Violence, not STDs, main concern of young West African sex workers.
Focus group discussions were held with 16 peer educators of young
sex workers from seven West African nations over a three-month period by
a UNAIDS researcher in Cote d'Ivoire. An unexpected finding was
that STDs were not the primary concern of the sex workers. Instead, they
were preoccupied with and visibly traumatised by social stigma and
physical and emotional violence, which are a daily feature in their
lives. They perceive the risk of violence to be greater from their
regular sexual partners or "'boyfriends" than from paying
clients. Even the threat of violence or abandonment by these
"boyfriends" seriously disempowers them from negotiating HIV preventive behaviours with them. The violence includes forced sex,
physical and emotional abuse and the threat of being abandonned. The
non-use of condoms with their regular sexual partners, in the absence of
other contraception, results in frequent abortions. The fact that
violence prevents sex workers and other vulnerable women from adopting
safe sexual behaviours, even if they are highly motivated to do so, is
often overlooked. Action is needed to break the silence surrounding
gender and sexual-based violence and its role in limiting the
effectiveness of condom promotion and HIV prevention efforts .
[1.] Sullivan J. Domestic violence as perceived by sex workers in
West Africa. Abstract WePeG6941. AIDS 2002, Barcelona, July.
Editor, Reproductive Health Matters, London, UK. E-mail: