Avon Global Center for Women and Justice at Cornell Law School

Speaker: Sex Workers at Risk—Criminalization of Condoms

On November 20, 2014, the Avon Global Center for Women and Justice, the Global Gender Justice Clinic and the LGBT Clinic hosted Megan McLemore, Senior Researcher at the Health and Human Rights Division with Human Rights Watch (HRW) for a talk on human rights advocacy against criminalization of condoms.

Ms. McLemore spoke about increasing rate of HIV infection in the U.S., highlighting how a "treatment as prevention" approach is crucial in stemming the spread of the disease. She highlighted the racial disparities of HIV in the U.S.-how African-Americans make up 14% of the U.S. population, but 44% of those living with HIV-and also the correlation between poverty and HIV prevalence. After providing the background statistics of HIV in the U.S., Ms. McLemore outlined how the transgender community is particularly at risk from HIV as, compared to the general population, they are four times more likely to live in poverty, two times more likely to be unemployed and two times more likely to be homeless. People who are transgender are also less likely to seek medical care due to fear of harassment and discrimination.

Ms. McLemore then outlined how sex workers' risk of contracting HIV is compounded by poverty, housing instability, and the precarious, illegal nature of their work. For example, in the U.S., police procedure of using of condoms of evidence of prostitution has reduced sex workers' willingness to carry and use condoms. Human Rights Watch documented sex workers' fear that carrying condoms would lead to arrest, immigration enforcement, and police abuse and highlighted Human Rights Watch's advocacy successes in working with local partners to stop the harmful police practice of using condoms as evidence of prostitution.

Megan McLemore