Objectives: To determine the health and welfare status of female and transgender street sex workers and their work-related experiences. Also to estimate population numbers, determine work locations, and identify the most appropriate education, health and welfare services for this group.
Methods: Forty-eight street sex workers completed a questionnaire, mainly at their place of work. Demographic and sexual health profiles of sex workers attending the Sydney Sexual Health Centre and the Kirketon Road Centre in 1997 were compared with the street sample.
Results: Up to 120 female and transgender sex workers worked on the streets in Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and surrounding areas in any one night: more than 80% of these were female. Of those sampled, fewer street workers than brothel sex workers (6% vs. 41%; p<0.001) were from non-English speaking backgrounds, and more (77% vs. 7%; p<0.0001) were currently injecting drugs. The street workers reported lower rates of condom use at work than local brothel workers (91.7% vs. 98.8%; p<0.016) and high rates of hepatitis B and C infection. Seventy-five per cent had experienced violence at work. Child care, lack of supportive relationships, community intolerance and low self-esteem were important problems for the street workers. While the police were frequently required by the community to move the street workers on, there were no reports of corrupt behaviour by police.
Conclusions: Health services need to specifically target this group with particular attention to the prevention of blood-borne virus infections, contraception, drug dependency and transgender issues. Consideration should be given to developing a network of safe houses to reduce community pressure and violence.