Sex work in the Caribbean Basin: Patterns of substance use and HIV risk among migrant sex workers in the US Virgin Islands
Drug use, commercial sex work, and migration each play a role in the spread of HIV in the Caribbean, yet the intersection of these factors in the region is not well understood. This paper explores the connections between substance use and HIV risk among migrant female sex workers in the US Virgin Islands. Participants were located through targeted sampling techniques in Christiansted and Frederiksted, St. Croix, and Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas where 101 women were interviewed regarding their drug use, sexual behaviours, migration patterns and health status. In the month prior to interview, 25.7% reported no substance use, 57.4% reported alcohol use only and 16.8% indicated use of an illicit drug. Drug using sex workers reported a significantly greater number of past-month sexual partners than alcohol-only and non-drug users. In logistic regression analyses, illicit drug users were significantly more likely to report unprotected sexual activity, client violence and sexually transmitted infections as well. In addition, illicit drug users engaged in sex work in a significantly greater number of countries and were more likely to work in locations outside the US Virgin Islands. The intersection of multiple risk factors for HIV identified among drug-involved sex workers in the region, including unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners, violent victimization and migration between high and low HIV-prevalence areas, suggests that illicit drug use may play an important role in driving the growing heterosexual HIV epidemic in the Caribbean.
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