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Criminalizing Sex Workers Ups Risk Of Violence And STDs

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The continued criminalization of sex work has been linked to an increase in cases of violence and sexually transmitted infections and diseases.

A major new study by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that sex workers where the trade is criminalized are more likely to suffer poor health, poor well-being, violence, and abuse.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

Risk Of Sex Work

The researchers looked at existing data from peer-reviewed journals from January 1990 to May 2018, including studies that probed the relationship between repressive policing of sex workers with outcomes of violence, health, and ease of access to services. Data included in the review came from a total of 33 countries.

The researchers also used different techniques to estimate the average effect of sex workers' exposure to repressive policing, including arrest or prison, compared to no exposure at all.

They found that sex workers who had not been exposed to repressive policing are 30 percent less likely to have sex with a client without a condom — a risk factor for sexually transmitted infection and human immunodeficiency virus. They are also half as likely to catch sexually transmitted diseases. 

Those who were exposed to repressive policing, however, were three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence from clients and other people. 

"Where some or all aspects of sex work were criminalized, concerns about their own or their clients' arrest meant that sex workers often had to rush screening clients negotiating services, or work in isolated places, to avoid the police," stated Lucy Platt, an associate professor and lead author of the study. "his increased sex workers' vulnerability to theft and violence."

Criminalizing Sex Work Doesn't Work

The researchers also found that, in Sweden and Canada, the criminalization of the purchase of sex did not result in improved safety or access to services for sex workers. In contrast, in New Zealand where the trade is legal, sex workers reported that they have the option to refuse a client or insist on condom use. 

Pippa Grenfell, the co-author of the study, added that the review is proof that criminalization of sex work normalizes violence within the trade. It also "reinforces" gender, racial, and economic inequality. 

The researchers hope that in addition to the decriminalization of sex work, the inequalities and stigma that sex workers face should also be addressed not just within the justice system but as part of the society as a whole. 

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