Posts tagged ‘Overs’

Fancy picking Cheryl’s brains?

This month, AIDSLEX will host an “Ask the Expert” session on sex work with our very own Cheryl Overs and Valerie Scott (pictured). They will respond to user questions on the human rights of sex workers and on how laws can support efforts to respond to the HIV epidemic, including providing HIV prevention and health care services to sex workers. Users are also invited to pose questions concerning an Ontario court ruling in September 2010 in which sections of Canada’s Criminal Code related to sex work were deemed unconstitutional.

To submit a question, please write to experts@aidslex.org. Deadline is 15 November.

Cheryl Overs is a noted advocate for the rights of sex workers and has written widely on the subject. Valerie Scott is Executive Director of Sex Professionals of Canada (http://www.spoc.ca/), which campaigns for the rights of sex workers. She was one of the applicants in the Ontario Superior Court case. More information on that ruling can be found at http://aidslaw.ca/publications/interfaces/downloadDocumentFile.php?ref=1096.

04/11/2010 at 11:29 2 comments

Why Pimping Must Be Legal Too. by Cheryl Overs with special thanks to Marc of Frankfurt for giving this article a much better name.

Sex workers rights activists are living in exciting times. We now have a formal mechanism for inputting into UN policy, the NSWP UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work and the Commission on HIV and Law convened by UNDP is a golden opportunity for an authoritative recommendation that sex work be decriminalised. Substantial support for such a recommendation has already come from senior UN officials including the Secretary General and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health.

When sex work began to be decriminalised in Australia more than 20 years ago I thought we were the first in a domino effect of collapsing sex work laws globally .   I knew hardly anything of the outside world then. I now understand much better why the opposite has happened and why, with a couple of exceptions, laws against sex work have worsened for sex workers globally.  Although those reasons are obviously varied and complex, I think the issue of removing laws against living off immoral earnings, brothel keeping etc has functioned as a ‘deal breaker’  that has impeded us forming the alliances we need to move the decriminalisation agenda forward globally.

Most of the agencies who support removing the offences that are used against women who sell sex ( and less often against men and transgenders) at the same time support retention  of the offenses that are used against people that operate or service  the sex industry. (pimps)

Why is this ? It’s the fashion in literature on sex work and law  to follow any mention  of  sex business operators with (pimps) in brackets.  At first I just thought the use of bracketed American slang to clarify who is being discussed was just another amusing folly fromAmerican friends. But perhaps by invoking this stigmatising term authors are providing a clue to better understanding  the disconnect between sex workers and the allies we need to support our demands  if we are to be successful.  That we don’t have that support is clear.  Of all the agencies and individuals calling for ‘removal of punitive laws against sex workers’ almost none are expressing support for removal of the laws against operating or servicing sex businesses ( pimping) . The ‘best’ we get is a call for better enforcement to ensure that innocent family members are not ‘wrongly’ charged with living off immoral  earnings ( pimping ) .

Like all movements the sex workers rights movement is diverse so there are few policy positions that everyone in the global sex workers rights movementfully  agrees on beyond the basic principles of the Network of Sex Work Projects.    ( http://www.NSWP.org).  However there is one proposition that stands out as  universal  – sex work is work.  It’s written on our placards, chanted at our demonstrations quoted on our websites and publications.  What this slogan means is that sex workers demand that labour law  not criminal law is used to govern the sex industry and protect the conditions of the workers in that industry.  For this to happen sex businesses  and brokering commercial sex must be legal.  To benefit from labour rights sex workers who are employees must have legal employers. To benefit from health and safety regulations self employed sex workers must have access to legal workplaces and the same legal structure around their work as other self employed workers. There is no point the sex workers role in commercial sex being legal while  her employers or people from whom she rents space or advertises are criminalised. In fact in many countries where sex work  highly criminalised in reality, the law on the books only contains brothel keeping, recruiting ( pimping) type offenses.(  See http://prostitution.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000772)

It’s not surprising that sex workers look to labour law.  Labour law and regulations and their important corollary, trade unions, are the  mechanisms that have actually delivered improved working conditions to hundreds of millions of workers as they have been introduced over the last two centuries.  Labour law is not  a magic bullet,  especially in poor countries,  and sex workers know that.  I remember I was fascinated when I first heard Cambodian sex workers passionately demanding ‘we must come under labour law’. They had learned a lot about workers rights issues from garment workers. ( in one of the most inspiring ‘civil society’ alliances I have ever seen)  They  knew that Cambodian garment factories  haven’t  transformed into perfect workplaces but equally they understood the role of labour law in garment workers’ journey from near slavery in dangerous sweatshops via the contemporary garment factory to their vision of the factory of the future. In this context the sex workers could very easily locate two primary differences between their struggle  and that of the  garment workers  – the stigma and the law that criminalises ‘sexual expolitation and trafficking’ .

So why can’t our allies among  academics, feminists and human rights agencies  accept this ?  Why do we so so many advocates argue for repeal of laws against soliciting and selling sex but not laws against brothel keeping and profiting from, organising or brokering commercial sex ? ( pimping) . Why do they make an argument for ‘decriminalisation’ of sex workers and  suport laws that prevent ‘economic exploitation of sex workers’  (pimping) ? ( eg Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Networkhttp://www.aidslaw.ca/publications/publicationsdocEN.php?ref=199)

I have been surprised to see human rights abuses associated with anti-trafficking/sexual exploitation law attributed to poor enforcement of otherwise sound laws against  people that operate sex businesses ( pimps)  ( e.g. Off the Streets by Human Rights Watchhttp://www.hrw.org/en/reports/2010/07/20/streets-0) Why do human rights advocates  dismiss  sex workers view that the trafficking paradigm itself is flawed and the demands to repeal laws that prohibit sex buinsiness  (pimps)  ?  I can’t understand support for banning sex work advertisements because the advertisers ( pimps) have failed to prevent the abuse of women.  ( see about 2 million internet posts about  Craigslist )

What do people want for sex workers ?  A cosy cottage industry of all female sex worker collectives in which no sex worker facilitates or profits from the prostitution of another ? ‘ (pimps) ( or ‘pimps herself’  – I have actually read people talking about women trafficking themselves !) Although some sex workers might agree that a cottage industry of worker collectives would be nice, there is no sex worker in the world who doesn’t know that if you work in a criminalised environment you are affected by that criminalisation even if  there is no specific law against what you are doing.

Of course I understand that people feel sorry for sex workers who work in horrible conditions and feel angry about the people that exploit them.  We all do.  I am sure the same well intentioned people feel sorry for garment workers too but the difference is they recognise their right to be employees and they don’t advocate criminalising the people that run garment factories .  It doesn’t help sex workers struggle for rights to work these sentiments into professional policy advocacy.  After all,  sex workers know (pimps) best and they are demanding a fully legalised sex industry. The DMSC in India, the well known sex worker rights group, challenged (pimping) laws in court.

So here is an open message to all  those who are  advocating around sex work law reform.    Please use precious advocacy opportunities to support sex workers position that sex work is work. This means that sex workers, like all other workers, need labour rights to reduce their vulnerability including to  unscrupulous and abusive service providers and employers. To reach our agreed goal of being governed by labour law not criminal law, organising sex work and employing sex workers  must  be legal. Please don’t give expression to understandable disdain for the stereotypical violent male pimp by supporting laws against organising commercial sex or providing services and workplaces to sex workers.

There are excellent laws against kidnapping, assault, robbery and rape.  Please use precious advocacy opportunities to press States to use them properly to address criminal abuse of sex workers, including by police who are the main perpetrators.

And please, please  stop using the term (pimp).


11/09/2010 at 06:04 7 comments

Sex workers and new HIV prevention technologies

Reacting to a peripheries post on microbicides, Cheryl Overs commented “These [definition of microbicides] are a hint of the skewed propaganda about microbicides and an insight into the absence of consideration of how they will affect the millions of sex workers worldwide. Sex workers will lose any hope of using a 99% effective product against STIs, HIV and unwanted pregnancies, condoms” adding that, “The idea that sex workers will buy and use a combination of different products for different orifices/sex acts is absurd. Especially when one of those products will still have to be a condom.” Cheryl is summing up various concerns expressed in the “Sex work and the new era of HIV prevention and care” report she produced for the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW).

Read the full post on the Peripheries blog…

06/10/2009 at 13:19 Leave a comment

The Truth About…Men, Boys and Sex

Cheryl Overs has contributed an article to a new publication from the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), The Truth About…Men, Boys and Sex: Gender-transformative policies and programmes. The report provides information, evidence and practical advice on:

  • Why working with men and boys is important;
  • What SRH issues and services are particularly important for different men and boys; and
  • How programme developers, managers and service providers can integrate a focus on male sexual and reproductive health and gender transformation in their programming.

(more…)

30/06/2009 at 15:51 Leave a comment

Legal services for sex workers

Indian courtWhere governance is poor and the rule of law is weak, female, male and transgender sex workers are typically exposed to severe and pervasive human rights abuses. Abuses may consist of violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful confiscation of property, limits on freedom of movement, and discriminatory and corrupt treatment in both public and private domains. 

Chronic abuse of this kind will impact negatively on any person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Responding to these matters has been a key focus of sex worker activism globally. Sex workers have been involved in many projects in order to reduce the occurrence of these harms. There range from local anti-violence initiatives and police training to international human rights advocacy.

However the impact of legal services for sex workers generally, the relationship between legal services and health status, and the place of legal services amongst other responses has not been rigorously examined.  (more…)

15/06/2009 at 10:54 Leave a comment

AIDS 2010

Cheryl Overs, from Monash University Medical School, has joined the Community Programming Committee (CPC) for the International Aids Conference on behalf of the Paulo Longo Research Initiative. The conference will be held in Vienna next year. She attended the first planning meeting of the committee in Vienna in May which was held in conjunction with the Joint Programming Committee. This first meeting was for committees to develop a clear understanding of the conference structure, the process for building the conference programme and roles and responsibilities of committees. Cheryl will co-chair the Global Village Working Group with Anastasia Kamlyk of UNAIDS.  

Later in the year the PLRI will develop a proposal for a session on sex work research at the conference and we look forward to your suggestions about that. Meanwhile information about the conference can be obtained at www.aids2010.org.

15/06/2009 at 10:28 1 comment


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