Samoa's Sex Workers; on society's margins as well as illegal
Sex work is illegal in Samoa and takes place at the margins of society, therefore, sex workers in Samoa are widely invisible and, up to the time of this report, there was no credible information related to them.
This is according to the Pacific Mapping and Behavioural Study: HIV and STI Risk Vulnerability among Key Populations in Samoa that was conducted in 2016.
Obtained by the Samoa Observer, the report examines the behaviour risk factors and social and structural determinants of risk that drive the epidemic among vulnerable groups, such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers and seafarers.
The study was part of a larger research effort that covered nine Pacific countries including Samoa.
“This study was undertaken by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the University of New South Wales (UNSW) with the support of numerous local research assistants from the communities.”
The 74 page report was supported by several organisations and individuals, including the Ministry of Health, particularly the Health Research Committee employees, Ms Aaone Tanumafili and Ms Robert Carney (Robina), also Samoa Fa’afafine Association (SFA), and President Tootooali’i Roger Stanley, and Vice President Vaialia Iosua.
The report says that seafarers have reported that sex workers are easily available in Samoa (McMillan 2013), and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are hidden populations on the rise.
“It is understood that sex in exchange for cash or goods has existed for a while, and often takes place in situations and places where alcohol is involved.” (Samoa Ministry of Health 2013).
“The 2013 Global Aids Progress Report indicates that sex work is prominent among unemployed young people, which may be a way to supplement their incomes when other work is not available.
“Of persons who are tested for HIV or STIs, there are currently no records kept on occupations (Samoa Ministry of Health 2013).
“There is therefore no current way of drawing an understanding of the sexual health of sex workers and their testing habits by looking at existing data.”
The report indicates that three female sex workers were interviewed in depth.
“The situations of the women varied, and they each illustrate the differing contexts and experiences of sex work in Samoa.”
For two of the women that were interviewed, sex work provides them with money: “For this money it is only to support me. I don’t want to use this money for my family because I know that it is dirty money and I don’t want to feed my family with the food that I buy with this money ... “I am about to quit, I am tired of this life and I see there is no ending and I am bit tired and getting old.
“So I started to feel it is about time to quit doing this kind of work, but the only reason is to earn income. “With this money I can use to buy my clothes, for food, it’s really for food and for smokes.”