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GCWA Feature Story: End Violence against Sex Workers now!

17 Dec, 2014

Sex workers remain among the populations most affected by the HIV epidemic. According to UNAIDS, in low and middle income countries, the average HIV prevalence among sex workers is estimated to be approximately 12%, and in 110 countries with available data, the prevalence of HIV infection is almost 12 times higher among sex workers than for the populations as a whole. In four countries, this disproportionate burden is up to 50-fold higher.

Among the main challenges faced by sex workers, which put them at higher risk of HIV infection and other health-related negative outcomes, is the criminalization of sex work, along with violence, stigma and discrimination against them. These violations are compounded by the limited availability of rights-based programmes and funding to respond to the specific needs of the sex worker population.

In countries where sex work is criminalized, violence against sex workers often goes unaddressed in national reporting and monitoring systems, while legal protection and access to justice is not offered to survivors of violence. Addressing violence against sex workers is critical to reduce new HIV infections. In Kenya and Ukraine, for example, a reduction of up to 25% in new HIV infections among sex workers has been linked to achieving a reduction in physical and sexual violence.

In addition, the criminalization of sex work limits the effectiveness of HIV prevention initiatives, not only for sex workers, but for all the populations. For example, the threat of detention due to laws which translate the carrying of condoms as evidence of sex work in contexts where sex work is criminalized, poses a barrier to the uptake of prevention services.

While the challenges and human rights violations faced by sex workers in the context of HIV are evident, sex workers are still being left behind in the HIV response. About a third of countries report having specific programmes to reduce risk among sex workers, while the remaining sex worker population must reach out to services for general population, in which they may be subject to prosecution, stigma, discrimination and violence.

To mark this December 17, International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the GCWA calls on governments, cooperation partners, civil society organizations, key stakeholders and the general public, to take a stand to ensure that sex workers are not left behind in the HIV response. Efforts must be doubled to ensure rights-based responses to the needs of sex workers, ensuring sex workers themselves are leading the way in establishing what works best for them. Together, we must work to put an end to address all forms of violence against sex workers.

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), established in 1990 by a group of sex worker rights activists to conduct policy advocacy and strengthening these communities, are at the forefront of building leadership among sex workers, and influencing policy that directly affect sex workers. “NSWP advocacy has involved sex workers themselves presenting the case for protection of their human rights at important international forums, such as international and regional conferences on AIDS, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, UNGASS and UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board.”[1]

For more information on the Global Network of Sex Work projects, please visit

To view a video message by Pye Jakobsson, GCWA Advisory Group member representing the sex workers constituency, please visit

To review UNAIDS’ latest factsheet on sex work, please visit:

[1] Global Network of Sex Work Projects: Promoting Health and Human Rights.