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Logo of bmjThis ArticleThe BMJ
BMJ. 2007 April 28; 334(7599): 863–864.
PMCID: PMC1857791
Stigmatising Sex Workers

Public health policy must be based on sound evidence

Michael D E Goodyear, assistant professor

Discussions around regulatory frameworks in commercial sex require careful useof terminology. A widely circulated report of the BMA's annual public health conference seems to be advocating the legalisation and regulation of sex work in order to submit prostitutes to regular testing.1 2 This approach is not only unjustified, and an affront to human dignity and rights, but an inappropriate diversion of scarce NHS resources. Furthermore, it would be ineffective and dangerous.3 Coercion of sex workers merely drives them further underground and alienates them from the services they need, leading to a breakdown in sexual health practices, and an increase in sexually transmitted infections.4

The major health problems among sex workers are related to stigmatisation, to which this report contributes further.1 Inaccurate and inflammatory statements such as these reported comments are likely to lead to increased levels of violence against them, as seen recently in Ipswich, and will even place outreach workers at risk.

It is unfortunate that Spencer Jones's statements are being attributed to the BMA, giving them an undeserved authority, and hence credibility. They do not reflect BMA policy,5 and the BMA needs to clarify this with some urgency, look to its accountability, and return to evidence based practice.


Competing interests: None declared.


1. LifeStyleExtra. ‘Legalise prostitution to save NHS cash' March 29 2007. (accessed 5 April 2007)
2. Day M. BMA public health doctor is accused of stigmatising sex workers. BMJ 2007;334:767 (14 April.) doi: 10.1136/bmj.39181.578229.BE
3. Ward H, Aral SO. Globalisation, the sex industry, and health. Sex Transm Infect 2006;82:345-7. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Jeal N, Salisbury C. Self-reported experiences of health services among female street-based prostitutes: a cross-sectional survey. Br J Gen Pract 2004;54:515-9. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. BMA. Sexually transmitted infections: an update from the board of science. January 2007.

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