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Decriminalisation of sex work

13 June 2019
Volume 28 · Issue 11

Credible evidence shows that, where sex workers are able to negotiate safer sex, HIV and other risks can be better managed and greatly reduced. A systematic review found that sex workers subjected to arrests, prison or displacement from places of work had a three times higher chance of experiencing sexual or physical violence and were twice as likely to have HIV and/or other sexually transmitted infections (Platt et al, 2018).

The UK has an estimated 72 800 sex workers, around 90% of whom are women (House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, 2016). UK laws currently make it a criminal offense for sex workers to work together for safety, which means they are deterred from reporting any violence for fear of arrest. Having a criminal record for offences relating to their work makes it harder to find other employment.

Sex workers can present nurses with distinctive challenges. Fear of judgement and criminalisation, language barriers, unstable immigration status and a disordered manner of living can all act as a barrier to accessing health care. Those who work on the street have a higher risk of complicated health problems and are more likely to present with STIs, drug/alcohol dependency and mental-health needs.

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