In early October I will be travelling to Amsterdam to present my paper – ‘A Repeat Performance for a Security Legacy? Brazil and Glasgow’s sex industry in 2014: the similarities in mega event policing’ at The Law Enforcement and Public Health gathering 2014 (LEPH). We will be discussing the kind of relationship that needs to be constructed between the police and public health authorities and how this differs from the one found in many countries.
Part of the paper will be based on research I carried out in Brazil prior to the World Cup 2014. I found that sex workers were expecting to experience or to witness violence during the World Cup, mainly in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Sex workers were worried about what support would be available to them during the World Cup 2014 if their fears were confirmed. It is well known that mega sporting events intensify pre-existing conditions for sex workers. As a result, sex workers usually expect – and experience – greater repression from the police. The events also damage the rapport between public health services and sex workers. In all, the events lead to greater hardship for sex workers.
In the event, the fears of my interviewees were justified. Two of the sex worker activists I met in Rio de Janeiro were involved in a major incident in Niterói. On 23 May 2014 police from the 76th Police Precinct in Niterói, not far from Rio de Janeiro, invaded without judicial authorisation a building occupied by a large number of sex workers and other residents. Sex workers were raped and treated with violence, as well as having personal items, including money, stolen. The incident highlighted the extent of police corruption and the urgent need for the police to be cleaned up – something which requires more international attention.
Another key message from sex workers was that they are frequently accused of exploiting children, even if they are only intervening in order to connect a child to a social worker. In general, sex workers support the minimum age of 18 for sex workers and are opposed to children working in the sex industry. At times, however, they offer help to under-age sex workers, when they see them facing difficulties, but are constantly worried at the reaction of the authorities if they are found associating in any way with under-age sex workers.
My research also touched on the government’s focus on HIV/AIDS within Brazil’s sex working community. I found that most sex workers actively promoted safer sex messages and were running campaigns on HIV/AIDS but this wasn’t enough, they said, to stop them facing prejudice and repression by the police. (I wrote about this for E-International Relations as a political topic entitled, ‘Does the Brazilian Response to HIV/AIDS Deserve a World Wide Applause?’)
This year, Scotland also hosted the Commonwealth Games, just ten days after the World Cup. A chain of events over 2013 and 2014 – a crackdown on saunas accused of promoting prostitution, a ban on saunas selling condoms, and a clampdown on prostitution, together with new “top-down” suggestions of welfare visits to sex workers, believed to be a disguise for raids by Police Scotland – suggests that policies are being adopted that work against the global health agenda and the international harm reduction recommendations for the police. These changes were built up over an extensive period of time, but accelerated as Scotland started focussing on the new Human Trafficking bill and the wider practice of Glasgow’s zero tolerance plans to eradicate prostitution.
All this was tied into the security preparations for the Commonwealth Games with warnings that they would lead to an increase in human trafficking and prostitution. The merging of the eight police units in Scotland has changed the policing leadership, and means that practices in Glasgow will now be followed by the rest of the country. What we are seeing is the beginning of a national programme to eradicate prostitution. The new policy has already been applied in Edinburgh and it will probably be extended next to Aberdeen, and then to other cities. Health services and non-governmental organisations in Glasgow, many of which want to end prostitution altogether, have strong partnerships with Police Scotland.
This does not leave much scope for sex workers’ rights or for support for sex workers when they need it. A healthy combination of support mechanisms for those who want to exit the industry, and services to improve the health and wellbeing of active sex workers would be a progressive way forward, and sex worker-led and HIV charities have made a case for this, but it is very unlikely that this policy will be adopted.
For more information on the conference, follow @LEPH2014
Conference website: http://www.lephcon.com.au/
Note: Janine Ewen specialises in Public Health with an interest in law enforcement methods to improve health. Her interests include sex worker rights, the International war on drugs and military policing across the globe. Janine also is interested in humanitarian assistance after spending time in East Africa in 2012.