Building a dialogue: seminar on work with MSM in prison settings

Published: July 22, 2010

Building a dialogue: seminar on work with MSM in prison settings

L. Kononenko1, O. Chupryna1, K. Klindera2

1Penitentiary Initiative, Nikolaev, Ukraine, 2amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, New York, United States

Issues: There is an urgent, yet unaddressed, need for HIV prevention and treatment services (including psychosocial support) for MSM prisoners in Ukraine. Little data exists on effective interventions for this vulnerable group, with few governments and NGOs engaged in meeting their needs.
Description: Based on a pilot project, in August 2009 Penitentiary Initiative NGO conducted a first ever two-day national seminar for health workers focused on MSM/MSM+ in prisons (held in Koblevo, Ukraine). With support from amfAR’s MSM Initiative, participants representing penitentiary officials, prison psychologists, NGO health professionals, as well as ex-prisoners and LGBT leaders, were able to identify effective strategies to address this situation. Discussion topics included: sexuality/sexual identity/sexual orientation; stereotypes of MSM (including differences between MSM behavior in the general population and in the prison population); inherent HIV risks among MSM in prison settings; strategies for working with MSM/MSM+ in prison settings; needs assessment of the target group (their social situation, awareness of HIV/STIs, sexual practices, access to condoms and lubricants, and needs for psychological support). Penitentiary Initiative NGO and the Mangust Foundation shared their experience running support groups for MSM/MSM+ inmates.
Lessons learned: ‘Insider’ information and insights of ex-prisoners and prison psychologists brought special value to the seminar. Participant feedback gave especially high ratings to the topics “basics of sexuality” (in particular, differences between sexual orientation and sexual behaviors) and “stereotypes of MSM.” In general, the seminar highlighted the following strategies targeting incarcerated MSM: running groups of psychological support, and training peers for peer education and distribution of condoms, lubricants, supplies for personal hygiene and informational materials.
Next steps: Findings were integrated into the Penitentiary Initiative NGO’s project, as well as follow-up being conducted with participants to assess progress. Seminar 2010 on building tolerance towards MSM/MSM+ inmates. The goal for this seminar is even wider geographic representation.

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