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How is sexual health a human rights issue for LGBT and sex workers?
What is sexual health?
Sexual health is not merely the absence of disease, but a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality. According to the World Health Organization, “sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.”
Socially marginalized groups such as sex workers and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons are especially vulnerable to violations of their sexual rights, and are priority target populations for OSI’s Sexual Health and Rights Program. Other groups that suffer disproportionately from violations of sexual rights include young people, female injecting drug users, Roma women, and people living with HIV and AIDS.
What are sexual rights?
Sexual rights derive from human rights that are recognized in national, regional, and international human rights laws. Sexual rights include the right of all persons, free of coercion, discrimination and violence, to:
- The highest attainable standard of sexual health, including access to sexual and reproductive health care services
- Seek, receive and impart information related to sexuality
- Sexuality education
- Respect for bodily integrity
- Choice of one’s partner or partners
- Decision whether to be sexually active or not
- Consensual sexual relations
- Consensual marriage
- Decision whether or not, and when, to have children; and
- Pursue a satisfying, safe, and pleasurable sexual life.
Did you know?
- More than 80 countries prohibit sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex. At least 7 countries make homosexual activity punishable by death.
- A study of men who have sex with men (MSM) in Senegal found that 43 percent of MSM had been raped at least once outside of the family home. 13 percent of MSM reported having been raped by a policeman.
- According to the NGO Transgender Day of Remembrance, one transgender person is killed every month in the United States.
- A study in India revealed that 70 percent of sex workers from 13 districts in Tamil Nadu had been beaten by police. More than 80 percent had been arrested without evidence.
- In a study in Cambodia, 97 percent of 1,000 sex workers interviewed reported having been raped in the previous year.
- When sex workers face violence at the hands of clients or pimps, they often cannot report it or seek a remedy because of anti-prostitution laws or laws against brothel-keeping and living off the earnings of prostitution.
- Laws against “trafficking in persons” can have the unintended result of closing borders to migrant workers, driving sex workers into dangerous underground situations, and undermining efforts to reach out to trafficked persons with HIV-prevention and other health services.
- Even in countries where prostitution is legal, sex workers can be detained under laws against brothel-keeping, living off the earnings of prostitution, or simply being present in a residence where prostitution is taking place.
Human rights violations against sex workers and LGBT communities not only have serious consequences for individuals. They can also threaten public health by driving marginalized groups’ further underground and impeding their access to HIV-prevention and other health services.