Ketil Slagstad
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Anne Kveim Lie
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Selling sex in the age of HIV/AIDS
Activism, politics, and medicine in Norway, 1983–90
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In the early years of the Norwegian HIV/AIDS epidemic, three main groups were affected: gay and bisexual men, drug users, and people with haemophilia. However, another group played a dominant role in the political, medical, and public discourse: sex workers. This chapter analyses the early political and medical responses to the epidemic, particularly the position of sex workers, the limits of inclusion in the ‘Norwegian model’, and the impact of the epidemic on sex worker activism.

Using media sources, public and private archives, and oral interviews with sex workers, activists, social workers, and civil servants, this chapter explores how different representations of 'the prostitute' were constructed and mobilised. From the mid-1980s, doctors, public health researchers, and the media constructed sex workers as a potential reservoir for HIV infection. Gay activists were gradually recognised as 'experts' by authorities and medical professionals, while it was much more difficult for sex workers to make their voices heard. This had historical reasons because prostitution was generally recognised as a social problem on different levels of society: by politicians, by the police, by social workers, by feminist groups, and in the media. This chapter examines the remarkable story of a creative group of people in the health authorities who approached sex workers as experts, hiring two women for outreach HIV prevention work. The sex workers reported back to the authorities, who thus had first-hand knowledge about a community which otherwise was hard to reach. This outreach work spurred sex worker activism and led to the establishment of the first Norwegian sex worker activist organisation (PION) in 1990. However, the Norwegian story shows how much more difficult it has been for sex workers to get a seat at the table in political decisions than other marginalised groups.

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Histories of HIV/AIDS in Western Europe

New and Regional Perspectives

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