Non-governmental HIV prevention groups targeting men who have sex with men (MSM) mostly operate in a state of legal limbo in China. Without official support and protection, the groups are vulnerable to extortion and violence, and they have trouble raising money and retaining volunteers, advocates and experts say.
A 2007 assault on two members still haunts the Tianjin-based Shenlan group, which encourages protected sex among MSM and hands out free condoms in nightclubs and bathrooms. "They were embroiled in a fight while giving away free condoms in a local pub," said "Gaga," a man who organizes its work and wished to remain anonymous. "The security guards ruthlessly slashed them with knives." "We usually don't call the police because our group is not, strictly speaking, legal," he added.
"Most groups cannot register with the civil affairs bureau, which means they are not legally recognized," said Zhang Beichuan, a sexologist at Qingdao University.
HIV prevention work among male prostitutes is constantly threatened by police raids, Gaga said. "Since our group is not registered, the police don't distinguish between us and the prostitutes" during condom promotions, Gaga said. Local brigands demanded payments, noting, "'We see you have no back-up. How about you pay us money and we give you protection,'" Gaga said.
Unregistered, Shenlan and other groups are prevented from raising money and receiving donations. "Many of our volunteers are using their own money doing the group's work," said "Xiao Pan," who works at an AIDS support group in east China.
"The volunteers, often gay themselves, are better than government workers at approaching and convincing gays to practice safe sex," said Gao Yongjun, a Tianjin health official.
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.