Sex workers are more likely to face violence, not use condoms and contract HIV in countries where selling or buying sex is illegal, a study claims.
An international team of researchers analysed the effects of different laws from 33 countries – in what they say was the first review of its kind – and found that restrictive policies lead to increased health and safety risks.
Sex workers exposed to arrest and imprisonment were three times as likely to suffer sexual or physical violence from clients, partners and other people – and twice as likely to contract HIV or similar diseases as those working in countries that tolerate their profession, the study found.
Lucy Platt, lead author of the university-led study, said: ‘Where some or all aspects of sex work were criminalised, concerns about their own or their clients’ arrest meant that sex workers often had to rush screening clients.’
Sex workers are more likely to face violence and contract HIV in countries where prostitution is illegal, a study claims (stock image)
Fear of police meant sex workers had little time to negotiate services and tended to work in isolated areas, increasing their vulnerability to theft and violence, said Ms Platt, an associate professor in public health epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).
The research, published in journal PLOS Medicine, reviewed data from more than 130 studies across the 33 countries – from Britain to Uganda – which had been published in scientific journals between 1990 to 2018.
Sex workers who had not been exposed to repressive practices were also 30 percent less prone to have sex without a condom, the analysis claimed.
Study co-author Pippa Grenfell, an assistant professor of public health sociology at LSHTM, said decriminalisation of sex work was ‘urgently needed’.
A spokesperson for pro-legalisation group The English Collective of Prostitutes said the study confirmed sex workers’ experience.
‘Those of us who work on the street are running from the police, pushed into more isolated areas because clients are fearful of arrest,’ said Niki Adams.
Meta-analysis found sex workers who had been exposed to arrest or prison were three times more likely to experience sexual or physical violence by clients, partners and other people (stock image)
It is legal to buy and sell sex in England and Wales, but related activities such as soliciting and kerb crawling – drivers cruising the streets for prostitutes – are illegal.
‘We hear from sex workers in France and Ireland that attacks have gone up since clients were criminalised there,’ Ms Adams said.
But Tsitsi Matekaire, of women’s rights group Equality Now, said it was wrong to look at prostitution solely as a health issue, adding that decriminalisation was not the best way to protect women.
‘Prostitution in itself is inherently violent,’ she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding that laws aimed at curbing demand by punishing clients without criminalising those who have been driven into prostitution were a better solution.
Nations have been divided over the best way to deal with prostitution. Many outlaw it; some, including Canada and Sweden, punish clients and others, like Germany and New Zealand, legalised it or decriminalized it entirely.