Sex workers rights and HIV: new report from Latin America

A report on the human rights of sex workers in Latin America is being presented to policymakers in Geneva on World AIDS Day 2014.  What does it tell us?

The human rights situation of female sex workers in 15 countries of the Americas is the result of efforts by sex worker community leaders and activists to improve their ability to document the human rights violations they face, and the harmful impact this has on their ability to keep themselves - and their clients - safe and healthy.  

Compiled by Alliance regional partner, RedTraSex (the Latin American and Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network), the research was undertaken by female sex workers themselves, with strong legal advice provided by a team of human rights lawyers.

What is the report telling us?

  • Sex work is not recognized as work in any of the 15 countries featured in the report.  As such, there are no specific laws regulating practice, although there is legislation prohibiting the sexual exploitation of other adults and children which causes confusion among police and law enforcement agencies.

    The persistent confusion and conflation between trafficking in persons and sex work leads to laws and interventions that negatively impact sex workers, and at the same time under-mine efforts to stop trafficking.”
  • Poor regulation forces sex workers to work in conditions that fail to guarantee their safety and human rights.

    “Very often, if we reject the inhuman working conditions offered us by pimps, or refuse to be extorted or economically-abused by the mafia, gangs and even the security forces, we end up in a chain of violence that, in some cases, has culminated in the death of our co-workers.”
  • According to the data collated by RedTraSex, violence and impunity against female sex workers is systemic.  There have been 16 extrajudicial assassinations in Honduras; 17 in El Salvador; 9 in Bolivia; and 16 in Chile.

    “Sex workers are murdered for one of the following reasons: they have refused to work ...for a pimp; they have refused to pay “fees” to mafias, gangs or the security forces...; they have made official complaints about powerful sectors seeking to benefit from their labour; or simply because they are sex workers who suffer stigma and discrimination.”
  • Sex workers are particularly at risk from the common practice of arbitrary detention in Latin America.  This often results in financial extortion or the women are forced to have sex with police officers in exchange for release.

  • As there is no legal reason for their continuing detention, the women are released hours later or the following day, without any record of their arrest being kept.”
  • Stigma and discrimination affects sex workers’ access to health care and other HIV services.  In a RedTraSex survey of over 1,000 sex workers in 2013, 33% did not want to go to a hospital or a health centre as they did not want to have to explain their occupation.

    At least a third of all respondents had experienced discrimination or outright hostility from administrative staff, forcing them to change hospital or centre, and 13% had been directly denied treatment.”

How can international institutions help?

With the help of the Alliance, RedTraSex will present their research in Geneva next week.  At a special World AIDS Day event to be held at the offices of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and co-organised with UNAIDS, the aim is to determine how the policies, mechanisms and influence of Geneva-based institutions can assist countries across Latin American - and the world - to put a stop to human rights violations against sex workers.  Representatives of Latin America missions based in Geneva will also attend.

The panel discussion will include Silvio Martinelli (Regional Manager for LAC at The Global Fund), Elena Reynaga (Executive Secretary of RedTraSex - pictured), Karl Dehne (Chief of Prevention at UNAIDS) and Marieke Ridder-Wiskerke (Programme Manager Sex Work Projects at the Aids Fonds/Soa Aids in the Netherlands).

Visit the REDTRASEX website to read the executive summary. This is an abridged version of the full research report “Study on Stigma and Discrimination in Health Services for Female Sex Workers” which was developed in 2013 by RedTraSex with their Global Fund grant.