While there has been no shortage of coverage of actor Charlie Sheen’s announcement last week that he is HIV positive, one aspect of the story has been noticeably missing: the complex power dynamic when an HIV-positive individual solicits a sex worker. For many sex workers, negotiating terms or leaving the situation may not be an option.
Dr. Celia B. Fisher, director of the Fordham University Center for Ethics Education and HIV and Drug Abuse Prevention Research Ethics Training Institute (RETI) weighed in on the issue in an article in The Washington Post:
“For Charlie Sheen to think that simply disclosing his HIV status to someone allows that person to protect themselves in the best way possible – that’s not always the case. They may not have either the economic or social power to say no.”
In the same Washington Post article, Lindsay Roth, executive director of Philadelphia-based Project SAFE and former board president of the Sex Workers Outreach Program explained that it is difficult to hear someone with Charlie Sheen’s power and resources claim that he was victimized by being blackmailed by sex workers who threatened to go public with his HIV status.
“The reality is, when it comes to a sex worker, they’re laboring in a job where they have no legal or human rights,” Roth said.
In recent years, both the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization have identified sex workers as a population at increased risk for contracting HIV, and a significant public health concern.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.