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Guest post from HARC, the HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre, in Bangladesh. This blog post is part of a global series of blog posts to mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, 2016. Read the full series at , or follow the hashtags  on Twitter.

HARC event group photo with red umbrella banner

Members of HARC mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

The HIV/AIDS Research and Welfare Centre held their first day-long program to mark the 14th International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers in their office in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 17th December 2016.

Around 20 female sex workers from Bangladesh attended, along with national and international sex work researchers including Dr. Ellen Bal and Dr. Kathinka Sinha Kerkhoff from UV University Netherlands.

Three sex workers presented their personal experiences of violence. The first, Mina, spoke of police corruption, abuse and the impact of the law:

My name is Mina, I’m 29 years old and I’m involve with sex work over the last 10 years. I was arrested by police three times in my life. Two times I was released from police station by giving money to police. Each time I spent 500 Bangladeshi Taka (6 USD) to get release from police station. It’s true that most of the times only money doesn’t work, we need to give free sex too. One time I had no money to pay to police so police sent me to court. The case was drug carrier case so I had to go to jail for three months. I was in jail for three months, although I had no problem to stay in jail but I had two dependents: my mother and my daughter. They could not eat during those three months. I requested many of my friends to give a loan to my family but I failed to manage a loan. My mother and my daughter spent many days without foods.”

The second, Jhorna, spoke of physical and sexual violence by clients, and arrest by police:

My name is Jhorna and I’m 32 years old. I’m in sex work over 10 years. In the past 10 years I faced many different types of violence. Police arrested me two times and bad people beat me four times. Stigma, discrimination, rape is part of our life. Often we don’t consider slapping, insulting, or having three or four people sex at a time without paying money is violence as those are normal in our life and we face those very often.

I was arrested two times and I could not pay money to police so police sent me to court. Both times I told to the magistrate that yes I sell sex as I have no other options. I have no job, no training but I have family with five members. They all need my help. If I cannot income they will stay without food. After hearing those things Magistrate released me both times but I had to pay 5000 BDT (63 USD) to the court.

I was seriously beaten by bad people four times. Almost all four times the men was drunk and they asked me to take drug with them. I refused to take drug and they beat me. Only one time some religious people beat me because I was in a park and they were also in the same park. They told me I’m a bad girl and they start to beat me without talking any other things. I had to go to doctor for painkillers after the beating all four times. But slapping, insulting are everyday matters in our life

The third, Zarina, spoke of police extortion:

Last month I was arrested with six other sex workers from a house. We used to work from this house and suddenly police enter house and arrested all of us. Police told that they would make us naked and put in the car. We were crying and after a long discussion we agreed that we need to pay 70,000 BDT (880 USD) to police. We had not that amount of money so the police gave us seven days. We gave to police 70,000 Taka over seven days.”

Police harassment was the main problem mentioned by sex workers at the event. Sex workers need to make regular payments to police, and they face arrest if payments are late or if they refuse to pay. For new sex workers, ‘middlemen’ – who may provide a degree of protection to sex workers – also take new sex workers to the police station where sex without payment is expected.

After police, malicious young men are next most common perpetrators of violence. They have sex without money, engage in physical violence and take money from sex workers.

One member of HARC said:

“To avoid violence we need to change residence very often. If police or local young men find out we are sex workers they will make our life hell so we need to change the house very often.”

Dr. Ellen Bal asked participants what can be the solution to minimize violence?

Several sex workers said that NGOs and community organizations need to work with police. The HARC hotline counselor confirmed that nowadays police give more respect to NGO workers. In her experience, when people get arrested and give the HARC hotline number to police, then they get released after she confirms they are members of HARC.

One HARC member mentioned that we need to work on decriminalization of sex work. And another said Bangladesh needs stronger sex worker organizing, and more work focusing on on community empowerment, violence, stigma, and discrimination.

Finally, one sex worker said:

“HIV is not biggest our problem, but all the funding and money is related to HIV. Our biggest problem is police, and everybody needs to work with police to end violence against sex workers.”

HARC event group photo with red umbrella banner

Members of HARC mark International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

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