Letter: Sex worker groups respond to allegations against Oxfam and other NGOs in Haiti

(The Guardian, unpublished).

Dear Madam/Sir,

Like our sisters in Haiti (‘Aid staff would pay more’: sex workers in Haiti speak out), sex workers who have survived disasters and face the calamity of criminalisation every day, must start with our need to support ourselves and our families. Women from Empower, a sex workers collective in Thailand, were in Phuket when the tsunami hit in 2004. An estimated 2,000 sex workers were killed or never found. Sex workers threw themselves into the recovery effort, and since many speak English, helped communications between local people and outsiders. Despite the fact that sex workers are the main provider for families, not one penny of the $USD30 million donated for Thailand was given to them. Sex workers’ contributions were once again ignored.

In the first few weeks after the tsunami the only customers for all service providers, from noodle sellers to sex workers, were aid workers and journalists. Women report that some customers were stingy, some were generous and a disgusting few asked for “tsunami discounts”!  Without them women would have had no income at all – another disaster. Aid workers employ women to clean, cook, wash their clothes, mind their children, guard their homes and drive their big vehicles – all at local cheap rates. Why then single out the hiring of sex workers as uniquely exploitative?

There is a world of difference between anyone paying for services, and aid workers taking advantage of a disaster and of money raised from the public to help victims to extort services from adults and children who are not in a position to refuse. Afua Hirsch calls such transactions “unequal and exploitative”. Those who use their positions of power to extort sex are rapists and should be publicly identified and prosecuted, not allowed to quietly resign.

The allegations against Oxfam and other NGOs must not be an excuse to further criminalize sex workers in Haiti or elsewhere, distracting from the gross theft of much of the money collected after disasters. How many die or lose limbs because the help never reaches them?

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes
Thanta Laovilawanyakul, Empower
Rachel West, US PROStitutes Collective

Tel: 020 7482 2496/ 07956 316 899
Website: www.prostitutescollective.net