SWASH, a group aiming to improve the health and safety of sex workers, consists of themselves working in the sex industry and their supporters.
Since its establishment in 1999, it carried out numerous researches amongst women working in the sex industry, operated a community center, held regular study groups and meetings on HIV/STD and created and distributed brochures on HIV/STD prevention.
Its members gave lectures at universities and symposiums, wrote publications and educated the general public about the human rights of sex workers. Since 2006, it has been conducting surveys and outreach activities amongst foreign sex workers in cooperation with professionals from several different fields.
In April 2007, an acquaintance of a member involved in SWASH’s research activities opened a bar that provides a safe place for foreign sex workers to gather. The bar is located in Shinjuku and awaits guests twice a month.
Recently, the pressure on sex workers grew as the government implemented legal reforms as a measure to combat trafficking in persons. The cleanups conducted by the Tokyo Metropolis Government in the well-known entertainment districts of the city has led to the loss of secure work place for many, and with sex tourism becoming more and more popular, resulted in the undergroundization of the local sex industry.
The majority of foreign sex workers do not hold a status of residence that would enable them to work, for example marriage visas. Even though it is more difficult for them to find suitable work, they must provide a significant amount of money and some of them might end up as victims of domestic violence in their marriage to Japanese men.
Workers who do not hold a marriage visa or a permanent residency status are not only pursued by the police because of their illegal status, but are often exploited by customers and club owners as well.
There is a lack of suitable HIV/STD prevention and intervention available for those who work under conditions that make them vulnerable to the disease. It is, therfore, urgent to educate not only the workers but also the owners about the risks involved and about the different prevention methods.
To improve the current situation, we call on all the relevant organizations and bodies to propose tangible legal, medical and labour solutions, services and support, which respect the human rights and safety of sex workers and are available to all of them irrespective of their nationality, and would eliminate the risks resulting from the undergroundization of the sex industry.