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Legalizing Sex Work Looms Large At Global HIV Conference


That and eradicating complacency are two big themes that will be tackled at #AIDS2018 says International AIDS Society president. 

Photo above (Left to Right): IAS President Linda-Gail Bekker and Dinah Bons, board member of PROUD, the Union for Dutch sexworkers.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, president of the International AIDS Society (IAS),  who is hosting their global HIV conference in Amsterdam next week, accompanied a delegation of media represenatives to the the city's Red Light District, which has the largest concentration of sex workers in the Netherlands. 

"The organizers of the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), would like to continue with its policy of organizing a number of field trips around key conference issues (this year it is drug policy and sex work) for both its invited media scholars and selected Top Tier media attending the conference." IAS consultant Michael Krausse said in a statement. 

The tour began at the Prostitution Information Center (PIC) the acronym for which director Nadia van der Linde noted is the the equivalent of the Dutch word for dick.  "We love answering the phones saying Hi! It's Dick!" she says laughing. But the conversation quickly turned serious with van der Linde talking about the increasing difficulties imposed on the the legal sex trade that has come under fire by a municipal government that is considering the elimination of both the sex and cannabis trade in the city (or severely curtailing them) due to the unsustainable influx of tourists who flock to Amsterdam seeking both. 

Van der Linde joined the PIC board in 2016 when its founder, Mariska Majoor, retired from the role. Next to the volunteer work at the PIC, van der Linde is Coordinator at the Red Umbrella Fund, a global fund for and by sex workers.  

Majoor is a former sex worker and founded PIC and is a co-founder of Proud. She is author of several books in Dutch and English about sex work, including the recently re-published When Sex Becomes Work. She is currently working on a book project to document a part of the global sex workers movement.

Majoor debuted a series of photographs composed by her and her daughter, Robin, a photographer — the most hilarious of which depicted a sex worker at a women's rights march they held in Las Vagas in March holding a sign that was addressed to the current first lady of the United States,  Melania Trump. 

Melania"Melania," the message reads, "From one ho to another: kill that john in his sleep."


Majoor and van der Linde spoke about the global crusade to decriminalize sex work from a harm reduction standpoint. They noted that the female (both cis and trans gender) "freelancers" that work in the Red Light District have less STIs and HIV transmission rates than female students in the Netherlands. "It's the stigma," Majoor says, "The more you criminalize sex work the more every aspect of the business becomes stigmatized and invites more danger," and stigma, she underscores, "is what really kills."

Majoor_and_daughterMariska Majoor and her daughter Robin


The tour concluded at the Prostitution and Health Center 292  (P&G292) that provides first rate health care, STI, and HIV testing, as well as counseling and treatment to Amsterdam's sex workers. While primarily serving female sex workers, counselor Sjaak van der Kolk said he sees somewhere near 300 male sex workers who have sex with men (MSM) a year. He estimates the total population of MSM sex workers in the city limits to be nearly 700— far less than the estimated 3,000 women.

Bekker and the others were joined by Dinah Bons whose impassioned plea for decriminalizing sex work was the most moving. Bons is a board member and trans coordinator at Proud. She holds numerous additional board positions to further sex workers’ rights and give visibility to the bi-cultural LGBT community. Earlier this year, she ran for local elections for the labor party. She also helped speak on behalf of the National Coordinator of Sisonke – the national network of sexworkers in South Africa,  who is an active and outspoken activist for sex workers’ rights and has played a key role in building the national movement in South Africa, but still lives in fear of being denied travel visas and the oppression of the South African government, and asked that she not be named in mainstream press for fear of retribution.  

Bekker concluded that the efforts to decriminalize sex work and “the eradication of complacency," were at the heart of the efforts of this year's conference.



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