Sex Workers Need Public Health Too

The position of sex workers in society ranges across a wide spectrum. At one end of the spectrum there are slaves and the victims of inhumane traffickers. On the other end sex workers can enjoy a high position in society and are celebrated in the highest art forms such as in paintings or like in the opera la Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. However, Eduard Manet’s painting of Olympia of 1863 brought some realism into this glamorous stereotypical portrayal by painting an image of a woman with a black cat—symbolizing promiscuity.1 This image of glamor lived on into the 20th century in films like Pretty Woman with its totally unrealistic Cinderella ending.

While the sex industry is present in every country, the reality for many sex workers is far from glamorous. A sex worker is defined by the World Health Organization as a “person who engages in sex work, or exchanges sex for money, which includes many practices and occurs in a variety of settings.” These may include workers who work full time in registered premises, to part time and casual workers working in informal locations.2

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