SEX WORKERS’ LEADERSHIP CRITICAL THEME FOR WORLD AIDS DAY

     PRESS  STATEMENT

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Sapna Patel,
SWP, 646/602.5626,

spatel@urbanjustice.org

(New York City, November 30, 2007) – The Sex Workers Project at the

Urban Justice Center joins organizations and individuals in the U.S. and
around the world to observe World AIDS Day on December 1, 2007. The
theme for World AIDS Day 2007 is Leadership. This theme highlights the
fact that sex workers are imperative in the fight to prevent and treat
HIV/AIDS and must be at the forefront as leaders in local, national and
international efforts to stop the spread of the disease.

Sex work is universal and any successful effort to curb the spread of
HIV/AIDS must not only incorporate sex workers, but also place them in
leadership positions as educators and decision-makers in their
communities. Unfortunately, bias against sex workers the world over
often means that instead of being engaged as part of the solution to the
HIV/AIDS pandemic, sex workers are treated as part of the problem. They
are then punished rather than enlisted to help in HIV/AIDS prevention
and treatment programs. For example, the U.S. Anti-Prostitution Pledge
requires that health care and social service providers receiving
HIV/AIDS and anti-trafficking funding denounce prostitution. This policy
has been used to deny sex workers around the world the health services
they need to survive, the safe-sex education that could protect them and
their communities from HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted
infections, and the programs such as education and job training that
could give them more control over their lives.

The organizations with the most effective HIV-prevention programs build
their efforts on a sophisticated understanding of the social and
personal dynamics faced by sex workers, and start by building trust and
credibility among these groups. They recognize that it is necessary to
provide social, legal and health services to men and women in sex work
without judging them.  Basically, the Anti-Prostitution Pledge requires
groups to express the government’s viewpoint on a controversial subject
in order to remain eligible for funding. It even restricts the way
organizations use their own private funds. The language is so confusing
that organizations are unsure how to comply with it and government
officials are unsure how to enforce it. The Anti-Prostitution Pledge
unfairly vilifies sex workers and also forces organizations that treat
vulnerable people to take sides – either to condemn the people who need
their help or risk losing the funds that make their crucial work
possible.

Sex workers are often more knowledgeable about sexual health – and
practice safe sex more often – than the general population. They often
act as sexual health educators for their clients and should be
mobilized, not demonized, in the struggle to control HIV/AIDS. An
approach that recognizes sex workers’ human rights, addresses their
needs, promotes safer behavior and improves their access to health and
social services can empower them to overcome stigma and discrimination
so they can insist upon condom use by clients and also fight for safer
working conditions. This approach will attract sex workers’ support and
achieve the goal of helping to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Sex workers are individuals whose reasons for engaging in sex work – and
leaving it – are personal, economic and social – as complex as anyone’s
reasons for involvement in any type of work. Sex workers who have the
knowledge and necessary tools are able to protect themselves and their
clients. When they have the power to negotiate, sex workers are leaders
in practicing safer-sex methods. We call on States and non-governmental
partners to place sex workers in the forefront as leaders in this fight.

The Network of Sex Work Projects has produced a 13-minute video about
the effects of the pledge. Watch Taking the Pledge at
http://sexworkerspresent.blip.tv/file/181155 or at
http://www.sexworkersproject.org.

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center provides legal
services, legal training, documentation, and policy advocacy for sex
workers in New York City.  For more information, please visit our
website at: http://www.sexworkersproject.org.
###

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