Decriminalize Sex Work to Promote Public Health

Sex work

Target: Sylvia Mathews Burwell, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services

Goal: Reduce HIV/AIDs infection by decriminalizing sex work

Sex workers are one of the most vulnerable populations for contracting HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted infections. Poverty and stigma often deter sex workers from seeking care when they are ill, leading to further infection among clients and their communities. According to a recent article, however, decriminalizing sex work could help to reduce the rates of HIV and STI infection among workers, leading to improved public health worldwide. Urge lawmakers to consider decriminalizing sex work to save lives and end the global HIV pandemic.

Few studies about sex workers and disease have been conducted in the United States, but the prevalence of HIV is even higher among sex workers who also use intravenous drugs. This incredibly vulnerable and mostly invisible population often lacks the money and power to utilize HIV prevention methods and seek out treatment. The continual criminalization of sex workers makes it difficult for them to demand that customers use condoms, advocate for their own health, safety, and comfort, and seek protection and help from law enforcement or other institutions when it is needed. The fact that sex workers are often criminalized while their clients are not results in a power imbalance.

The World Health Organization has called for the decriminalization of sex work as a necessary step to ending the HIV crisis. Such policies would mean that sex work is subject to standards for health, hygiene, and safety, and would give sex workers necessary rights and powers under the law. It would give the law more oversight of businesses and allow them to intervene in cases of theft, violence, or other violations like the employment of minors or human trafficking. Decriminalization means higher condom use, more power for sex workers to dictate the terms of a transaction, and better quality community health practices. It also leads to less street-based sex work, which carries the highest risk of HIV infection, in favor of securer and cleaner commercial establishments.

Unlike many developed and developing nations around the world, the United States refuses to consider harm reduction practices when it comes to sex work and drug use, sticking to a dangerous and antiquated hard line that does little to reduce HIV infection and increase the safety of sex work. Urge Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell to not allow U.S. policies to get stuck behind cultural and political barriers. Reducing HIV infection and improving public health depends on it.


Dear Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell,

A new study confirms what public health experts have known for years: Decriminalizing sex work reduces HIV infection. The United States has a long history of stigmatizing sex workers, rendering their wellbeing and health invisible. HIV/AIDs and other STIs not only decimate the health of sex workers, but also finds its way into other communities through clients. Decriminalizing sex work is an imperative step to ending the HIV/AIDs pandemic.

Criminalized sex work prevents workers from seeking out treatment for disease, limits their powers of negotiation with potential clients, exposes them to violence and brutality, and deters them from using condoms and other protective measures. When law enforcement works with sex workers to eradicate human trafficking, reduce infection, and enforce standards for health, hygiene, and safety, the greater community becomes healthier, more open, and less violent.

Feigning ignorance and pretending sex workers don’t exist only hurts public health. Harm reduction in the form of decriminalization of sex work is necessary to eradicate HIV/AIDs and create better lives for those who choose to engage in sex work.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: geralt via Pixabay

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