My name is Liu Min.* I am 48, I live in Shanghai, and I have been a sex worker for the past 15 years. I am a person with a disability, and I only have one arm. Coming from a rural area in China, I don’t have other means with which to make a living. I go to the park everyday to find clients, my sex work helps me to support myself.
I am a volunteer of Shanghai Xinsheng, an organization that provides health and HIV prevention services for sex workers in China. In my work with the CBO, I help to distribute condoms to other sisters (female sex workers) that I work with in the park.
November 17-18, I was invited to attend a conference titled “Women and HIV in the Context of Commercial Sex” in Beijing, which was organized by the Red Ribbon Forum, a platform for government and civil society organizations to discuss HIV and rights issues, and UN agencies. The conference discussed key issues that sex workers like me face everyday: law enforcement and the negative impact on our health and safety.
The conference invited speakers from the health department to talk about the HIV epidemic among sex workers, and the challenges in conducting HIV interventions among sex workers. What impressed me is that sex workers and sex worker organizations at the conference had the same space to speak as government representatives. The conference also invited international representatives from Vietnam, New Zealand and Switzerland to talk about how these countries handle sex work and related health issues.
Some of the issues mentioned during the conference are important for preventing HIV/AIDS among low-income sisters. For example, China should abolish using possession of condoms as evidence against sex workers, give sex workers rights, and encourage more people to join HIV/AIDS prevention work. If we can stop using condoms as evidence to detain sex workers, and abolish the Custody and Education system that authorizes the police to lock up our sisters and clients for up to two years, it will be quite beneficial for us. Both of these were discussed at the conference.
The conference discussions were very meaningful for us. When I came back to Shanghai from the conference, I shared these information with other sisters. They all agree that it would be significant if the conference goals are implemented. Meanwhile, I hope there will be more discussions on the misconducting/unlawful law-enforcement of governmental agencies. I wish the police didn’t conduct massive crackdowns on sex work, didn’t arrest us as soon as they see us standing on the street. Of course, it will be even better if they recognize our occupation, instead of stigmatizing us.
I learned information about foreign countries from the conference, as well as met sisters from overseas, and I found foreign countries are more open than China. In terms of legislation and sex worker rights, which was mentioned by some international experts during the conference, I think it will be really difficult to achieve in China. There was a representative from the Vietnam Department of Justice, but no representatives from the Chinese public security or Department of Justice attended. Thus, I think it will be difficult to achieve our goals.
I am very glad that there were several sisters in this conference, and we have the opportunity to stand up and speak out on the mistreatment that we experience at work. I feel very proud that I made several comments, though I have no idea how much impact my words will bring. Also I met some good friends (sister) through the conference, and I hope there would be more occasions like this, and that more sisters can join and make their voices heard.
*Name has been changed to protect the author’s identity