Policing practices as a structural determinant for HIV among sex workers: A systematic review of empirical findings

Katherine H.A. Footer, Bradley E. Silberzahn, Kayla N. Tormohlen, Susan G. Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Introduction: Sex workers are disproportionately infected with HIV worldwide. Significant focus has been placed on understanding the structural determinants of HIV and designing related interventions. Although there is growing international evidence that policing is an important structural HIV determinant among sex workers, the evidence has not been systematically reviewed. Methods: We conducted a systematic review of quantitative studies to examine the effects of policing on HIV and STI infection and HIV-related outcomes (condom use; syringe use; number of clients; HIV/STI testing and access) among cis and trans women sex workers. Databases included PubMed, Embase, Scopus, Sociological Abstracts, Popline, Global Health (OVID), Web of Science, IBSS, IndMed and WHOLIS.We searched for studies that included police practices as an exposure for HIV or STI infection or HIV-related outcomes. Results: Of the 137 peer-reviewed articles identified for full text review, 14 were included, representing sex workers' experiences with police across five settings. Arrest was the most commonly explored measure with between 6 and 45% of sex workers reporting having ever been arrested. Sexual coercion was observed between 3 and 37% of the time and police extortion between 12 and 28% across studies. Half the studies used a single measure to capture police behaviours. Studies predominantly focused on ''extra-legal policing practices,'' with insufficient attention to the role of ''legal enforcement activities''. All studies found an association between police behaviours and HIV or STI infection, or a related risk behaviour. Conclusions: The review points to a small body of evidence that confirms policing practices as an important structural HIV determinant for sex workers, but studies lack generalizability with respect to identifying those police behaviours most relevant to women's HIV risk environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number20883
JournalJournal of the International AIDS Society
StatePublished - Jul 18 2016


  • Arrest
  • HIV
  • Measurement
  • Police
  • STI
  • Sex work
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Infectious Diseases


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