Demonstrators gathered around Sweden’s embassies all over the world in July to object to what’s become known as the Nordic way to deal with prostitution—criminalize the purchase of sex, not the sale. The violence still surrounding sex work in European countries goes to show this isn’t the best option.
The International AIDS Conference returned to the United States this week after a 22-year hiatus, thanks in part to President Obama’s lifting of a 1987 ban on entry into the country by people with HIV or AIDS. But sex workers and drug users, two groups most affected by the epidemic, remain shut out.
Women who carry around condoms—including sex workers who use them to protect themselves from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases—are being criminalized in cities across the United States, as police agencies view possession of prophylactics as evidence of prostitution.
Former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has avoided criminal charges for his well-publicized escapades with sex workers while in office. Largely responsible for the development was a decision by federal prosecutors to investigate Spitzer on questionable financial transactions—where they found no evidence of misuse—rather than the more titillating accusation of “transporting prostitutes across state lines.”
A plan to legalize sex work in time for South Africa’s 2010 World Cup has many in the country upset. While supporters believe criminalization puts women in harm’s way, religious groups and others argue that “family values” trump the interests of both the national economy and individual workers.