The Southern United States has long been known for hot weather, fried chicken, and the proliferation of churches on every street corner. But few people know that the area also suffers disproportionately from rates of HIV/AIDS infection and death. Almost half of new AIDS diagnoses and deaths occur in the South, often among sex workers, one of the groups most vulnerable to the disease.
Due to stigma, criminalization and lack of resources for people in the sex industry, sex workers in the South have few opportunities for economic liberation, a high incidence of violence, and greater risk for HIV/AIDS.
When misguided social policies criminalize sex work under the guise of morality, police start arresting for possession of condoms as is happening all over the United States and in the South. Condom arrests lead to greater incidences of unprotected sex and risks for HIV transmission.
When sex workers are considered criminals even when they are the victim of a violent attack, thousands of sex workers are brutalized, raped, and even killed all over the country while the real criminals run free.
When hospitals stigmatize sex workers or even threaten to call the police on a worker who seeks help, sex workers are unable to secure treatment and testing for HIV/AIDS and other diseases.
When police raids drive sex workers underground, public health programs cannot bring them HIV services, including testing, education and prevention tools.
When people sniff at the idea of “helping prostitutes,” violence prevention mechanisms such as bad date lines and resource programs for sex workers are underfunded, understaffed, or nonexistent in areas where they are desperately needed.
The North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition is a nonprofit working to reduce HIV/AIDS and other blood borne disease through working with drug users, sex workers, incarcerated persons, law enforcement, and other vulnerable populations in the South. We call for change to U.S. Policy on sex work and HIV because people in the sex trade have the right to earn a living just like everyone else and to live their lives free from persecution and disease. When HIV/AIDS affects our communities’ most vulnerable people, it affects us all.
Visit us at www.nchrc.org