Sex work has been associated with an increased vulnerability to HIV infection when workers are unable to adequately access or negotiate contraception. Reducing HIV transmission among sex workers was a priority goal in Fiji's national strategy on HIV/AIDS from 2007 - 2011. UNSW's Professor Heather Worth and Dr Karen McMillan have worked on numerous research projects and collaborations over several years documenting the experiences of sex workers and highlighting issues of most concern to them.
In 2010, Heather and Karen published 'Risky Business: Sex work and HIV prevention in Fiji'. This report was based on research undertaken with the support of AUSAID. This documented the daily realities of Fijian sex workers’ lives and the implications for HIV prevention. It warned that, “as law and police crack-downs are used to attempt to eradicate sex work, this will drive sex work underground, and will be detrimental to efforts to reduce HIV transmission risk.”
Later in 2011 the report ‘Sex Workers and HIV Prevention in Fiji - after the Fiji Crimes Decree 2009’ was published, this time with support from UNAIDS. This subsequent piece of research illustrated how the enactment of the Fiji Crimes Decree in 2009 had increased the risk of violence and potential HIV transmission. It publicly documented abuse of sex workers by the military. It argued that the Fiji Crimes Decree (2009) was a law that had resulted in many negative consequences for sex workers, including increased police attention, reduced outreach support, psychological harms and the disincentivising of working in safer spaces and carrying condoms.
“We are trying to convince people that sex workers have agency. The reports that we write at the end of the funded project have policy influence impacts. It’s not the journal articles, it’s the reports we write that influence policy makers.”
These reports gained significant media attention when published and this generated controversy from the Fiji military. However, sex workers reported that the military action against them ceased soon after and has not reemerged since. As Heather highlights, the publication of such non-traditional research outputs, and the media coverage they can generate, can be a critical factor in helping to reduce military harassment and inform regional policy discourse.