March 3, YANGON: Sex workers experience extreme violence at work, in health care and custodial settings, in their neighbourhoods and homes, according to a study conducted in four Asian countries.
Research for The Right(s) Evidence: Sex Work, Violence and HIV in Asia of the study which comprised a total of 123 peer-to-peer in-depth qualitative interviews with female, male and transgender sex workers and key informants was carried out in Indonesia (Jakarta), Myanmar (Yangon), Nepal (Kathmandu) and Sri Lanka (Colombo).
“The research provides sound evidence that the violence that sex workers experience denies them their fundamental human rights and contributes to the spread of HIV,” said Meena Saraswathi Seshu, from Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation, one of the co-authors of the report.
“We need to reduce HIV prevalence among the key population in Myanmar. Towards this, we need to have a strong collaboration and cooperation between community, UN agencies and government to address this issue,” said Dr. Myo Thant, Regional Officer, National AIDS Program, Myanmar.
A crucial aspect of the research was the deep engagement of sex workers in the planning and implementation of the research. “We need to listen to voices from the ground as well as of all stakeholders to ensure grounded findings and recommendations. Advocacy must be a joint initiative,” said Julia Cabassi, UNFPA, also a co-author of the report.
The Right(s) Process: Documenting a Collaborative Research Initiative launched today on International Sex Workers’ Rights Day, authored by Aarthi Pai, CASAM, showcases this exceptional research collaboration.
“Through a partnership between government, civil society and the UN system as equal partners to address violence against sex workers, we hope to shape the steps for greater engagement around reducing this violence,” said Marta Vallejo Mestres, UNDP, another co-author.
“Although there are challenges, tremendous potential exists in the collaboration between multiple government sectors and communities. This partnership can also help to position this work within a range of relevant agendas, including gender based violence, HIV, human rights (including labour rights), rule of law and access to justice,” said Brianna Harrison, UNAIDS.
“We hear that sex workers face violence but we did not have the evidence to identify the causes and find solutions. Through this research we have the evidence and through the process report we have documentation to show how best to gather the evidence! ” said Kay Thi Win, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, and a researcher for the study.
The main findings:
- Sex workers in all study sites experienced physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence which has lifelong and life-threatening consequences for their physical, mental and sexual health.
- Sex workers experienced specific types of violence because of their work, such as sexual extortion and harassment by the police for carrying condoms.
- Police personnel and clients were the most commonly cited people who used violence against sex workers, across study sites and gender categories.
- Police violence fuelled impunity and increased sex workers’ vulnerability to client violence.
- Criminalization of various aspects of sex work and male-to-male sex as well as law enforcement practices increased the incidence of violence by promoting impunity, pushing sex work underground, reducing sex workers’ ability to negotiate safe work practices and by increasing stigma and discrimination.
- Sex workers experienced specific forms of violence even outside their work setting because of their work, such as violence and harassment by neighbours and the general public and discrimination and abuse in health settings.
- Safe workplaces, including those with more well-defined workplace safety frameworks, decent work conditions, responsible and responsive establishment owners or managers and supportive employers and co-workers reduced the risk of violence and HIV
- Collectivization, strong sex worker-led networks and individual access to knowledge and skills to conduct sex work more safely.
“A culture of impunity in which perpetrators of violence are not held accountable undermines sex workers’ access to justice and creates an environment in which violence against sex workers is normalized and justified. The stigma and discrimination associated with sex work must end,” said Ruth Morgan Thomas, Global Coordinator Global Network of Sex Work Projects.
The following recommendations based on the findings address reform of laws, law enforcement practices and policies and programmes to prevent and respond to violence against female, male and transgender sex workers in the region.
- Reform punitive laws, policies and law enforcement practices to protect sex workers’ rights, including the right to be free of violence.
- End impunity of those who commit violence against sex workers.
- Strengthen sex workers’ access to justice, and empower sex workers with information about their rights.
- Recognize sex work as legitimate work and ensure that sex workers have legally enforceable rights to occupational health and safety protection.
- Improve sex workers’ access to sexual and reproductive health, HIV and gender-based violence services.
Contacts for Media:
- Kay Thi Win Regional coordinator, APNSW. ms.kthi[@]gmail.com
- Meena Saraswathi Seshu, CASAM. meenaseshu[@]gmail.com
Citation for the Reports:
- Bhattacharjya, M., Fulu, E. and Murthy, L. with Seshu, M.S., Cabassi, J. and Vallejo-Mestres, M. (2015). The Right(s) Evidence – Sex Work, Violence and HIV in Asia: A Multi-Country Qualitative Study. Summary Report. Bangkok: UNFPA, UNDP, APNSW (CASAM).
- Pai, A. (2015).The Right(s) Process: Documenting a Collaborative Research Initiative. CASAM, APNSW, UNDP, UNFPA.
Partners for the Study:
Six partners [the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Asia and Pacific Regional Office, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Asia–Pacific Regional Centre, the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) through their partner, the Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization (CASAM),the UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, and Partners for Prevention (P4P)] conducted the study with UN country offices and sex worker-led organizations working together at the local level.
- Organisasi Perubahan Sosial Indonesia (OPSI) - National network of sex workers in Indonesia. Formed in 2009. Spread over 22 provinces
- TOP - NGO supported HIV prevention project for female sex workers and Men having sex with Men in Myanmar formed in 2004
- Sex Workers in Myanmar (SWIM) - Network of sex workers in Myanmar formed in 2011
- Community Strength Development Foundation (CSDF) - Formed in 2004 as an organisation working with sex workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka
- Heart to Heart - formed in 2011, the community organisation works with gay, transgender, bisexual men in Sri Lanka.
- Jagriti Mahila Maha Sangh(JMMS) - A federation of female sex workers formed in 2006 which today has 26 associates spanning 23 districts of Nepal.
- Blue Diamond Society (BDS) - Organisation founded in 2001 to advocate for the rights of Nepal's marginalised, gay, transgender and other sexual minority communities, [and sex workers].