Reducing HIV Transmission Requires Decriminalizing Sex Work

Transgender people are criminalized for our bodies.

We are profiled, stereotyped, and presumed
guilty based on the way we look or for failing to meet gender expectations, and
it must stop.

Nearly one
in six
transgender people has been incarcerated. For trans people of color,
the number is one in two. It’s staggering, and it demonstrates the deep bias in
our current laws and criminal justice system.

This World AIDS Day, let’s not forget that transgender
women — particularly trans women of color — are also more likely to be
living with HIV than cisgender people. The fight for trans justice cannot be
separated from the work to reduce new transmission and provide care to those
who are living with HIV, while ending stigma and criminalization for having
HIV. To win this fight, we must decriminalize sex work.

Since the passage
of the Stop Enabling Sex
Traffickers Act (SESTA)
and Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA), trans sex workers have been
pushed
to hit the streets late at night or take other risky actions, which put them in
more danger. They aren’t able to screen their clientele and can’t take
precautions to protect themselves in case something bad happens to them.

Being back on the streets increases the risk
for unsafe sex practices. Economically marginalized people face increased
pressure to engage in risky behavior and have less ability to control their
activities.

Trans women of color are frequently profiled
as sex workers even when they are not engaging in sex work. This has highly
impacted undocumented sex workers, who are at even higher risk of harassment
and abuse. Walking while trans laws
and no
condoms as evidence laws
can help stop the profiling of trans women and
especially trans women of color.

Trans people who choose to engage in sex work
still need the law to protect against coercion, violence, and abuse.We face
arrest, abuse and violence. We deserve a legal system that protects us, not
only from incarceration, but also from the dangers of life on the street where
many of us are forced to turn for survival.

That’s why the ACLU’s Trans Justice campaign,
along with local partners and organizations led by current and former sex
workers, is fighting to end the targeting of trans people by decriminalizing
sex work. Such reform would help to protect sex workers from HIV, lowering the risk
of putting themselves in compromised situations. It would make interacting with
clients safer, reduce violent interactions with police, and lessen the fear of
talking to the police when abuse does happen.

This reform is especially important for sex workers
living with HIV. In many states,
what would normally be misdemeanor charges related to sex work become felonies
for people living with HIV. These laws have been used to send trans women and
others living with HIV to prison for years, even when there was no risk of HIV
transmission. In some states, after incarceration, they need to register as sex
offenders. These laws not only don’t stop HIV transmission — they make it more
likely
. They spread misinformation and stigma about HIV, push sex workers
and clients into riskier choices, and make it harder for people to survive.

As the World Health Organization has found, sex
workers are among the most vulnerable to HIV, and laws criminalizing their
activities increase violence and stigma against them.

Sex workers deserve protection from violence
and access to health care free from stigma. By changing our laws, we can bring
sex work out of the dangerous corners of the world and into the light where
people are protected — not targeted — by the law.


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