Criminalization of Sex Work an Enormous Barrier To Fighting HIV/AIDS
“Decriminalization of sex work remains critical to the global HIV response,” says Dr. Kate Shannon, a Canada Research Chair in Global Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS and Associate Professor of Medicine at UBC.
April 20, 2013 - Dr. Shannon directs the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative, which was established in 2010 as a core program
of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an affiliate of The University of British Columbia and
Providence Health Care. She and her GSHI team have spent years studying marginalized health and
social inequities among sex workers in North America, Africa and Asia.
This research proves that criminalization and punitive approaches directly undermine health and human
rights of sex workers, by forcing sex workers underground—putting them at risk for violence,
undermining their ability to safely negotiate working conditions including condom use and
creating barriers to accessing sexual health and HIV/AIDS treatment and care services.
Dr. Shannon was the lead author on a seven-part series on sex work and HIV recently
published in the Lancet.
“Our Lancet paper demonstrated that in addition to access to treatment and care and sex work-led
efforts, the decriminalization of sex work would have the single largest impact on the course of
HIV epidemics in sex work over the next decade across diverse settings of Kenya, India and
Canada, through eliminating violence, police persecution and promoting access to safer
sex work spaces. This research shows us yet again that the new C-36 law in Canada is
a blatant disregard of science and human rights, including the landmark decision
by the Supreme Court of Canada striking down criminalized sex work laws,” says Dr. Shannon.
Dr. Shannon and her team are passionate about their findings on this and other issues of gender and
health equity with respect to women and key populations affected by and living with HIV/AIDS. With
the support of UBC, they subscribe to a “research to action” strategy that ensures their research
is not only peer reviewed and held to the highest ethical and scientific standards, but engages
community and communicated to the media, public and policy makers via open letters,
editorials, policy briefs, plain language summaries, press releases and advocacy
work. Their efforts have drawn global attention including over 400 media
citations and a legal intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada to
the connection between criminalization of sex work and HIV/AIDS
and the critical need for evidence-based policy and practice in the HIV/AIDS response.
In addition to access to treatment and care and sex work-led efforts, the decriminalization of sex
work would have the single largest impact on the course of HIV epidemics in sex work over the next
decade across diverse settings of Kenya, India and Canada
Dr Kate. Shannon
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