In 2008, Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Worker’s Association, undertook a national needs assessment research project to identify the systemic barriers impacting on HIV-positive sex workers. The needs assessment was coordinated by a self-disclosed HIV-positive sex worker, Kane Matthews.
Matthews identified that HIV-positive sex workers within Australia face a lack of representation within policy forums due to issues surrounding confidentiality and disclosure. They are under-represented within sex worker organisations, are highly criminalised in some States and Territories of Australia, face legal restrictions on providing sexual services, and may be prosecuted for engaging in consensual sex work.
In addition this this, Matthews found that HIV-positive sex workers experience high levels of stigma and discrimination from within the sex industry, and outside the sex industry sex workers are demonised in the media.
The needs assessment research project was developed, implemented, evaluated and presented by HIV-positive sex workers, with a steering committee of self-disclosed HIV-positive sex workers to guide the process. A close working relationship developed between Scarlet Alliance and the National Association of People living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWHA).
The needs assessment research project aimed to develop an evidence-based advocacy tool that could be used by sex workers to undertake policy development in relation to the needs of the community, to inform service providers of the specific needs of positive sex workers, and for peer-led sex worker organisations to tailor services and activism to be more inclusive of the HIV-positive sex worker community.
The key outcomes identified from the findings of the research were published in August 2008, as “The National Needs Assessment for Sex Workers who live with HIV.” The outcomes included the need to end the criminalisation of HIV positive sex workers and to recognise the rights of HIV-positive sex workers to self-protection from stigma.
The research paper was distributed to State, Territory and Federal Health Departments and Health Ministers; State and Territory AIDS Councils; local peer-led sex worker and drug user organizations; and universities. The research was presented within a number of forums, including at universities, the New South Wales Library and the National Library.
The research has subsequently formed an evidence-based foundation for State and Territory sex worker organisations to implement internal policies regarding the greater inclusion of HIV-positive sex workers, and to advocate for legislative changes in relation to the criminalisation of HIV-positive sex workers.
The research paper has also been used as a key reference tool in a number of peer abstracts exploring the criminalisation and marginalisation of HIV-positive Australian sex workers, presented within national and international conference forums and published in national and international journals.