Sex Workers

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AIDS 2012: Research, Yes … and also Performances & Protests

By Alvin Tran

Service Workers in Group, "SWING," a foundation that provides information and support to  sex workers and transgender men in Thailand, performs at the International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Service Workers in Group, "SWING," a foundation that provides information and support to sex workers and transgender men in Thailand, performs at the International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

As a public health student for the last seven years, I’ve attended my share of research conferences. But the moment I arrived in Washington for the 19th International AIDS Conference, I knew instantly that this one would be different.

Unlike other conferences I’ve attended, the history of the International AIDS Conference is filled with controversy. I could pick many different starting points, but how about the travel ban? The International AIDS Conference had not been held in the U.S. in 22 years because HIV-positive individuals were barred from entering the United States. Congress voted to lift the ban in 2010, and D.C. was promptly chosen as the host city for this year’s conference.

But as the conference began and American speakers took pride in finally having the opportunity to be the hosts, I quickly learned that the travel ban was still in force for some people. HIV-positive sex workers from outside the U.S. are still prohibited from traveling to the U.S.

Activists from across the country, including many from San Francisco, carried red umbrellas and signs, and interrupted sessions in protest of the travel ban and arrest risk from carrying condoms. Continue reading

Carrying Condoms Brings Arrest Risk for Sex Workers

Report presented at International AIDS Conference shows “chilling effect” of police policies

By Alvin Tran

Condoms with a political message, handed out at the International AIDS Conference by St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco health clinic for sex workers. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Condoms with a political message, handed out at the International AIDS Conference by St. James Infirmary, a San Francisco health clinic for sex workers. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Police officers in San Francisco and Los Angeles may be undermining public health efforts to prevent the spread of HIV among sex workers.

That’s according to the findings of a new Human Rights Watch report “Sex Workers at Risk,” presented at the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. this week.

Researchers interviewed more than 300 people, including current and former sex workers in four major U.S. cities — San Francisco, L.A., Washington, DC and New York. They found that police officers were either confiscating or taking photographs of sex workers’ condoms as evidence of prostitution, putting sex workers at risk.

“Sex workers on the street are telling us that they are having unprotected sex with clients as a result of this practice,” said Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher at Human Rights Watch.

In L.A., New York and Washington, police confiscated the condoms and used them as evidence, but San Francisco police instead photographed the condoms before giving them back to sex workers.  Continue reading