International Sex Workers Day is an important opportunity for us as HIV advocates to ground ourselves in the fact that sex work decriminalization is a necessary part of our work to end the HIV epidemic. Our celebrations of Pride are incomplete without recognizing the key role that sex workers have played in LGBTQ liberation and in ending the HIV epidemic.
According to a data spotlight from Funders Concerned About AIDS, “Sex workers are at 13 times greater risk of contracting HIV than the general population. This is due to a number of factors — greater economic vulnerability, the inability to negotiate for protected sex through condom use, and the experience of violence, criminalization and marginalization.”
Compounding this vulnerability, sex workers not only face the threat of imprisonment on charges related to engaging in sex work, or perceived engagement in sex work, but also on charges related to HIV.
In 2017 the Williams Institute at UCLA found that 95% of California’s HIV-related crimes involved people perceived to be engaged in sex work. In Georgia, reports showed that people were three times more likely to be convicted on HIV charges when they had a concurrent arrest regarding sex work.
BIPOC and transgender and gender-nonconforming sex workers are most likely to be arrested or subject to harassment and even violence for perceived engagement in sex work due to unchecked anti-Blackness, racism and transphobia throughout our communities.
These are the same communities most impacted by HIV.
Sex worker safety is a critical issue which must be addressed in efforts to end the HIV epidemic and achieve racial justice and LGBTQ liberation.
Laws like the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act have only decreased sex workers’ financial security and stability by limiting their ability to advertise — all while increasing their exposure to violence. Read our previous blog post for an in-depth analysis of these dangerous laws.
While sex worker collective Hacking//Hustling has a list of some things we can do to curb the effects of FOSTA-SESTA, we also need to encourage Congress to reintroduce and pass the SAFE SEX Workers Study Act, which would initiate a government study into harms done by FOSTA-SESTA. We must stand firm and oppose any legislation that stigmatizes or harms sex workers.
It’s clear that sex work decriminalization and protections are not only an LGBTQ+ issue but also an HIV issue. The stigmatization and criminalization of sex work only heightens barriers that prevent sex workers from accessing necessary care and support.
Put simply, sex work is work. We reject the stigma and call for an end to the criminalization of consensual commercial sexual exchange.
This International Sex Workers Day, check out the work of some of our partners: Red Canary Song, Sex Workers Outreach Project, HIPS DC, Desiree Alliance, No Justice No Pride, Hacking Hustling and Survivors Against SESTA.