In an article in this issue Tucker and Ren (1) describe the plight of female sex workers (SWs) incarcerated in China's Female Re-education Through Labour (RTL) centres for moral education and vocational training, and in particular those with STIs and HIV/AIDS. This raises several major issues regarding 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 medicalised model in which SWs are seen not only as reservoirs of contagion but also as women in need of mandatory rehabilitation. One of the most notorious manifestation of these gender and class structural inequalities were the mid-nineteenth century Contagious Diseases Acts in the United Kingdom and her 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)
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