Legalizing Sex Work Might Be The Key To Reducing HIV Transmission Rates, So Let's Do That Already

HIV and AIDS are some of the most complex and threatening health problems the world has faced in the past several decades. According to the WHO (the World Health Organization, friends, not the band), an estimated .8 percent of adults worldwide live with HIV. Therefore, it's no surprise that, like the obesity epidemic, plenty of countries have tried a variety of tactics to stop it from spreading like wildfire. However, a new study reveals a way to cut down on new infections that originally seems surprising: legalizing sex work to stop HIV transmission.

The study, which was published in The Lancet, states that female sex workers have a very high rate of HIV/AIDS. There are plenty of reasons for this, most of them having to do with condom use. Here are a few, according to AVERT:

  • In some countries, sex workers are either unaware of the importance of condoms for preventing transmission, or don't have access to them.
  • Clients pay more for unprotected sex, so sex workers forgo condoms.
  • In some countries, including the U.S., police will use possession of condoms as evidence that women are involved in sex work.
  • The stigma against sex workers can make it hard for them to get the health services that they need.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images News/Getty Images

It shouldn't come as a shocker, then, that one of the largest problems plaguing female sex workers (no matter where they work) is the spread of HIV. In addition, 70 percent of sex workers are subject to police harassment, which forces them to conduct their business in risky, out-of-the-way locations and scenarios. None of that is conducive to safe sex.

Perhaps it isn't such a surprise that decriminalizing sex work can cut down on transmission rates by more than a third:

FSW = female sex workers; ICU = inconsistent condom usage

For both female sex workers and their clients combined, decriminalizing sex work means that over 40 percent of HIV infections over a 10-year period can be averted. Although no study should be taken as law, these results (if true) do point towards a significant way to reduce transmission rates. The paper's researchers studied sex workers in Canada, India, and Kenya, and presented their findings at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. “We see from the evidence across settings that sex-worker-led efforts must go hand in hand with structural change,” said Kate Shannon, the study's lead author.

In addition, making sex work legal can cut down on other related issues. For example, Rhode Island accidentally decriminalized sex work for six years (yes, you did read that right, and it was an accident). The unexpected results: forcible rape fell by 31 percent, and new cases of female gonorrhea fell by 39 percent. That's probably because sex workers were able to conduct business in indoor locations without fear of recrimination.

No matter how you spin it, the fact remains that sex work is a $14 billion industry in the U.S. alone. Pulling an ostrich-in-the-sand maneuver and ignoring the problem won't make it go away. The only logical way to address HIV/AIDS transmission among sex workers is to calmly investigate the options, and decriminalizing sex work is certainly one of them.

Images: The Lancet; Getty