The Wisdom of … Epidemiologists?

The epidemiologist Elizabeth Pisani’s recent book, The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS, is choc-a-bloc full of policy and statistics, but perhaps not as much of a whore’s-eye view as the title at first led me to believe.

While certainly a well-written and eminently useful insider’s guide to international HIV/AIDS policy, I fail to see the appropriateness of the title, The Wisdom of Whores. In fact, Pisani’s Whores actively calls into question the very “Sacred Cows” of sex worker rights and HIV/AIDS activism: the rejection of compulsory testing as inhumane, the prioritization of antiretroviral treatment and, finally, activists’s full-on endorsement of peer education among high-risk groups: commercial sex workers, injecting drug users (IDUs) and men who have sex with men (MSM).

With this titular technicality out of the way, let me be clear that I’m not sure I entirely disagree with Pisani’s take on the matter. The strength of this book, in my view, is its ability to shake up the “treatment” and “prevention” debate among sex workers themselves. Perhaps it’s time the golden “Cows” of sex workers rights were recast, as Pisani suggests. Then again, perhaps not.

Read the rest of this article at Sex! Work?

5 Responses

  1. >On compulsory testing: “now that we can do something useful for >people who are infected, testing the people most likely to be infected is >beginning to make sense. Could it lead to people being outed, being >stigmatized? Yes.

    Well without reading the whole book, the only question I have about the above statement is what position does mandatory testing leave those who are not positive in? It leaves us still outed and negatively stigmatized. Targets for discrimination, which is what mandatory testing is, institutionalize discrimination.
    Which begs the questions, how many actual workers are positive and how many are negative? and as compared to other groups of workers?

  2. I thoroughly enjoyed the book. As someone who is interested in AIDS yet is certainly NOT on the front lines of it like Pisani is, I give a lot of credence to her conclusions. They are logically laid out and always in the interest of either preventing the spread of AIDS, or taking care of those who already have it. She makes no attempt to be PC, which I like.

    Not all the conclusions she reaches are pretty (AIDS is not a pretty disease) and she punctures a lot of sacred cows — which is good. If they get in the way, they should be removed.

    She is perfectly aware of compulsory testing outing people. She also believes that when AIDS is destigmatized by everyone being involved with it (one way or another), then it’s not such a big deal. It’s very simliar to my views on sex workers outing themselves. When enough do it, it loses its shock value.

    As for groups of sex workers being positive, it depends on where and their working conditions. She discusses this in the book. IV drug use also makes a HUGE difference. And yes, they test in the general population as well. Certain occupations lend themselves to risky behavior (like dock workers), some don’t.

    It’s really a worthwhile read — if read with an open mind.

    XX

  3. She also believes that when AIDS is destigmatized by everyone being involved with it (one way or another), then it’s not such a big deal.

    Well I know other groups of people who are waiting to be de-stigmatized.
    I’m thinking of black americans who have been waiting since the abolitiion of slavery in this country for de-stigmatization to happen. Then there are the 12 million odd immigrant people who are waiting to be de-stigmatized. My guess is that changing the laws to stop criminalizing people’s migration and work would be a good first start to de-stigmatization. Of course, mandatory testing of those who are applying for status in this country isn’t working out so well for those who are positive.

  4. It’s certainly a worthwhile read, as you say Amanda. And I trust her experience, but when EMPOWER Thailand and the Network of Sex Worker Projects, both groups I respect, reject 100% Condom Use Policy (CUP) and compulsory testing and endorse peer education from a sex worker rights perspective “on the front lines,” it gets a little complicated, right?

    http://www.nswp.org/safety/100percent.html

    This calls for a balance more than anything. Dr. Pisani is interested in reducing HIV transmission, so are we, but we have plenty of other things on our mind: like job-site safety, fair labor practices, stigma, health care, living wage alternatives, etc. I don’t doubt Pisani takes these things into consideration, but I do doubt the degree to which she can prioritize all power in the hands of brothel owners and the Thai government under 100% CUP over the claims of EMPOWER, and other sex worker rights groups, concerning gross human rights abuses under these policy regimes. Maxine points out similar concerns when posting about compulsory testing.

    I’d like to add that the title The Wisdom of Whores refers to the consultants and NGOs of the AIDS Industry as the “Whores” who have the put out and sell proposals to the highest bidder. Not exactly my favorite portrait of what I do for a living, but I can stomach it coming from such a useful and challenging book.

  5. WR wrote: Dr. Pisani is interested in reducing HIV transmission, so are we, but we have plenty of other things on our mind:

    I’d like to add that we’d like the right to use and posses condoms with out have that be grounds for arrest and discrimination.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: