Sex work and self-esteem in Barbados

Donovan is a former sex worker turned community animator. His experience and efforts inspire other male and female sex workers in Barbados sex workers to change their lives

Donovan helps them take steps to improve their situation, and reduce their risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. “I can understand and relate to them because I’ve been there,” he says. “They tell me what’s really going on, and what help they need. Being who I am, I can reach the groups that won’t talk to anyone else.”

Donovan explains that low self-esteem makes sex workers vulnerable to HIV. “Sex workers don’t see their self-worth so they get into situations that put them at risk of violence” he says. “If they are helped to feel more positive, they might think, ‘well I am a person and I should protect myself’”.

“The education I have now helps me in negotiating to use a condom."

— Donovan

Many sex workers lack the skills to negotiate safe sex with their clients, meaning condom use among sex workers is often inconsistent. Working as a peer educator has made a tremendous difference to Donovan’s life. “The education I have now helps me in negotiating to use a condom. It also showed me a lot of self-worth, self-preservation and self-love. It gives me a sense of not only being here, but being responsible and accountable for what I do with the groups I work with,” he says.

Changing lives

Donovan has had a positive impact on those around him. A friend was getting very ill, and Donovan thought it could be related to HIV. Without preaching, Donovan approached his friend about getting tested and said he was there to support him. “So I took him to get tested and then when he tested positive, I took him to get treatment. I linked him up and now he’s on treatment and doing very well,” Donovan explains.

Seeing people in his community improving their lives makes Donovan happy. He explains that people say to him, “I have learnt something and I intend to negotiate condom use, as at the end of the day I have a responsibility to take care of myself”.