Reports of alleged HIV transmission by WA sex worker highlight stigma


Health groups and representatives of the sex worker industry have joined together to highlight sensationalist media reports.

The West Australian have printed a report of an alleged HIV transmission by a transgender sex worker last year.

The article, entitled ‘Transgender hooker accused of spreading HIV’, highlights that an “alleged victim” was diagnosed with HIV late last year, after employing the services of a sex worker living with HIV.

The West Australian outline that the New South Wales police have arrested the sex worker on behalf of Western Australian authorities, and she had appeared in a Sydney court on Wednesday.

The online version of the article was published online with a different title.

Australian AIDS associations NAPWHA (National Association of People with HIV Australia) and the WA AIDS Council have joined their voices with Australian sex worker association Scarlet Alliance and Sex Workers Outreach Project NSW, reinforcing that HIV is a public health issue, not criminal law.

“While we cannot comment on a case before the courts, [these organisations] see this as an opportunity to counter unfounded fears about HIV, and to address the stigmatisation of people who are living with the virus,” the joint statement reads.

“Although reports of HIV transmission often get considerable attention in the media, HIV is a public health issue and Australia’s public health response to HIV has been highly effective. Public health interventions that prioritise education and support over punitive legal sanctions are the most effective way to manage transmission risk.”

NAPWHA President Cipriano Martinez says the common objective is to reduce HIV transmission. Mr Martinez says the most effective way to achieve this is through community engagement, engagement and empowerment.

“There are alternatives to the criminal justice system that are more appropriate for the management of allegations of HIV transmission,” Mr Martinez said.

“The overly broad application of the criminal law just makes things worse, both for the individuals involved and for the wider community.”

The four organisations agree that when cases of HIV transmission do come before a court, all must have the right to a fair trial.

Scarlet Alliance CEO Janelle Fawkes says the exchange of money in sexual transactions does not increase the risk of HIV transmission.

“Sex workers with HIV can routinely exchange sex for money without putting themselves, or their clients, at risk,” Ms Fawkes said.

“Any suggestions that occupation or gender identity is somehow responsible for HIV transmission is extremely naive.”

The four groups have condemned most media reports as sensational, highly stigmatising and disrespectful – highlighting that many have used incorrect pronouns to identify the accused woman, use of the term ‘prostitute’ and referring to a transgender woman as a “man who identifies as a woman”.

WA AIDS Council CEO Andrew Burry says the standard of reporting in this instance is appalling.

“There has to be a better way to sell newspapers than through willfully stigmatising already marginalised people.”

Free and confidential testing for men for HIV is available at the M-Clinic or via your doctor. More information about HIV can be access via the WA AIDS Council.

OIP Staff

The West Australian was contacted for comment on this story but did not respond by our print deadline. 

Update: 02-03-2016 Information about the M-Clinic and WA AIDS Council was added to this story.



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