Sex worker-led organisations have found creative ways to combat violence against members. Sex workers experience violence from police, authorities, health and social services, as well as state and non-state organisations. Criminalisation of sex work can provide cover for collective abuse of power, which has a detrimental effect on the reporting of violence.
Sex workers also experience interpersonal violence from clients, family, intimate partners, acquaintances, strangers, and from management and colleagues. Finally, criminalisation and social and internalised stigma can promote self-directed violence.
This violence occurs in many contexts: in workplaces, at health and social service agencies, in detention centres, public spaces, and at home.
In South Africa, sex workers informally use the popular chat application, WhatsApp, to warn each other of dangerous situations. WhatsApp groups are also used to network, and to assist each other with childcare and other needs. Outreach teams from SWEAT/Sisonke collect information about local alerts to add to their central reporting system.
In 2017, Avenir Jeune de l’Ouest (AJO), Cameroon partnered with two external organisations to provide professional psychological care to sex workers who have experienced violence, conducting evaluations to determine satisfaction with the programme.
In 2010, the Bar Hostess Empowerment and Support Programme (BHESP), Kenya, trained 18 peer educators as paralegals to share rights information with sex workers, and to be a first point of contact for sex workers who need legal help.
Foundation for Trans Women Living with HIV, Uganda, distributes such cards to sex workers during outreach. Sex workers use these cards when they are approached or arrested by police.
The cards inform police that the holder is aware of their legal rights and references relevant legislation. Challenges with this strategy include translation of the rights information card from English to Luganda (as some police officers cannot read English), ongoing printing costs, including costs of durable materials so cards are not ruined in the rainy season.
As captured in the Smart Sex Worker’s Guide 1, there is progress in combating violence globally.
The ‘Smart Sex Worker’s Guide 1’ provides an overview of the advocacy tools and interventions used by sex workerled organisations globally to combat violence against sex workers. It builds on the guidance provided in ‘Addressing Violence Against Sex Workers’, chapter 2 of Implementing Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers, known as the Sex Worker Implementation Tool (SWIT)1.