Objective: To compare demography, sexual health awareness, migration and workplace conditions of Asian female sex workers in Sydney in 1993 and 2003.
Method: A Chinese interpreter and a Thai-speaking health education officer (HEO) were used to administer a questionnaire survey to Thai- and Chinese-speaking sex workers attending sexual health clinics in 1993. A follow-up survey, which included some women contacted at work as well as clinic attenders, was administered by Thai- and Chinese-speaking HEOs in 2003.
Results: Ninety-one female sex workers were surveyed in 1993 and 165 in 2003. Median age increased (26 years vs. 33 years, p=0.000), as did numbers of Chinese- versus Thai-speakers (1993, 25.3% Chinese vs. 2003, 58.2% Chinese, p=0.000). In 2003, the women reported more years of schooling and better English skills. Fewer reported previous sex work (48.4% vs. 17.6%, p=0.000). Numbers currently or ever on a contract decreased sharply (27.5% vs. 9.1%, p=0.000) and the majority were apparently working legally. Condom use at work for vaginal (51.6% vs. 84.8%) and oral sex (39.6% vs. 66.1%) increased significantly (p=0.001). Chinese-speaking sex workers were less informed about HIV transmission and safer sex practices than were Thai sex workers. Drug and alcohol use was low.
Conclusions and implications: Positive changes have occurred in the conditions of Asian female sex workers surveyed over 10 years in Sydney. Maintaining current levels of health service delivery will ensure continued improvements in health and workplace conditions and address inequalities between language groups.