During my first day in Johannesburg, South Africa, I noticed an article in The Times, titled,“Police Destroying Condoms.” The article was based on a recent report from the Open Society Foundation. The report interviewed sex workers from Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Russia and the US. Every country had issues with sex workers being harassed by police because they were carrying condoms.
More than 40% of sex workers in these countries said the police had taken their condoms from them. In Russia, this figure rose to 80% in some areas. In the U.S., 52% of people interviewed who identified as sex workers said they sometimes chose not to carry condoms because of stop-and-search harassment. In all six countries, the research found that police physically and sexually abuse sex workers who were found carrying condoms or used the fact that they possessed a condom as proof that they were sex workers and subject to arrest.
Because many sex workers depend on sex with strangers to feed themselves and their children, pay the rent or just for basic survival, the “no condom, no sex” rule just doesn’t apply. So they end up having unprotected sex, putting themselves and their partners at greater risk.
This is not only a health issue, but a human rights issue. Learn more about issues dealing with the rights of sex workers and HIV here.