We Can’t Turn the Tide on HIV Without the Participation of Sex Workers
Cross-posted in partnership from the HIV Human Rights blog and part of RH Reality Check's coverage of the International AIDS Conference, 2012.
In May, as we were getting neck-deep in organizing the Sex Worker Freedom Festival, we heard that sex workers in Greece were being forcibly tested for HIV and arrested if they tested positive. To begin with, it is a human rights violation to forcibly test anyone for anything without their consent, including sex workers. On top of that, to arrest someone who has a medical condition that needs treatment – what would you call that if not a gross violation of individual rights? As a health worker then said, “Public health cannot be protected by penalizing patients.”
The Greek episode goes well beyond the usual level of rights violations that sex workers routinely face. In a bizarre replay of ‘blaming the victim’, the women who tested positive were charged with ‘intentionally causing serious bodily harm,’ even though many didn’t know they were HIV-positive since they didn’t have access to public health care or voluntary testing facilities. How could they have knowingly spread an infection they didn’t know they had?