The Right Evidence: Sex Work, Violence and HIV in ASIA

The Right Evidence: Sex Work, Violence and HIV in ASIA

The regional report of this multi-country study contains findings and recommendations to address violence experienced by sex workers in Asia.  Sex workers experience extreme physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence at work, in health care and custodial settings, in their neighbourhoods and in their homes. This violence denies sex workers their fundamental human rights — to equal protection under the law; protection against torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; and their right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Research is increasingly demonstrating how violence contributes to the spread of HIV. In Asia, the HIV epidemic remains concentrated among key populations, including sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and transgender people. Realizing the human rights of female, male and transgender sex workers requires an understanding of the intersecting factors that affect their safety and their protection from violence.

This report is the result of a collaborative process among many stakeholders working to advance the rights of sex workers in the region, including through the prevention of and improved responses to violence against sex workers. 

Findings from the report included:

Sex workers' experience of violence and HIV risk:

  • Violence was experienced by all participants in all study sites.
  • 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
  • Sex workers also experienced violence by client procurers and managers of establishments
  • Participants 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 as well as discrimination and abuse in health settings

There are various consequences of violence and responses to violence:

  • Violence against sex workers has lifelong and life-threatening consequences for their physical, mental and sexual health
  • Violence against sex workers greatly increased their risk of HIV infection
  • Most participants disclosed their experiences of violence, but few reported it to the police or medical services
  • Female, male and transgender participants experienced and responded to violence differently

Multiple and interconnected factors contribute to protection from or vulnerability to violence across the participants’ lives. 

Factors that decreased participants’ exposure to violence and HIV risk included:

  • 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
  • Information on rights, complaint mechanisms and access to redress for experiences of violence
  • Collectivization, strong sex worker-led networks and individual access to knowledge and skills to conduct sex work more safely  
  • Learning from past experiences on how to keep safe
  • Access to non-stigmatizing and nondiscriminatory health care services

Factors that increased participants’ exposure to violence and HIV risk included:

  • The criminalisation of various aspects of sex work and male-to-male sex as well as law enforcement practices exacerbated the incidence of violence by police personnel and clients by giving the police broad powers to arrest and detain sex workers, promoting impunity, pushing sex work underground, reducing sex workers’ ability to negotiate safe work practices and increasing stigma and discrimination
  • A culture of impunity in which perpetrators of violence are not held accountable, and which undermines sex workers’ access to justice and creates an environment in which violence against sex workers is normalised and justified
  • The stigma and discrimination associated with sex work, which allows for violence against sex workers
  • Gender inequality, whereby violence is used to uphold and reinforce harmful gender norms and maintain existing power relations.

Key recommendations:

  • Reform punitive laws, policies and law enforcement practices to protect sex workers’ rights, including the right to be free from violence
  • End impunity of those who commit violence against sex workers
  • Strengthen sex workers’ access to justice and empower them with knowledge of their rights
  • Recognise 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

You can download this 140 page resources as a PDF above. This resource is in Engish.