Negative police activity a structural determinant of HIV

Policing practices as a structural determinant for HIV among sex workers: a systematic review of empirical findings.

Footer KH, Silberzahn BE, Tormohlen KN, Sherman SG. J Int AIDS Soc. 2016 Jul 18;19(4 Suppl 3):20883. doi: 10.7448/IAS.19.4.20883. eCollection 2016.

Introduction: Sex workers are disproportionately infected with HIV worldwide. Significant focus has been placed on understanding the structural determinants of HIV and designing related interventions. Although there is growing international evidence that policing is an important structural HIV determinant among sex workers, the evidence has not been systematically reviewed.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review of quantitative studies to examine the effects of policing on HIV and STI infection and HIV-related outcomes (condom use; syringe use; number of clients; HIV/STI testing and access) among cis and trans women sex workers. Databases included PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts, Popline, Global Health (OVID), Web of Science, IBSS, IndMed and WHOLIS. We searched for studies that included police practices as an exposure for HIV or STI infection or HIV-related outcomes.

Results: Of the 137 peer-reviewed articles identified for full text review, 14 were included, representing sex workers' experiences with police across five settings. Arrest was the most commonly explored measure with between 6 and 45% of sex workers reporting having ever been arrested. Sexual coercion was observed between 3 and 37% of the time and police extortion between 12 and 28% across studies. Half the studies used a single measure to capture police behaviours. Studies predominantly focused on "extra-legal policing practices," with insufficient attention to the role of "legal enforcement activities". All studies found an association between police behaviours and HIV or STI infection, or a related risk behaviour.

Conclusions: The review points to a small body of evidence that confirms policing practices as an important structural HIV determinant for sex workers, but studies lack generalizability with respect to identifying those police behaviours most relevant to women's HIV risk environment.

Abstract  Full-text [free] access 

Editor’s notes: The paper reports on a systematic review, which explored how quantitative research to date has operationalized the measurement of law enforcement practices as a structural determinant of HIV for female (including transgender) sex workers. The authors reviewed 14 quantitative studies using policing practices as a micro-structural determinant for HIV risk among sex workers. They found substantial heterogeneity in both the police measures and the health outcomes considered by the different studies. Overall, the studies found that police measures were regularly reported by sex workers, with an average of 34% of sex workers experiencing at least one police measure. They found that arrest was the most commonly explored measure in the studies. Following this, sexual coercion and then police extortion were important.

The studies reported that these police measures were consistently, positively, associated with either HIV infection or STI symptoms or with inconsistent condom use. Having ever been arrested, sexual coercion, police extortion, and syringe confiscation was associated with an increased risk of acquiring an HIV infection or an STI. These measures, and displacement by the police, were also associated with inconsistent condom use. Intervening on interactions between sex workers and the police reduced HIV risk over the time of the programme.

The authors argue that these findings point to the potentially pivotal role that the police have as a structural determinant for HIV in vulnerable populations. However, they argue that nearly all the papers identified in this review fail to take account of the complexities of the risk environment in which law enforcement occurs. The authors thus suggest a need for better measures for legal and extra-legal enforcement practices as mechanisms through which sex workers’ HIV risk is mediated.

Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America
  • share