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Sex Transm Infect 84:1-2 doi:10.1136/sti.2007.029397
  • Editorial

Incarceration of female sex workers in China and STI/HIV. Programmes that are not rights-based are doomed to fail

  1. M D E Goodyear
  1. Dr Michael Goodyear, Department of Medicine and Women’s Centre, Dalhousie University, 1278 Tower Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada B3H 2Y9; mgoodyear{at}dal.ca
  • Accepted 4 December 2007
  • Published Online First 9 January 2008

Tucker and Ren (see page 34) describe the plight of female sex workers incarcerated in China’s female re-education through labor (RTL) centres for moral education and vocational training, and in particular those with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS.1

This raises several major issues about public health, ethics and human rights. From the earliest times, public and social policy on sex work has been based on social exclusion and the control of “loose women”.2 3 Part of the moral panic driving these policies has centred around a medical model in which sex workers are seen not only as reservoirs of contagion but also as women in need of mandatory rehabilitation. One of the most notorious manifestations of these gender and class structural inequalities was the mid-nineteenth century Contagious Diseases Acts in the UK and UK colonies. However, they are never far from the surface, as has been evident in the recent Home Office Co-ordinated Strategy on Prostitution and the proposals contained in the current Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill for compulsory rehabilitation orders. East and West are perhaps more convergent in their thinking than might appear prima facie. This essentialist conception of women who sell sex contradicts that of cultural citizenship—the right to visibility and presence rather than marginalisation.4

Probably one of the most significant factors shaping policy on sex work has been the emergence of HIV/AIDs in …