Health and Rights at the Margins
In July, the International AIDS Conference drew more than twenty thousand participants. Held in Washington, D.C., it was the first since 1990 to convene in the U.S., because the U.S. recently lifted a ban that previously denied visas to HIV-positive persons. Still, the attendance of global participants was confined by another constraint of visa regulations: non-U.S.-citizen sex workers are still systematically denied visas. In protest, activists for the rights of sex workers, who typically take an active role in IAC activities, convened in Kolkata for an anti-conference, “Freedom Festival,” which celebrated the rights of sex workers and protested the marginalization of this community against the backdrop of the larger hegemonic movement to combat HIV/AIDS. During the anti-conference, alongside clear disdain for their exclusion from some parts of the HIV/AIDS movement, one of the loudest messages was a cry that sex worker rights are being infringed by the human trafficking movement (Sil 2012). The global concern around human trafficking has—in the name of prevention—increased the surveillance and policing of sex workers globally, making their work more precarious and frequently labeling it criminal. This contradiction propels my overarching question of how the HIV/AIDS and human trafficking movements are linked.