, student activists and women’s project workers. This dialogue is important in bringing together diverse points of view on the sex industry, a topic which continues to elicit fierce argument within feminism and beyond.

The debate on the sex industry is often victim to reductionism in the media and in other research as being simply a battle between ‘pro-prostitution’ and ‘anti-prostitution’ campaigners. The ferocity of the debate often leaves both side ‘preaching to the converted’. The importance of this dialogue therefore cannot be underestimated in creating a forum for dialogue between these two sides who, despite their different conclusions, both recognise the impact of class and gendered influences on sex work, which is as varied and diverse as the analyses themselves.

For more information: Dialogue on the Sex Industry

Repression Against Sex Workers Continues in Argentina

On Monday 5th May 2008 Marcela Ocampo, the Communications Secretary of
AMMAR (The Argentinian Female Sex Workers Union) was detained in
Córdoba, Argentina.

This has occurred at a time when AMMAR is in discussions with the
Provincial Government to end police abuse against sex workers.

Representatives from AMMAR met with the Head of Security of the
Ministry of the Government with the intention of making progress with
signing an agreement to stop the detentions without reason of workers
affiliated to the organisation.

At the end of the meeting and after informing the other members, the
secretary of communication, Macerla Ocampo went to her place of work
en Alta Córdoba, where two polic men from the Provincial Police were
waiting for her. They took her into detention together with another
activist to the Police Station 7 ‘on the orders of a boss’.

Once in the police station, they not only denied her the right to a
telephone call, but their detentions were not recorded and they were
not checked by a medical examiner. Later they were moved to Police
Station 17, where they were seen by a doctor. The women were charged
at 2.30am and later freed after negotations by the association.

Eugenia Aravena Secretaria (General Secretary of AMMAR-Cordoba) and
Oscar Mengarelli (General Secretary of CTA-Cordoba) stated that they
were worried by this reaction by the police. They claim it hinders
negotiations with the Minister of the Government, although state that
government officials are aware of the situation and have promised to
investigate so that discussions are able to continue.

Likewise, AMMAR and the CTA have demanded a meeting with the governor
of the province, Juan Schiaretti, to make him aware of this situation
and the demands of the organisations.

For more information, contact:
Eugenia Aravena Secretaria general AMMAR cordoba@ammar.org.ar