Stigma associated with sex work and HIV can be easily recognized in public reactions towards the members of discriminated groups. Nevertheless, there are only a few studies examining the impact of discrimination to the self-esteem of individuals who suffer the coexistence of multiple stigmatizing conditions. In our case, the unprecedented stigmatization of sex workers through the media as a menace of public health as well as criminals due to their seropositivity should be examined with respect and scientificity. The sample consisted of the 27 women found to be HIV positive. The small number of subject and the uniqueness of the situation made necessary the use of qualitative research method. Data were collected of through a semi-structured interview during which personal and medical history was taken and Rosenberg self-esteem scale was completed. Information for each domain of interest was systematically collected from multiple interview guide items. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis was used to analyze data derived from qualitative interview (IPA). Four main categories emerged from the horizontal analysis of the interviews referring to the mechanism used by those women in order to cope with stigma and protect their self-esteem, a description of their felt stigma and feelings about seropositivity, as well as the existence of self-destructive behaviors. The existence of a normal self-esteem on the majority of those women is well explained by the use of certain coping strategies in order to confront the enacted stigma, such as the avoidance of self-blame for their condition (HIV-positive), the disregard of public’s discriminating comments and behaviors, the acknowledge of their competence in specific issues they have to deal with in their everyday life, in common with the existence of a strongly supportive network. Despite those women’s felt stigma, structured by community’s discriminating approach of their families and their feelings of helplessness and incompetence to protect their beloved, their self-esteem is not harmed and the frequency of selfdestructive behaviors remained stable, possibly as a result of those coping mechanisms developed early in their lives. The circle of stigmatization that emerged through the stories of those women is not an isolated social phenomenon related only to prostitution and drug use. This is the reason why educational programs, access to HIV care services and efforts towards de-stigmatization would benefit the society in multiple levels, and would ultimately strengthen the effort of combating the global AIDS epidemic.

Key words: Stigma, self-esteem, sex workers, HIV positive, media, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis, Greece.

G. Kalemi, S. Gkioka, P. Tsapatsari, G. Tzeferakos, T. Kandri, M.L. Psarra, F. Konstantopoulou, A. Douzenis (page 67) - Full article