International Aids Conference: Prostitutes demand right to better protection from virus (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online

PROSTITUTES and workers in the sex industry from all over the world met at the conference yesterday to demand equal rights with all other workers and better protection from the threat of HIV.

A member of the London network of sex workers' projects said that decriminalisation of prostitution was the first step. 'Until that changes, no matter how many of you peddle the myth of Aids education and health promotion, until the very fundamentals change, then educating people is really just a band-aid,' she said.

An Asian worker described the conditions that thousands of prostitutes in India had to contend with: 'Fifteen to 20 adults using a small single brothel and a toilet. Women must always pay for their water . . . During business hours women have access to the rooms only when entertaining the clients. Otherwise we belong to the streets.' Women who insisted on clients using a condom brought on themselves 'the wrath of the brothel- keeper'.

A Indian social worker said that the low status of prostitutes meant they could not take the lead in making men wear condoms. 'Prostitutes have always been regarded as the reservoir and carriers of the disease, and never as the victim,' she said.

A Filipino prostitute said: 'Our biggest problem is that the client will just walk away and go to the next girl who won't insist on using one.'

However, Dr Pushpa Batt described a successful condom campaign in the Badii community in western Nepal, where prostitutes serve Indian and Nepali clients. Six prostitutes acted as leaders, distributing condoms and literature on HIV infection among peers and clients. 'The difference was that the women take control of their own business, no middlemen, no brothels, direct negotiations between the women and clients . . . There was solidarity among the sex workers.'

But Paulo Longo, a Brazilian male prostitute from Rio de Janeiro, said this form of 'peer' education was a way of denying prostitutes care and education. 'We can't go around all night educating our peers. We have enough work to do in the night.'

Ruth Morgan-Thomas, project co-ordinator for the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project, who is HIV positive, said that the experience of Asian and European prostitutes was similar: 'The common threads are there . . . the marginalisation, the denial and the violation of the most fundamental human rights,' she said. She praised the Japanese government for its waiver of restrictions on the entry of known prostitutes to allow the women to join the conference.


AN article in our issue of 11 August about the meeting at the international Aids conference of prostitutes and workers in the sex industry incorrectly stated that Ruth Morgan Thomas, project co-ordinator for the Scottish Prostitutes Education Project, was HIV positive.

We should like to make it clear that Ms Morgan Thomas is not HIV positive and we apologise for any distress or embarrassment our error may have caused.