HIV-positive male sex workers are not getting respect for the value of their work or adequate legal protection, a report claims.

The 12-month survey by the Scarlet Alliance coincided with the public arrest and prosecution of a sex worker in Canberra for working with HIV, but even workers in jurisdictions without bans felt targeted.

Just because you’re a positive sex worker doesn’t mean that you are deliberately spreading HIV, the report quoted one of the men surveyed.

Another said he chose to offer services to other HIV-positive men who felt isolated from the rest of the gay community.

But a dual stigma from within the community meant they didn’t get support from health-funded agencies like ACON and its sex worker outreach project.

I just got an earful. I went home feeling like a piece of shit. I was made to feel like the dirtiest, sleaziest piece of shit, like I was the most evil person on the earth, that I could be in a lot of trouble of some sort, another positive worker said.

Those reactions meant agencies would not discover just how many positive workers there were, the report found.

The worst institutional discrimination came from government agencies and police, particularly outside metropolitan Sydney, with participants reporting physical violence, being run out of town, and lack of support from police.

Scarlet Alliance has recommended government agencies provide liaison officers trained to provide advice for positive sex workers, male and female, and ensure staff were up to date on stigma, discrimination and privacy issues.

The sex workers complained HIV disclosure laws in NSW created an unnecessary risk of clients reacting badly, despite having safe sex, and instead called for anti-discrimination laws.

It is unrealistic to expect a sex worker to tell anyone that they are HIV-positive, one participant said, so the law was bound to be broken.

It is two people’s decision and it really stinks that they can just put it on us all the time, he said.

We are the ones that have to have all the stress, we are the ones that have to disclose, and it’s all our fault if anything goes wrong. That’s bullshit.

Other participants said the services they provided were unique and called on the community to respect the value of what they offer.

info: Scarlet Alliance runs a service for male sex workers at www.scarletmen.org.au.

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