Health Problems of Sex Workers 345
Are sex workers responsible for spreading HIV?
Sex workers are blamed for much of the AIDS epidemic. But who infects the
sex workers and often their own wives but men? By blaming sex workers, these
men fail to take responsibility for spreading the disease.
Sex workers want to practice safer sex. But HIV and AIDS may not seem like
the most important problem they face. They often have more immediate, daily
problems—such as bad treatment by the police, low wages, dirty and expensive
hotels, difficult or violent men, and problems with keeping clean, getting enough to
eat, and taking care of their children. If a sex worker does become infected with
HIV, she may have no choice but to continue selling sex to survive. As one sex
“Those who blame us do so on full stomachs. I should feed myself and my children
adequately. My children should go to school. To say that AIDS kills without giving me a
well‑paid job is like saying I should die of hunger. To me, that is the only way to survive.”
Women who sell sex need safe, effective, and low-cost family
planning methods to prevent pregnancy. If these methods are
not available in her community, a sex worker is likely to have an
unwanted pregnancy. If she continues the pregnancy and must
also continue selling sex, she puts both herself and her unborn
baby at risk for complications or STIs. Or she may feel she has no
other choice but to have an unsafe abortion. All these situations
A sex worker may live with others in a house for sex work
(brothel) or work on the street. These conditions make it easy
for her to be violently attacked, raped, or robbed, especially if
she is a child. If a sex worker is ‘owned’ or controlled by a man
who gets part of her money (pimp), he will often use violence
to keep her under his control.
Because sex work is illegal in most countries, a sex worker
is often denied any legal rights, including protection from the
police. Or she may have to pay the police a large part of
her earnings in exchange for protection. Since most laws
are made to protect men from ‘immoral’ women, a sex
worker may be arrested, beaten, harassed, or even raped
by the police instead.
If you are being mistreated by the law because you are
a sex worker, try to learn more about your rights. There
may be a prostitutes’ rights group in your city or country.
Or you can write to one of the organizations listed on
page 561 for advice on how to organize a group.
choosing a family
200 and 224
unsafe abortion, 241
➤ In some places,
women can be
arrested for sex
work simply by
having condoms for
their own protection.
Where Women Have No Doctor 2012