SWIT Training in Jakarta, Indonesia (Part Two)

The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers in collaboration with Organisasi Perubahan Sosial Indonesia (OPSI) conducted a national training in Jakarta from 15-17 November 2016. The training focused on the Sex Worker Implementation Tool (SWIT) – a guide for implementing comprehensive HIV/STI programmes with sex workers, published by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Part One of this article looked at barriers to community empowerment in Indonesia. Part Two summarizes discussions about addressing violence against sex workers, and community engagement in service provision.

Addressing violence against sex workers

Sex worker participants at the training identified violence as a major factor influencing their lives and livelihoods. During group discussions exploring violence in sex industry workplaces and violence against sex workers, participants identified a number of social and political factors that have direct influence on the violence they experience. These included the following:

  • Violence from state and non-state actors.

The Indonesian State does not accept sex work as work, nor does it recognize the rights of sex workers. This leads to extreme marginalisation of sex workers, who face violence from the state, and organised violence by non-state actors. The sex industry, where tolerated, is subject to many laws and policies: from local by-laws to national laws. These laws are implemented in such a way as to punish sex workers for their profession.

Recently there has been a national campaign to make Indonesia a “sex work free” country. As part of this campaign, brothels and sex work venues and areas are being forcibly closed, and sex workers and our colleagues, violently evicted. All around the nation police are arresting sex workers in an attempt to appeal to a perceived populist agenda to “clean up” the country.

One sex worker participant described her feelings toward the “clean up” campaign saying:

We are being treated as though we are merely dust on the street, polluting the city. The Police are arresting us as part of “cleaning” the city, and Islamic people cannot tolerate us. Often they inform police of any sex workers they spot, and Police then feel obligated or justified to harass us, even at times we are not working.

  • Sex workers as political ‘scapegoats’

Participants described how they are used by politicians who are trying to appeal to public morals.

The current Government is trying to stamp out sex work to gain the respect and support of the population. Sex workers are an easy target, and we are used for political benefit. If the Government can show a violent crack-down on us, they think they will gain more support.

  • No national response to violence against sex workers

There are no national programs which respond to violence against sex workers in Indonesia currently. OPSI facilitated a legal clinic in the past, however, it has finished due to a lack of ongoing funds. No sex worker programs or projects at the local level address violence within sex work contexts.

Current laws and policies do not protect sex workers and are implemented in such a way as to punish sex workers for their profession. Police and other law enforcement agencies can perpetuate violence against sex worker communities with impunity. There is no recognition of sex workers human rights or any opportunity for sex workers to access any form of legal recourse or redress when their rights have been violated.

  • Programs address HIV but not social factors

Current projects and programs for sex workers are funded primarily to address health and HIV-related health care and treatment, but without focusing on the social/ environmental factors which contribute to HIV transmission in sex work contexts. This is not consistent with the WHO guidelines as outlined in the SWIT.

  • Contradictory messages from government

The government is sending contradictory messages to sex workers. The Ministry of Health encourages sex workers to use condoms, while local and national police departments arrest people on the street carrying condoms as suspected sex workers. The negative impact of this on public health and HIV prevention efforts is obvious. These contradictory behaviors by State policy makers and law enforcers contribute to HIV transmission, and further alienates and marginalizes sex workers.

A participant shares feedback at the training
Group feedback session at SWIT Training

Community engagement in service provision

The SWIT workshop explored clinical support and best practice models of community engagement in service provision. In discussions addressing clinical support services,  participants identified the National AIDS Commission (NAC) as responsible for implementing public health services targeting sex workers, and noted there are very few, if any, community organizations or NGOs that provide clinical services to sex workers.

Subsequently, if a sex worker feels uncomfortable accessing heath care services through a NAC clinic (for example, due to fears of confidentiality, or experiences of stigma and discrimination from staff), there are few or no alternative options for free or low cost health care provision. As a result, very few sex workers are using NAC clinical services. Sex workers would prefer to access a sex worker specific clinic; however, there are no options available.

Most clinics are tailored to the general public and staff are not sensitized to the needs of sex workers, nor are they very friendly or supportive of sex workers. Sex workers accessing these clinics report experiencing high levels of stigma and discrimination from service providers and other service users (such as women who have sero-converted due to their husbands infidelity, and blame sex workers as the cause of HIV or STIs). Similarly, there is a lack of specialist knowledge in relation to health care issues affecting male and trans sex workers.

Indonesian sex workers felt that they were not meaningfully involved with any targeted programs, and that their experiences of community mobilization do not yet reflect those outlined in the SWIT resources. However, sex workers reported that they drew inspiration and direction from the principles contained within the SWIT, and that they hope to use these principles in future self-organizing and community empowerment efforts.They also hope to pass the principles of the SWIT onto their peers within the community.

OPSI is particularly enthusiastic about organizing future workshops and training for sex workers which will explore and highlight some of the fundamental SWIT principles, and to identify how they can be adapted to the local context.

Sex workers all agreed that they need to be unified, as there is literally a war on sex workers which is displacing sex worker communities and resulting in massive human rights violations.

The meeting ended with a vow to sex worker solidarity!