Law enforcement officials in Greece have arrested 17 illegal prostitutes that have tested positive for HIV and posted the names and photos of 12 of them online, claiming the women were knowingly and willfully endangering the lives of their clients. Sex worker advocates, unsurprisingly, are appalled by the move, as it sounds like a great way to further victimize an already vulnerable population, plus, they argue, the likelihood that the prostitutes knew they were infected is slim. But we're talking about the Greek government here. Asking them to come up with an efficient solution to a difficult problem is like trying to train a seeing eye cat.
Prostitution is legal in the Hellenic Republic, but it's highly regulated, with sex workers subject to frequent health checks and testing. And with any industry that's highly regulated, there's a thriving shadow industry of unregulated, illegal operations that skirt the rules. Prostitutes in illegal operations aren't subject to the STI tests of their legal counterparts, and they're also not as safe; there's overlap between the intravenous drug user community and the illegal prostitution community. According to health officials, in many places, clients can opt to have sex with possibly needle using, unregulated prostitutes without wearing a condom— for a fee.
Gee, whiz. I wonder why HIV cases in Greece in 2011 were up 57% over 2010.
The sting that resulted in the discovery of 17 HIV+ prostitutes is part of a wider effort to curb illegal sex work and the resultant spread of HIV. Last weekend, according to the AP, 130 prostitutes were tested, with more testing to come. But the problem isn't going to be solved by compromising the medical confidentiality and safety of sex workers with HIV.
Even though he doesn't speak out against the Greek police's move to post prostitutes' pictures online, Greece's health minister Andreas Loverdos cuts the prostitutes some slack. It's not their fault that they may have been illegally trafficked into the country to work at illegal brothels doing illegal things while using needle drugs. It's only, like, half their fault. He said,
Let's make this a crime. It's not all the fault of the illegally procured woman, it's 50 percent her fault and 50 percent that of the client, perhaps more because he is paying the money.
So, will they be posting pictures of their clients as well? I bet you all the remaining drachmas in Greek coin collections that they won't.