The relationship between street-based sex workers and the police in the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies.
Issues: Sydney has a legally-defined street-based sex working area that SWOP (Sex Workers’ Outreach Project) regularly outreaches. Recent over-policing has shown a direct negative impact on the effectiveness of HIV prevention strategies.
Description: After an extended period of over-policing in 2003, sex workers reported that their fear of arrest, detention, harassment and intimidation led them to engage in risky, unsafe behaviour previously not acceptable to them. SWOP sought to establish a good working relationship with local police to address the rights and needs of the workers. In addition, SWOP referred the women to Pro Bono legal assistance and on-going support was given to one particular worker who successfully challenged her (false) arrest through the judicial system.
Lessons Learned: Continuous communication and education of the police can dramatically change their actions and attitudes towards workers. This can allow workers to operate in an environment where HIV prevention strategies can be employed without fear or persecution. The police have also initiated positive communication between SWOP and another regulator: Local Government (council). The empowerment of these workers has increased peer based education on the street with many now confident to call the police and assert their rights if required.
Recommendations: The role of police in regards to street-based sex workers cannot be understated. In order for HIV prevention strategies to be implemented policy directives from the police should optimally come from the top down to assure a consistant and informed approach. Regular education sessions for the police are also important as well as regular information-sharing meetings between the police and service providers.