Rites of Resistance: Sex Workers’ Fight to Maintain Rights and Pleasure in the Centre of the Response to HIV in Brazil

Laura Rebecca Murray, Deanna Kerrigan, Vera Silvia Paiva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Drawing on ethnographic research conducted from 2011 to 2015 and the authors’ long-term engagement in diverse aspects of HIV and human rights advocacy in Brazil, this paper explores key elements of the Brazilian sex workers’ movement response to HIV and the broader political factors that profoundly influenced its trajectory. We argue that the movement has constantly challenged representations of prostitution by affirming sex workers’ roles as political actors, not just peer educators, in fighting the HIV epidemic and highlight their development of a sex positive and pleasure centred response that fought stigma on multiple fronts. Moments of tension such as the censorship of an HIV prevention campaign and implementation of ‘test and treat’ projects are analysed, as are the complex questions that Brazil’s 2016 political and economic crisis evokes in terms of how to develop and sustain responses to HIV driven by communities but with material commitment from the State. We conclude with what we see to be the unique, central components of Brazilian sex workers’ approach to HIV prevention and what lessons can be learned from it for broader collective health movements in Latin America and beyond.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalGlobal Public Health
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018
Externally publishedYes



  • Brazil
  • sex work
  • Social movements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

Cite this