Researchers from the Johns Hopkins
Bloomberg School of Public
Health have found a new way to address HIV and sexual
risk taking among drug-using women involved in
prostitution. The Jewelry Education for Women Empowering
their Lives program, known as JEWEL, introduced 55
drug-using women to HIV risk prevention and to the making,
marketing and selling of beaded jewelry. After
participating in the program, the women reduced their
number of sex partners, spent less on drugs daily and
decreased crack use. The study is published in the January
issue of AIDS Care.
"Because so much of women drug users' HIV risks are
economically motivated, providing them with licit options
for income effectively reduces their risk," said Susan G.
Sherman, lead author of the study and an assistant
professor in the
Department of Epidemiology at the Bloomberg School.
For this pilot study, the authors targeted women using
illegal drugs who were involved in prostitution in
Baltimore. They implemented six two-hour sessions to teach
not only HIV-prevention risk reduction but also the making,
marketing and selling of jewelry. The women sold the
handmade jewelry at 11 public sales and earned more than
Three months after participating in the study, the
women reported a 29 percent reduction in receiving drugs or
money for sex and a 33 percent reduction in the number of
sex-trade partners per month. The study authors also
noticed a reduction in the amount of money spent on drugs
each day and a decrease in daily crack usage.
"This program didn't just reduce HIV risk; it
increased the women's self-esteem. Most of them have been
selling themselves for so long, and giving them the
opportunity to sell a beautiful product that other people
appreciate really had an impact on their self-value as
well. This program is a novel approach to self-empowerment
and HIV prevention," said Sherman.
The effects of JEWEL continued past the end of the
one-year pilot study. The most prolific jewelry maker in
the program continued not only making jewelry but teaching
other at-risk women. She and Sherman are in the process of
establishing a nonprofit group called GEMS of Hope. The
study authors said they hope to conduct a larger follow-up
study of women who use crack in Baltimore.
The project was supported by a grant from the National
Institute on Drug Abuse. Additional co-authors of the study
are Danielle German, Yingkai Cheng, Morgan Marks and Marie