Mental health intervention for sex workers

A sex worker participates in an informative meditation session.

Key information

  • Organisation: Network of Women Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (RedTraSex)
  • Country: Argentina, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Paraguay
  • Region: Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Stage of innovation: Stage 3: Pilot
  • Start date2020
  • End date: 2021
  • Type of innovation: Service innovation: new or improved service
  • Budget: 10,000 USD
  • Funder: Frontline AIDS

Summary of intervention

For sex workers in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), discrimination, violence, marginalisation, repression and human rights violations are a daily reality. They are routinely denied their labour rights, are mistreated and subjected to violence, police persecution, arbitrary arrests, and have difficulties in accessing health and education. This situation frequently leads to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion and anxiety. COVID-19 aggravated the situation. Apart from the worry and dangers COVID-19 presented to them and their families, like everyone else, sex workers still needed to work.

A sharp increase in mental health issues led RedTraSex to add a mental health component to its programming for sex workers. This is the first project of its kind for sex workers in the LAC region and included novel first aid tools and spaces where sex workers could discuss current issues and access psychological first aid and emotional self-care tools. Following an assessment of the mental health needs of sex workers, ‘Companions’ were trained in topics including psychological first aid and active listening. Tools were developed to promote self-care and emotional well-being. The intervention promoted the idea of mental health as a human right.

Through this pioneering mental health intervention, RedTraSex is seeing evidence of improved well-being among female sex workers; they now have self-care tools and practical resources, and are not only better able to look after their own mental health, but can support colleagues in crisis or emergency situations where their rights are being violated.


There were some challenges at first as the Companions showed some mistrust of the consultants on the project. However, as activities progressed, working relationships improved. The project showed that group meeting spaces are an indispensable resource, and more spaces to accommodate individual conversations with psychologists will be considered in future.

next steps

RedTraSex is taking the lessons learnt and analysing data to inform future mental health interventions and models in the region. Later in 2022, with funds from the Robert Carr Fund, RedTraSex will be rolling out this project to 11 additional countries across the LAC region. Psychology professionals have already been interviewed and leaders identified for each of the countries. There are also plans for institutional strengthening using management tools for organisational change.

For more information, you can visit the RedTraSex website and the Robert Carr Fund page.