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close this bookStreet Sex Workers and STD/HIV/AIDS Services in Surabaya, Indonesia (UNAIDS - Best Practice Digest, 2000, 3 p.)
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Street sex workers and STD/HIV/AIDS services in Surabaya, Indonesia

Extracted from Research for sex work 2. August 1999.

Didericke Rhebergen, Faculty of Medicine, Section Health Care and Culture. Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands. E-mail:

Didik Yudho, Esthi Susanti Hudiono, Julius R. Siyaranamual. Yayasan Hotline Surya Service. E-mail:

In carrying out studies of sex workers, it is hard to avoid three pitfalls:

· Treating sex workers as the vectors of disease, and the infectors of the general population

· Neglecting the heterogeneity of sex workers. In Surabaya, for example, the second city in Indonesia, there are high class sex workers operating through agencies, middle class sex workers in registered brothels in different parts of town, and lower class workers on the street. There are also many part-time sex workers, ranging from housewives and students who pick up a client occasionally, to women who contact potential clients during their work as low-paid hairdressers or waitresses.

· Being biased towards brothel-based sex workers, often for practical reasons.

From May till October 1998, a study on female street sex workers has been conducted at Jalan Diponegoro, one of the main streets in Surabaya. An STD/HIV/AIDS services project run by Yayasan Hotline Surya Service (YHSS), an NGO focusing on empowerment of sex workers and on providing them with STD/HIV services, was analysed.

YHSS succeeds in avoiding the first two pitfalls mentioned earlier. The focus of the NGO is on the street workers themselves. The aim of the services is to protect the women from STDs, and not to protect the larger community from the women. The heterogeneity of sex workers is taken into account. The sex workers are seen as individuals, not as a homogeneous group.

However, because of the high turnover, it appears to be more difficult to develop STD services for street sex workers. This is faced in YHSS’s programme. The STD clinic is located in a brothel area and is partly run by female sex workers from the surrounding brothels. The study among street sex workers from Jalan Diponegoro revealed that most of them feel uneasy about this, feeling that the distance between the clinic in Bangun Sari and their residential areas is too big. One sex worker Sari explained: “ I don’t want to go there. It is too far. Why did they build that clinic in that brothel area? It is to please the women from the brothels.”

Street sex workers stress their difference from brothel-based sex workers. They see the absence of a clinic especially for them as a neglect of their needs. These feelings are fuelled by a sense of competition between street sex workers and those based in brothels.

Given the difficulties in organising facilities for street sex workers, we need innovative approaches and extra inputs so as not to create more divisions between sex workers than there are already. Currently, YHSS is planning to experiment with other approaches especially designed for street sex workers, such as mobile clinics.