Criminalization of Sex Work an Enormous Barrier To Fighting HIV/AIDS

“Decriminalization of sex work remains critical to the global HIV response,” says Dr. Kate Shannon, a Canada Research Chair in Global Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS and Associate Professor of Medicine at UBC.

Dr. Shannon directs the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative (GHSI), which was established in 2010 as a core program of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, a UBC-affiliated centre based at Providence Health Care’s St. Paul’s Hospital. She and her GSHI team have spent years studying marginalized health and social inequities among sex workers in North America, Africa and Asia.

This research proves that criminalization and punitive approaches directly undermine health and human rights of sex workers, by forcing sex workers underground—putting them at risk for violence, undermining their ability to safely negotiate working conditions including condom use and creating barriers to accessing sexual health and HIV/AIDS treatment and care services. Dr. Shannon was the lead author on a seven-part series on sex work and HIV recently published in the Lancet.

“Our Lancet paper demonstrated that in addition to access to treatment and care and sex work-led efforts, the decriminalization of sex work would have the single largest impact on the course of HIV epidemics in sex work over the next decade across diverse settings of Kenya, India and Canada, through eliminating violence, police persecution and promoting access to safer sex work spaces. This research shows us yet again that the new C-36 law in Canada is a blatant disregard of science and human rights, including the landmark decision by the Supreme Court of Canada striking down criminalized sex work laws,” says Dr. Shannon.

Dr. Shannon and her team are passionate about their findings on this and other issues of gender and health equity with respect to women and key populations affected by and living with HIV/AIDS. With the support of UBC, they subscribe to a “research to action” strategy that ensures their research is not only peer reviewed and held to the highest ethical and scientific standards, but engages community and communicated to the media, public and policy makers via open letters, editorials, policy briefs, plain language summaries, press releases and advocacy work. Their efforts have drawn global attention including over 400 media citations and a legal intervention at the Supreme Court of Canada to the connection between criminalization of sex work and HIV/AIDS and the critical need for evidence-based policy and practice in the HIV/AIDS response. 



Dr. Shannon's research is supported by the federal Canada Research Chairs program and funders including the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, The National Institutes of Health and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research.


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