Only Rights can Stop the Wrongs: The Smart Person's Guide to HIV and Sex Work

Unfavourable laws, stigma, violence, and discrimination cause sex workers’ vulnerability to ill health, social exclusion and human rights violations. Sex workers face these to varying degrees in all cultures from Switzerland to Swaziland, Canada to Cambodia.

This guide, published by the International Network of Sex Work Projects, outlines their understanding of HIV and sex work and sets out their global agenda for change.

The guide was produced with financial and technical support from the Sexual Health and Rights Project of the Open Society Institute’s Public Health Program; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and the Paulo Longo Research Initiative.

It includes the following recommendations:

  • Removal of all laws that directly or indirectly violate the human rights of sex workers.
  • Recognition of sex work as an occupation.
  • Legislation that protects sex workers’ privacy and makes discrimination on the grounds of sex work status unlawful.
  • Measures to prevent institutional and criminal violence.
  • Expanding the agenda of women and HIV to include female sex workers.
  • Meaningful involvement of sex workers in sexual health projects and policy development.
  • Repeal of the PEPFAR antiprostitution pledge.
  • Access to voluntary, confidential, affordable health care for all sex workers. This includes sexual and reproductive health, TB, malaria and health services that meet the needs of male and transgender sex workers.
  • An end to the law enforcement practice of using condoms as evidence and/or destroying condoms and safer sex materials.
  • An end to mandatory and forced medical procedures, including HIV testing.
  • The legal right to migrate and travel like other citizens and workers, and access to services during migration.
  • Repeal of laws that criminalise people living with HIV who sell sex.
  • Access to education, development, and humanitarian programmes and economic opportunities.
  • Humane medical care, nutrition, and sanitation in prisons.
  • Human rights monitoring of detention procedures.
  • Proper enforcement of existing laws that could protect sex workers from violence and rights violations.
  • Treatment, including PMTCT, for pregnant HIV positive sex workers and care plans for mother and child.
  • An end to the discrimination experienced by children of sex workers.
  • Better coordination and harmonised efforts within and between different government sectors and community agencies.
  • Improved training for police.
  • Improved training of health care professionals and rules that obligate NGOs and medical staff to treat sex workers with respect.
  • Decriminalisation of drug use, homosexuality, and HIV transmission.
  • Improved resources and mechanisms for monitoring the health and human rights of sex workers and the impact of policy and programmes at country, regional and global level.
Year of publication: 
Health and HIV
Cheryl Overs