Dr. Elesha und ihre Arbeit mit Sexworker:innen

Since I was 19, sex work has played a central role in my professional life. I still remember the conversation that started it all: I was leaning against the bathroom door behind my university library. I was tasked with writing an essay on sexual health education and its impact on STD rates. Having studied sex education in schools, I felt uninspired and sought a different approach. I was chatting with a friend from a year above me, she had just had some lectures on the forgotten groups in sexual health: one of those groups was sex workers. A quick literature search showed me that there was enough data to write a much more interesting essay, but at the same time not enough support or infrastructure for this group of people.

In my first essay, I focused on sexual health policies for sex workers in the UK. In doing so, I learned about the criminalization of sex work and how it affects the health of sex workers. Through thorough and balanced research, I concluded that decriminalization can lead to empowerment among those who have chosen sex work of their own free will, while supporting those who are forced into it or at risk. The concept of decriminalization can, in my opinion, have many positive effects, although many people think that this would increase the number of sex workers - a misconception.

After submitting my essay and trying to figure out how to contribute to the cause, another perfect coincidence happened: a local charity for the homeless gave a guest lecture at my university, in which they elaborated spoke about her work with sex workers. At the end of the lecture, I approached the team, explained my research work and my desire to be part of the change. They welcomed me with open arms and said they were looking for new field staff... and that was it! I spent the next five years of my medical studies working one night a week as a field social worker in Brixton, South London. We distributed condoms, clothes and food. We offered health, social and legal advice. It turned out that many of the social workers had been sex workers themselves. Knowing exactly what sex workers really needed, they brought skills to support the health of this often neglected community in the UK.

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I also continued to work on the academic perspective. I wrote a doctoral thesis comparing the legal framework for sex work and the health consequences around the world. I developed teaching tools for medical students and healthcare professionals to encourage open-minded and holistic care. During my public health internship, I researched the decriminalized zone in the northern English city of Leeds and the improved health outcomes for sex workers compared to the rest of the country. I immersed myself completely in the topic and created my own subfield of occupational medicine!

With a catalog of evidence and a genuine desire to learn and help, I reached out to the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC).Founded in 1987 by a group of sex workers including Dame Catherine Healy in response to a lack of access to health care and labor rights, NZPC has campaigned tirelessly for sex workers ever since. They were instrumental in drafting the Prostitution Reform Act in 2003 , which decriminalized almost all aspects of sex work in New Zealand. Three days after being licensed to practice medicine, I was on a plane to Wellington. I lived and worked with the collective for two months. I met incredible people and worked with sex workers from all over the world. I provided medical care, updated medical guidelines and learned a lot more: During this time I first came into contact with menstrual sponges and learned which sponges are safe (and which are not!) and how to remove them. I began to question unconscious biases I didn't even know I had while writing international human rights reports. Having to return to the UK to start an internship broke my heart! It was worse than any breakup I've ever experienced before or since.

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Click here for Elesha's article "Soft tampons vs. menstrual sponges - everything you need to know."

After returning to England I worked at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. I have been a community researcher working with the sex worker community in East London. I asked sex workers about their experiences with healthcare professionals and the police. Some of my most memorable interviews have included staying at a Bulgarian brothel and conducting several interviews at a 24-hour McDonald's at 3am. The data isn't fully collated yet, but as you can imagine, the criminalization and current relationship of the sex worker community with the police in the UK means that sex workers often have incredibly bad experiences.

Covid has massively changed the dynamics of sex work in the UK: large parts are now located online and platforms like OnlyFans have become extremely successful. I spent the summer of 2021 continuing my work as a social worker in Athens, Greece. Street sex workers in Athens were very suspicious of medical professionals - mainly because staying on the streets for too long could affect their income.

Sex workers are part of a diverse and vibrant community, but the crime in which they operate internationally often makes them vulnerable. So I call on you to inform yourselves and deal with the topics of sex work impartially. Personally, I think it's an important issue that you should make your own decisions about.

If you have any questions, please contact me. My door is always open!

Xx, Dr. Elesha



Learn more about Dr. Elesha here or read her article "Lubricant 1x1" and find out everything you always wanted to know about lubricant.



Author:
Dr. Elesha Vooght
Elesha is a doctor and a consummate professional. She gives us insights into sex and periods. If anyone knows, it's her!
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