“Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination. Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress,” said Tawanda Mutasah, Amnesty International’s Senior Director for Law and Policy.
“Our policy outlines how governments must do more to protect people who do sex work from violations and abuse. Our research highlights their testimony and the daily issues they face.”
Amnesty International’s policy is the culmination of extensive worldwide consultations, a considered review of substantive evidence and international human rights standards and first-hand research, carried out over more than two years.
Its formal adoption and publication follows a democratic decision made by Amnesty International’s global movement in August 2015, available here, which was reported widely at the time.
The policy makes several calls on governments including for them to ensure protection from harm, exploitation and coercion; the participation of sex workers in the development of laws that affect their lives and safety; an end to discrimination and access to education and employment options for all.
It recommends the decriminalization of consensual sex work, including those laws that prohibit associated activities—such as bans on buying, solicitation and general organization of sex work. This is based on evidence that these laws often make sex workers less safe and provide impunity for abusers with sex workers often too scared of being penalized to report crime to the police. Laws on sex work should focus on protecting people from exploitation and abuse, rather than trying to ban all sex work and penalize sex workers.
The policy reinforces Amnesty International’s position that forced labour, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking are abhorrent human rights abuses requiring concerted action and which, under international law, must be criminalized in every country
“We want laws to be refocused on making sex worker’s lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police while addressing the very real issue of exploitation. We want governments to make sure no one is coerced to sell sex, or is unable to leave sex work if they choose to,” said Tawanda Mutasah.
Extensive research, including four geographically specific reports published alongside Amnesty International’s policy today, shows that sex workers are often subject to horrific human rights abuses. This is in part due to criminalization, which further endangers and marginalizes them and impedes their ability to seek protection from violence and legal and social services.
“Sex workers have told us how criminalization enables the police to harass them and not prioritise their complaints and safety,” said Tawanda Mutasah.
Rather than focusing on protecting sex workers from violence and crime, law enforcement officials in many countries focus on prohibiting sex work through surveillance, harassment and raids.
Amnesty International’s research shows that sex workers often get no, or very little, protection from abuse or legal redress, even in countries where the act of selling sex itself is legal.
More information about policy and research reports here.