Photo from Vera Rodriguez. Sex workers organising in London.

SEX WORKERS’ RIGHTS BASED INPUTS FOR UN REPORT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN 2024

The UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences (SRVAW) is preparing a report on ‘the nexus between the global phenomenon of prostitution and violence against women and girls.’ The SRVAW is one of the UN Human Rights Council’s special procedures. These independent human rights experts are appointed with mandates to report and advise on human rights violations from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Civil society and community organisations play a key role in providing information to these independent experts in addressing how their communities are impacted by laws, policies and societal norms, and suggesting ways states can guarantee their human rights. 

We appreciate the concern for violence in the lives of sex workers and welcome a report that elaborates on this important topic. The language from the call and the use of ‘prostitution’ in the title suggests that the SRVAW has chosen to focus on a specific perspective and ideological approach to sex work and prostitution law. This call was a crucial opportunity for sex workers’ rights organisations to have their voices and their experiences of violence included in such a report.  Sex workers’ rights, feminist, and human rights organisations and academic researchers working at local, regional and global levels from around the world submitted their sex workers’ rights-based inputs for this upcoming report. 

Click on the names of the regions and then the names of the organisations or groups to access summaries of the submissions and links to the full documents. Also click here to find an overview of all submissions and here to access resources on sex workers rights. 

Africa and West Asia

The Asijiki Coalition is a South African network of over 130 organisations committed to the human rights of sex workers through their advocacy for the full decriminalisation of adult sex work in South Africa. The coalition expresses concern over the persistent use of the term “prostitution” in the Special Rapporteur’s call for submissions, despite repeated urges from sex workers to not do so, and affirms its commitment to using the term “sex worker” instead. The deliberate conflation of these terms seeks to undermine sex workers’ demands for rights and legal protections by exploiting legitimate concerns about trafficking and sexual exploitation to the detriment of sex workers, a tactic which is not routinely applied to other labor sectors. The call for submissions showcases a concerning use of international law in its reliance on treaties primarily addressing trafficking and sexual exploitation to justify an anti-sex work stance, despite the clear distinction between consensual adult sex work and exploitation. By conflating these issues, the call disregards the nuances of sex work, undermines the rights of both sex workers and victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, and fails to acknowledge critiques of existing conventions for their inadequate human rights focus. While various groups may have expertise and insights into sex work, it is imperative to centre the perspectives of sex workers themselves, as their experiences are most relevant to understanding and addressing the issues at hand.

The Call for Input fails to acknowledge the widespread advocacy for full decriminalisation of sex work, which, in addition to its biased language, undermines its credibility. Sex work is often marred by violence and exploitation, with global statistics showing a high likelihood of violence against sex workers, especially those from marginalised groups. In South Africa, the risk of violence for sex workers may be as high as 90%, and criminalisation exacerbates this situation by denying sex workers access to basic labour rights and protection mechanisms, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation without recourse. Furthermore, the conflation of sex work with human trafficking in legal frameworks leads to violent police raids and abuses, particularly targeting migrant sex workers who lack legal documentation, which puts them at risk of deportation and further exploitation. Additionally, structural violence, such as denial of healthcare and discrimination, poses grave threats to the well-being of sex workers and their families, including hindering access to education for their children. The Asijiki Coalition urges the Special Rapporteur to use her platform to join the global movement for the decriminalisation of sex work. Click here for the full submission

The Coastal Sex Workers Alliance (COSWA) in Kenya shares that at least 34% of sex workers have reported that they have been violated in their lifetime, including through forms of violence such as rape, intimate partner violence, police violence, and violence from one another, family members, or landlords. The threat of forced motherhood is another violence that sex workers, especially those who are young, often face due to the routine denial of abortion services in Kenya. The psychological toll inflicted by relentless persecution and exclusion further compounds sex workers’ plight, and LGBTQI sex workers face additional threats due to discriminatory laws and societal attitudes, exemplified by the impact of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act. Compounding these challenges is the pervasive conflation of sex work with trafficking, which is perpetuated by ill-informed policymakers who champion punitive laws under the guise of combating exploitation. Punitive laws restrict access to essential services, perpetuate victim blaming, and impede the full realisation of fundamental rights, turning sex work into a women’s rights issue but preventing its inclusion under that banner.

In response, COSWA has embarked on a multifaceted approach, championing initiatives such as “know your rights” campaigns and the impactful strategy of police sensitisation to engender systemic change. The international community can demonstrate meaningful solidarity by advocating against harmful laws, funding sex worker-led movements, amplifying their work, and providing direct support to empower sex workers in Kenya. Click here for the full submission

The Kiambu Sex Workers Alliance strongly opposes the use of the term “prostitution,” deeming it archaic and abusive. In Kenya, women and girls engaged in sex work encounter a myriad of challenges within a diverse community. Kenyan sex workers face various forms of violence, encompassing not only physical but also psychological, sexual, and administrative abuses.  

There are several forms of hidden sex work that include the following: survival sex, massage parlour sex work, and online sex work. Recognition and handling vary globally; some jurisdictions acknowledge these forms and implement measures, while others may lack awareness or effective strategies, contributing to underreporting and inadequate support for victims. Collaborative efforts, human rights institutions, and civil society are crucial to addressing these challenges comprehensively

In Kenya, women and girls engaging in sex work often face diverse challenges. Disaggregated data indicates higher numbers in the Central, Western, and Northern regions. Factors such as economic disparities, limited educational opportunities, and vulnerabilities contribute to this. Economic exploitation may include unfair payments or control over earnings. Recognizing the impact of power dynamics on consent within the industry, the criminalization of sex work is deemed an ineffective strategy for addressing violence against women and girls. Societal factors like poverty and limited legal protection exacerbate unequal power dynamics. The issue of consent in the context of sex work is complex and often challenged by power dynamics, coercion, and vulnerabilities, further exacerbated by the context of criminalization.

The Kiambu Sex Workers Alliance advocates for the right to dignity, the right to physical and mental integrity, the right to health, and the right to non-discrimination for sex workers. They call for community engagement and a collaborative, multi-faceted approach involving NGOs, law enforcement, and healthcare agencies to provide essential data and insights for informed policy decisions. Click here to read the complete submission

Members of the Kisumu Sex Worker Alliance (KISWA) confirm that sex workers in Kenya face pervasive violence, primarily physical, perpetrated by clients and law enforcement and made worse by the criminalization of sex work through Section 155 of the Kenyan Penal Code. This violence extends to sexual coercion, exploitation, and blackmail, exacerbating the vulnerability of sex workers. This especially impacts young adults and university students, who are unable to collectivize and protest. Punitive laws perpetuate this violence, as offenders exploit the criminalization of sex work, leading to impunity for perpetrators. Moreover, the conflation of sex work with trafficking perpetuates harmful stereotypes. Trafficking, notably facilitated by family members promising employment opportunities, exacerbates the challenges faced by sex workers, which highlights the urgent need to address misconceptions surrounding sex work and trafficking.To mitigate violence and enhance safety, sex worker organizations employ various strategies, including community sensitization initiatives, safety protocols such as using signals to alert each other of danger, and advocating for police accountability. LBQ sex workers face particularly unique challenges due to stigma, with many fearful to publicly identify themselves due to routine discrimination and exclusion from essential services. Despite these obstacles, sex workers in Kenya are actively engaging in advocacy efforts, both offline and online through social media, to raise awareness about the violence they face and demand meaningful support from the international community. Click here for the complete submission.

The Sex Workers Education & Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), most of whose employees self-identify as sex workers, boasts two decades of dedicated service to sex workers in South Africa, having facilitated the birth of both the African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA) and the national movement Sisonke. In their submission, SWEAT criticizes moral frameworks that advocate for the abolition of sex work under the guise of feminism. The 1949 Convention does not definitively declare the unlawfulness of sex work and also lacks universal consensus, with only 83 of the 192 UN member states subscribing to its principles. Meanwhile the Palermo Convention is increasingly regarded as more pertinent. Both the Palermo and CEDAW conventions aim to combat sexual exploitation rather than consensual adult sex work, which highlights the necessity of distinguishing between the two in international legal frameworks.

Sex workers confront violence on multiple fronts. While specific legislation targeting violence against sex workers is lacking in South Africa, initiatives like the South African National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide strive to address this gap. However, the ongoing criminalisation of sex work in the country perpetuates a harmful cycle of violence, spanning encounters with law enforcement, clients, and the broader community. Advocates for decriminalisation, including the South African National AIDS Council, highlight the public health benefits of such reforms. Yet, financial barriers further marginalise sex workers, as their occupation restricts access to basic banking services, deepening their reliance on sex work for income. This cycle of disempowerment not only increases vulnerability to violence but also undermines efforts to safeguard the human rights of sex workers. It is imperative to recognise that the criminalisation of sex work only enables the systemic violation of sex workers’ human rights. Click here for the full submission

The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), based in Cape Town, South Africa, advocates for women’s rights through intersectional feminist approaches. The WLC has been deeply involved in supporting sex workers’ labour rights and advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work in South Africa, and their efforts extend internationally. They were particularly instrumental in the case of Kylie v. The CCMA (2010), where they successfully extended the legal recognition of sex work as legitimate employment in South Africa. In their submission to the Special Rapporteur’s Call for Input, the WLC highlights the inaccuracies and harmful stereotypes perpetuated in the framing of the call, particularly regarding the conflation of sex work and human trafficking.

Explaining the historical context of international laws and conventions referenced by the Special Rapporteur, the WLC underscores how outdated paradigms rooted in morality and racial biases have shaped perceptions of sex work as inherently exploitative. They challenge the notion that sex work is always involuntary and advocate for the recognition of sex workers’ agency and autonomy. Moreover, they emphasise the evolving human rights framework that increasingly acknowledges the distinction between consensual sex work and coercive forms of exploitation, as reflected in reports from the United Nations Working Group on discrimination against women and girls. The WLC draws on international human rights principles and evidence from various organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, to argue that decriminalisation is essential to protect the rights and well-being of sex workers. They highlight the South African government’s shift towards decriminalisation and the need to address systemic barriers and discrimination faced by sex workers. Despite the problematic framing of the consultation, the WLC expresses gratitude for the opportunity to participate and urges the Special Rapporteur to engage with informed perspectives, including the lived experiences of sex workers, in producing a comprehensive report on violence against women. Click here to read the full submission

The Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC), an organisation of sex workers, functions as an exclusive forum of female, male, and transgender sex workers and their children, from both brothel-based and mobile populations. DMSC has 52 branches and a membership of about 45,000 sex workers across West Bengal, India. DMSC demands decriminalisation of adult sex work in all its aspects, social recognition of sex work as a service sector occupation and establishment of sex workers’ right to self-determination. DMSC also seeks to abolish or reform all laws that restrict the human rights of sex workers and limit their enfranchisement as full citizens. DMSC served as a Member of the Panel appointed by the Supreme Court of India to address trafficking, voluntary rehabilitation and conditions that afford the right to dignity to sex workers (2011-2016). 

DMSC strongly advocates for the use of the term “sex worker” as opposed to “prostitute”, which is dehumanising. In India, a “prostitute” is a person, in particular a woman, who is said to be “selling her body.” Sex workers are not selling their bodies; they are workers using their bodies. This is why the term sex worker is more accurate than “prostitute.” When someone carries out work, for example, as a journalist or an office assistant, are they not using their bodies? Aren’t their hands, feet, or vocal cords involved in performing the work? When a labourer works in a factory, he or she obviously performs their task by using their limbs as well as their brains. Does this mean they are selling their body or limbs? Sex-workers also use their bodies, including their sex organs, in providing sexual services to clients. The use of the brain and sensory organs is equally important in carrying out sex work. When we see someone driving a car, we can observe how he uses his hands and feet, but a driver has to make various decisions while driving. S/He has to make a judgment call using their brains and their eyes. Similarly, a sex-worker has to cultivate minds and various other sensory organs in order to awaken the sexual pleasure of clients. It’s no doubt a difficult and complex task. For this very reason, it is essential to obtain mastery over the art of sex. So, to call it the ‘selling of one’s body’ is utterly misconceived. It is the labour time that is sold. This holds true for every worker, including sex-workers.

In 1997, DMSC decided to address the problems of underage and coerced women in sex work settings. Community members who had themselves been trafficked at some point in time proposed policies and strategies. A multi-stage approach based on Self Regulatory Boards (SRBs) and community vigilance regulated sex work admission, identified abuses, and responded comprehensively to coercion or underage sex work. Each SRB generally has 10 members, including 60% sex workers, a local ward councillor, and health, social welfare, and labour representatives. The SRB recognises that sex workers can manage their living and working situations with civil society cooperation. As professionals, they want to live and work in dignified, violence-free situations where sex workers have control and run their own systems to prevent children and trafficked women from entering the sex trade. DMSC documents every aspect and level of SRB work. A thorough record of all entrants, decisions, management, and follow-up is kept. These records track and improve identification, case management, career building, reintegration, and follow-up. As Self Regulatory Board sex workers live in the red light area, they may monitor women’s admission and exit to ensure early defection of trafficked cases. They can improve survivor counselling and record keeping with technical support. They also aid with rehabilitation and reintegration with family and undertake monthly follow-ups to prevent re-trafficking. As of date, the SRB has prevented 501 women and girls from involuntarily entering sex work. DMSC strongly advocates for the replication of the Self-Regulatory Boards. Click for the full submission. 

The IPPF South Asia Region aligns itself with a human rights perspective and advocates for universal access to health frameworks under the principles outlined in the International Planned Parenthood Federation’s (IPPF) position on sex work. Embracing key concepts such as intersectionality and reproductive justice, the organisation vehemently rejects stigmatising terminology like “prostitute” and responds only to contexts involving adults aged 18 and above engaged in sex work. Recognising the diverse legal challenges faced by sex workers based on gender, sexuality, and location, the IPPF South Asia Region underscores the importance of adopting more inclusive language that goes beyond traditional categories of “women and girls.” In Afghanistan, Maldives, Iran, and Bhutan, the legal landscape remains unfriendly for sex workers, as well as men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. Conversely, in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal, the absence of a legal definition for sex work leaves room for law enforcement authorities to interpret the law subjectively, potentially leading to the victimisation of sex workers.

While emphasising that sex work is not inherently violent, the organisation acknowledges the pervasive global issue of violence against sex workers. Structural violence compounds the challenges faced by sex workers, particularly in accessing legal and healthcare services. Specific instances in Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and other countries illustrate the intersectionality of vulnerabilities, with patriarchal mindsets and societal positioning exacerbating gender-based vulnerabilities. Countries that tolerate high levels of violence against sex workers with impunity often face challenges in HIV interventions, as these are also marred by discrimination, highlighting the need to mainstream gender equality and  on-discrimination into strong HIV prevention measures. In certain nations like Afghanistan and Bhutan, family disownment of women in sex work exposes them to violence, poverty, and discrimination. Some countries even report instances of killing women involved in sex work. In Sri Lanka, sex workers are arrested under outdated laws like the Vagrancy Ordinance, leading to coerced guilty pleas, criminal records, and long-lasting repercussions on their futures. Legal support is unevenly distributed among key populations in certain countries, like Bangladesh, India, and Nepal.

The region encounters diverse challenges and potential solutions, yet structural interventions to address major impediments to ending HIV/AIDS among the sex worker population are not widespread. Government officials often ask humiliating questions, even publicly. Insensitivity from doctors, requiring disrobing to prove gender identity, is reported in Nepal and India. Sex workers, especially transgender women, are frequent targets for violence from clients, partners, and the police. They are vulnerable to money snatching, mistreatment, and ridicule. Sexual, physical, and psychological violence is common. In Bangladesh, male sex workers experience harassment and violence from local goons, police, and the public.

The IPPF South Asia Region contends that the criminalisation of sex work infringes upon the human rights, health, and privacy of sex workers. To enhance the safety of sex workers, the organisation calls for the removal of discriminatory laws related to migration, drug use, and sexual orientation. Proposing a comprehensive rights-based approach, the IPPF South Asia Region advocates against the criminalisation of sex work under the guise of anti-trafficking efforts. Legal aid is required to combat the pervasive stigma and violence faced by sex workers in South Asian countries, as well as the decriminalisation of sex work and support for their labour inclusion, community-led initiatives, and improved access to healthcare services. Click here for the full submission

The Scarlet Alliance, a national collective of Australian sex workers, is supported by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), showcasing a critical alliance for the rights of sex workers. Numerous national and local organizations have endorsed their submission. The Scarlet Alliance emphasizes the essential need for sex workers to be afforded equal rights as workers with fair employment conditions. There is power in language, which is why it is important to use inclusive and respectful terminology to counteract the ongoing stigmatization of sex workers. The Scarlet Alliance affirms the expertise of sex workers in matters of consent and education and advocates for locally determined measures that emphasize collaboration between sex worker communities, unions, and specialized legal professionals. Sex workers are experts in consent, education and practical implementation of consent. Societal views on sexual consent have undergone significant changes over the past ten years.The rise of the #MeToo movement, the high profile assault case in Australian Parliament House (2021),and activists such as Grace Tame have all generated significant interest in consent education, and created a new enthusiasm for feminist social change.

Sex workers are adept at negotiating not only verbal consent, but also identifying and negotiating implied consent, non-verbal forms of consent negotiation, and setting sexual boundaries to achieve informed consent. Consent negotiation starts before every booking and extends to planning double bookings with colleagues, establishing boundaries with clients and other workers. Consent may be contingent on other factors, such as money or use of a condom, and is also revocable – consent to one sexual activity does not mean consent to another. For example, sex workers offer varying services at different price points, including add-ons, and further options, depending on the workplace and individual worker. Service and price negotiation establish consent before any sexual activity takes place. Bookings are often planned and costed based on what the client is seeking, what the sex worker agreed to, and the time frame. Some sex workers negotiate services outside the realm of ‘traditional’ mainstream understandings of sex, such as role play, fetish, or BDSM. Sex workers may also negotiate services that don’t involve physical touch, or sessions that don’t include traditional sexual gratification. Sex workers are skilled communicators adept at creating a shared experience, which is why they are experts in consent and should be consulted.

Successful sex-worker peer-led organizations in Australia and New Zealand demonstrate reducing rates of HIV and STIs and decreased violence toward sex workers. Decriminalization plays a pivotal role in achieving better health outcomes, mitigating socio-economic harm, and ensuring access to justice. The misconception that anti-trafficking legislation improves the rights of sex workers must be challenged. A reduction in violence for sex workers lies not only in decriminalization but also in the equitable treatment of all workers in the industry. The criminalization of sex work is a form of state violence against sex workers that continues to perpetuate their exclusion from the justice system. Click to read the full document.

The Sex Worker Network of Bangladesh (SWNOB) faces significant challenges due to societal stigma and punitive laws that disproportionately target sex workers. In Bangladesh, sex work is stigmatized due to cultural norms and Muslim religious beliefs, increasing the risk of violence against sex workers and hindering their ability to openly discuss their identity. Children of sex workers are also stigmatized and face difficulties attending school. Sex workers encounter verbal harassment, physical violence and mistreatment from clients, and exploitation and threats by landlords, police, and the media. Punitive laws criminalize sex work, leading to arrests, detention, and denial of access to justice and essential services. Sex workers, who are routinely booked under the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act, are coerced into accepting charges related to trafficking or public nuisance, perpetuating their repression and restricting their freedom of movement. Transgender sex workers face additional violence due to societal stigma, creating a climate of fear and insecurity.

Conflation with victims of trafficking complicates efforts to identify and support those who have been trafficked. Sex workers can assist in anti-trafficking efforts through their ability to recognize victims of trafficking. SWNOB emphasizes supporting sex workers who willingly engage in sex work and advocates for their rights to choose their profession. However, leaving sex work poses challenges as alternative employment opportunities are limited and often insufficient to meet financial needs, especially for those supporting dependents. Efforts to support sex workers transitioning away from sex work must address the economic and social barriers they face to ensure meaningful support and empowerment. Through one-on-one advocacy and relationship-building with politicians, landlords, and law enforcement, SWNOB works to reduce violence and improve the safety and well-being of sex workers by providing essential support services such as legal aid and counselling. Click here to read the complete submission

A coalition of sex workers and their allies in Nepal draw attention to the historical connotations of the term “prostitution,” which feed the pervasive stigma that sex workers experience today. Despite governmental recognition of “sex work” and “sex workers” in Nepal, sex workers still face ongoing rights violations and violence from state agencies and intimate partners alike, as well as exclusion from broader women’s movements at large. 

The digital context is also important to understand. Unfortunately, in numerous instances, we sex workers end up being blackmailed by partners. Thousands of cases of such blackmail have been reported at the field, compelling sex workers to make payments, causing severe mental distress, to the extent that some have attempted suicide. Sadly, we face challenges reporting such incidents to the police. Police often violate their consent when sex workers are forced to disclose the names of clients and locations after they are arrested and stated as a condition for their release.

Administrative violence affects female sex workers, as well as other Nepali women who have children but lack citizenship. According to the law, women with children are deemed married, and they can only obtain citizenship through their husbands, not from their parents’ side. Families of sex workers reject and neglect them. Society excludes them from social, family, cultural, and social events, subjecting them to disdain, discrimination, and humiliation. The stigma and socio-economic discrimination also affect them when they attempt to engage in alternative forms of employment, as society tends to reject their services and products.

The societal exclusion of sex workers, rooted in traditional gender norms and patriarchal values, requires legal and administrative reform. The collective asserts that the full decriminalisation of sex work is necessary to reduce structural violence against sex workers and improve sex workers’ ability to consent. They emphasise the imperative need for distinctions in laws, policies, and programming that ensure clear separation between consensual, adult sex work and human trafficking for forced prostitution. The human rights of sex workers must be at the forefront of effective strategies to empower community leaders and campaigners. Click here for the full submission

Founded in 1994 in India, Women’s Initiatives (WINS) is a dedicated advocate for gender equality and sexual rights that emphasises the decision-making capabilities of sex workers. Their commitment to amplifying sex workers’ voices in community roles is evident in the testimonies of sex workers in Andhra Pradesh, India, following a January 2024 focus group. WINS makes a critical distinction between “sex work” and “trafficking,” underscoring the need for clarity in the law as Indian legislation currently conflates sex work with human trafficking. WINS is well-positioned to identify and assist victims of trafficking, but insists that the rights of sex workers be taken seriously. In May 2022, the Supreme Court of India in Budhadev Karmaskar v. State of West Bengal affirmed that sex workers enjoy the same constitutional rights as other citizens and laid down certain key protections for them. The guidelines issued by the Supreme Court made clear that sex workers who operate with consent should not be arrested, penalised, harassed, or victimised, and police must refrain from taking any criminal actions, but protect and uphold our rights.

Whilst sex work per se is not a crime in India, the acts of soliciting customers, and operating a brothel are technically criminalised in statute. The Supreme Court guidelines mean that law enforcement agencies must treat us all with dignity, should not abuse us, either verbally or physically, or subject us to violence, and should immediately refrain from arresting, prosecuting, penalising, and detaining sex workers or coercing us into any sexual activity. However, these guidelines have not been implemented in practice, and sex work continues to be criminalised in practice.

Despite the Supreme Court of India affirming sex workers’ constitutional rights, challenges persist. Police are expected to safeguard these rights, but instances of violence persist due to continued enforcement of criminalisation by law enforcement and extortion and blackmail by clients, placing sex workers at risk of violence. WINS calls for sensitivity training for law enforcement agencies regarding sex worker rights. They also call for all sex workers to be treated with dignity by all and informed about their rights. Click here for the full submission

A French collective including Act Up-Paris, Aides, Arcat, Médecins du Monde-France, and the Mouvement Français pour le Planning Familial, outlines the detrimental impact of France’s 2016 law against the prostitution system. Despite the law ostensibly decriminalising soliciting by sex workers, local regulations and the penalisation of clients have led to a surge in violence against sex workers, including sexual violence, hold-ups, cyber-harassment, and more. The overly broad definition of pimping under French law hampers sex workers’ ability to work together for safety and exposes them to exploitation and violence. A survey revealed that 42% of sex workers reported experiencing increased violence since the law’s implementation, with limited access to justice due to distrust of law enforcement. Institutional violence, such as misgendering by law enforcement and discriminatory identity checks on migrant sex workers, compounds the challenges faced by sex workers. Medical violence, such as denial of HIV treatment based on occupation, further marginalises sex workers within healthcare settings. 

In response, the collective recommends a shift away from restrictive measures towards sex work and towards policies that prioritise the rights and safety of sex workers instead. Decriminalisation of sex work, including clients, combats violence and exploitation. The collective highlights France’s slow progress in implementing recommendations, such as those from the Group of Experts on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings (GRETA) and the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights (CNCDH), as they emphasise the urgent need to address systemic barriers to the safety and well-being of sex workers. The collective specifically recommends ensuring access to support services through adequate support and funding, forging partnerships with community organisations, and challenging discriminatory practices within law enforcement and healthcare systems. Read the complete submission in English and in French

The Association for Support of Marginalized Workers (STAR-STAR) was established in 2010 in the Republic of North Macedonia as the first sex workers collective in the Balkans. Sex work in North Macedonia is restricted due to conservative social values that inform the state’s lack of recognition of sex work as a profession. In the Republic of North Macedonia, conservative and obsolete social values regarding sexuality and the autonomy of the human body still exist, which emboldens the state to restrict our corporal integrity, by which the gap in gender inequality becomes ever wider. Additionally, the laws do not recognise sex work as a profession and deprive sex workers and sex workers’ rights to choose a profession freely and to be entitled to protection in the workplace, which inevitably leads to social and economic vulnerability in many members of the sex workers’ community. 

Sex workers are continually subjected to intersectional discrimination and public judgement, which remain unsanctioned and largely contribute to widespread hate speech and frequent instances of violence perpetrated by police officials, their service users, partners, and members of their families. Nevertheless, cases of their rights violations are most commonly undocumented and unprocessed due to the lack of functionality within the legal system, which generates high levels of distrust in the institutions, in addition to the already existing stigma and public judgement related to sex work. 

In combination with the North Macedonia legal framework, the 2021 Prevention and Protection of Violence Against Women Law recognises sex workers as a vulnerable group. At this given time, it is the only legal protection provided to female sex workers, along with the protection of sexual and reproductive health in female, male, and transgender sex workers via the Programs for Prevention of the Population Against HIV Infection in the Republic of North Macedonia stemming from the national HIV strategies.  The 2021 law, for the first time, differentiates sex work and “trafficking in women.” 

STAR-STAR views voluntary sex work in accordance with the United Nations’ definition, which distinguishes between human trafficking and voluntary sex work. The criminalisation of sex work has a demonstrated negative impact on sex workers, increasing violence and exploitation. Decriminalising sex work is the best policy to promote the health and human rights of sex workers, their families, and communities. Taking the sex workers community’s viewpoints into consideration, as well as the recommendations by the United Nations for decriminalising voluntary sex work and the activities that stem from it, we advocate for legal regulation that would protect sex workers’ human rights and minimise discrimination, stigma, public judgement, and prejudice. Decriminalising sex work is the best policy for promoting the health and human rights of sex workers, their families, and communities. Removing criminal prosecution of sex work goes hand-in-hand with recognising sex work as work and protecting the rights of sex workers through workplace health and safety standards. Decriminalising sex work means sex workers are more likely to live without stigma, social exclusion, or fear of violence. Click here for the complete submission

The Berufsverband Sexarbeit Österreich (BSÖ) is a self-organised alliance of sex workers in Austria. The BSÖ addresses how the Rappateur’s call for input conflates voluntary sex work with forced prostitution and human trafficking. In Austria, where sex work is legalised, the majority of individuals in the field engage in their work willingly. Through legalisation, sex workers are given more agency in their choices.

Economic hardship may compel some, particularly migrant workers, to enter the sex industry, but the BSÖ emphasises that most sex workers do not engage in the work for lack of other options. Austria’s legal framework, which registers both sex workers and brothels, ensures accountability to health regulations and access to support services for sex workers. Sex workers can be subject to various forms of violence, but a well-structured legal environment empowers them. The BSÖ maintains active connections with sex worker organisations in other countries, including Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary, and is confident that sex work is fully compatible with human dignity. The alliance critiques laws that totally or partially criminalise sex work because such legal frameworks contribute to worse outcomes among sex workers. In order to improve the conditions of sex workers both within and beyond the realms of their work, sex worker rights must be strengthened. Click here for the full submission

Decrim Now is a diverse coalition striving to enhance the lives and working conditions of sex workers in the UK. At its core, Decrim Now asserts that sex workers possess the most insightful understanding of what is necessary for their safety. Recognising the importance of language in reducing stigma, the organisation advocates for the use of the term “sex workers” rather than “prostitutes.” It is important to note that people of all gender identities are reflected in sex work. In particular, trans women are disproportionately overrepresented in the industry due to discrimination, which creates barriers to accessing healthcare, housing, and traditional employment.  

Sex work in England, Scotland, and Wales operates under what is generally referred to as ‘partial criminalisation’. While the acts of purchasing and selling sexual services are legal, many associated functions are criminalised. This includes soliciting, street-based work, sharing premises with another worker, or facilitation. It follows that it is only workers who are able to work indoors, alone, and with appropriate documentation relevant to their migration status and who are able to work entirely legally. This leaves the most vulnerable workers susceptible to further marginalisation through incarceration and penalties. Brothel workers are often scared to report the violence they experience, as doing so would alert the police, who could raid the premises. Workers who face arrests and charges for working with colleagues could lose their migration statuses, and have their children taken away from them.

Emphasising alignment with other organisations, Decrim Now supports full decriminalisation, opposing the “Nordic Model” for its contribution to violence against sex workers. The organisation contends that safeguarding the rights of women and girls requires respecting their autonomy. Due to the partial criminalisation of sex work in the UK, some workers are the target of police harassment and have difficulty accessing crucial social services. Decrim Now contends that achieving full decriminalisation is essential to safeguarding sex workers’ health. The organisation firmly rejects the notion that sex work is inherently violent, advocating for evidence-based policies that support the decriminalisation of sex work and citing numerous other UN agencies that also do. Click here for the full submission

Dr. Niina Vuolajärvi, an expert in international migration, draws on three years of comprehensive research across Sweden, Norway, and Finland, incorporating 210 formal interviews with diverse sex workers and others related to the sex trade. The sex workers represent a diverse group of mostly cis and trans women from numerous regions. The “Nordic model,” initially aimed at promoting gender equality, morphed into a normative tool to communicate public messages against commercial sex. This input outlines how the criminalisation of sex buying affects sex workers and people in the sex trade and their vulnerability to violence and exploitation. Because in the Nordic region, as in many other countries, upwards of 70 percent of people in the sex trade are migrants, this brief also examines how the policing of commercial sex under the Nordic model intersects with immigration policies and their enforcement. The research concludes that the Nordic model impacts negatively on sex workers and people in the sex trade, and that the impacts are multiplied when those who sell sex are migrants. It recommends removing criminal penalties related to consensual commercial sex to protect the safety, integrity, and rights of people in the sex trade.  

Social services were supposed to be the backbone of the Nordic model, in which sex buyer law was meant only to be a normative supplement. However, these services have not realised themselves, and interviewees pointed to a lack of truly comprehensive or effective support that would help with finding alternative employment to commercial sex. The overwhelming majority of people engaged in sex work in the region are migrants without permanent residence permits and are therefore not entitled to state services such as social benefits or public health care. The wide adaptation of the understanding of commercial sex as a form of violence against women in Sweden has led to very limited or non-existent low-threshold STI testing, health, or legal services, which has meant the practical exclusion of migrants from service provision.

Vuolajärvi found that migrant sex workers are especially important in conversations about sex work. Sex buyer criminalisation has a minor role in the regulation of commercial sex in the area and, instead, it functions as a smokescreen for punitive and racialised policing of people in the sex trade. The policing targets migrants and often leads to evictions and deportations. Even though the Nordic countries have decriminalised the sale of sex, it is still a ground for deportation in their immigration laws.  The need to view commercial sex as a form of labor is required to protect migrant sex workers. Vuolajärvi advocates for a shift from simplistic policy models to those guided by sex workers’ voices. To counter the negative impacts of the Nordic model, recommendations include decriminalising consensual commercial sex, reforming immigration policies, amplifying sex worker voices, and acknowledging sex work as a legitimate economic activity. Click here for the full submission.

In her letter, P. Schulz advocates for the rights of sex workers and draws upon her extensive expertise in gender equality and human rights advocacy. P. Schulz voices her concerns regarding the Special Rapporteur’s Call for Input (CFI) on prostitution and violence against women and girls. She critiques the CFI for failing to differentiate between forced and voluntary prostitution and for relying on antiquated legal frameworks such as the 1949 Convention, arguing that the call’s abolitionist stance neglects the complexities of sex work and ignores evidence-based approaches that advocate for full decriminalisation to protect the rights of sex workers. In contrast, the Swiss Federal Court landmark ruling of 2021 recognised sex work as legitimate employment. P. Schulz further criticises the terminology used in the CFI, which undermines the autonomy of adult sex workers and conflates voluntary sex work with trafficking.

P. Schulz argues that the criminalisation of sex work perpetuates violence and discrimination against sex workers, including by law enforcement agencies, and impedes access to essential services. She stresses the importance of recognising sex work as work and involving sex worker organisations in policy discussions to effectively address human rights violations. P. Schulz expresses concern that the shortcomings of the CFI may be replicated in the planned report. She advocates for a more informed and inclusive approach that acknowledges the diversity of experiences within the sex industry and prioritises the rights and agency of sex workers themselves. Click here for the full submission.

The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a national self-help network of sex workers, working both in street and in premises, that has campaigned to end the criminalisation of prostitution since 1975. Prostitution is not an inherent form of violence, the ECP says, but criminalisation makes sex workers more vulnerable to violence and discrimination. Poverty puts women at greater risk of exploitation and violence as they are forced into dependency on men and are deprived of the resources to escape. Poverty is a form of violence, and sex work is a response to it and a way to escape it. Prostitution is increasing throughout the UK because poverty is increasing. The majority of sex workers in the UK are mothers working to support families. Approximately 86% of austerity cuts have targeted women. Government policies of benefit sanctions and the introduction of Universal Credit have deliberately caused destitution and pushed more women, particularly single mothers, into “survival sex” to feed themselves and their families. 

Violence remains a pervasive problem. Violent men are given impunity to attack again. Women Against Rape point to the fact that rape has been effectively decriminalised. Sex workers face additional discrimination, with only 25% of those suffering attacks reporting this to the police. Migrant, trans and women of colour are disproportionally victims of violence. Violence by police is also a significant problem. A 2022 study of 197 sex workers in East London found that 42% of street workers had suffered violence from the police. The violence that sex workers experience cannot be countered through criminalising them as the police are a main driver of violence and harm.

The ECP works closely with anti-trafficking groups. The ECP’s experience is that anti-trafficking police operations target migrant sex workers for arrest and deportation rather than providing protection for victims. Government policies and laws should address root causes such as poverty, homelessness, and debt, which exacerbate a hostile immigration environment, increase trafficking, and increase women and girls’ susceptibility to violence. Research demonstrates that criminalisation exacerbates the harm sex workers suffer. Additionally, it is problematic that immigration law denies safe routes for women to cross international borders, which leaves women vulnerable to traffickers. If the Rapporteur seeks to promote laws and policies that reduce and prevent violence and support women to leave prostitution if they wish, eliminating poverty among women and girls is of utmost importance. The ECP uses New Zealand as an example of positive results associated with decriminalisation. Click here for the full submission.

Equinox Initiative for Racial Justice is a people-of-colour-led initiative aligned with the European Sex Workers Alliance (ESWA). They work for rights and justice for all people in Europe, including women, non-binary and gender non-conforming people, those who identify as racialised, those who live with disabilities, those who are migrant, trans, sex workers, lesbian or bi, and working class people. Migrant and racialised sex workers in particular constitute a significant part of the sex worker community in Western, Central, and Eastern Europe and bear the brunt of criminalisation and law enforcement violence. The problematic association of sex work with trafficking consistently exacerbates the violence that sex workers experience. Equinox rejects this conflation while bringing attention to how policy discussions fail to recognise the true causes of violence against sex workers. The criminalisation and legal oppression of sex work in many European states has exacerbated and enabled violence against sex workers by creating a number of barriers to the reporting of, and seeking support and redress for, violence against sex workers. Migrant and racialised sex workers are estimated to comprise the majority of the sex worker population in Western Europe and a significant proportion of the community in Central and Eastern Europe.

By depriving sex workers of paid employment, access to healthcare, welfare benefits, and secure treatment from law enforcement—all of which the UN has previously recommended—criminalisation causes more harm. An intersectional analysis of gender-based violence reveals the violence that the state and other public actors are committing. To address this, Equinox calls for regular and meaningful participation with sex workers and consideration of community needs, as well as the importance of addressing the root causes of violence. Click here to read the complete submission. 

European Sex Workers Rights Alliance (ESWA) is a sex worker-led network that represents more than 111 organisations, over half of which are sex worker-led, that span across 30 countries in Europe and Central Asia. Sex worker voices are prioritised in ESWA’s organising. Excluded from society, sex workers’ voices are discredited, which results in policies that are made on behalf of them or behind their backs. ESWA finds the term “prostituted women” extremely disrespectful and disempowering, representative of the wider stigmatising language that sex workers face. Stereotypes of sex workers are created with no regard to what sex workers feel and think about themselves. We are concerned that the call treats the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (‘the 1949 Convention’) and the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (‘the 2000 Trafficking Protocol’), as if they were identically authoritative sources of law, and as if they addressed prostitution law and sex work the same way. Rather, many have moved away from the 1949 Convention as it 1) does not take a human rights approach; 2) does not regard women as independent actors endowed with rights and reason; and 3) does very little to protect women from and provide remedies for human rights violations committed in the course of trafficking. ESWA notes their concern that the upcoming report may bring more confusion, instead of guidance and human rights standards.  

Sex workers do not consent to violence by virtue of their work, but the violence of criminalisation affects all who engage in sex work and causes increased risks by fostering punitive criminal responses. In November 2020, ESWA published community research ‘Undeserving victims?’ about migrant sex workers victims of crime. The report clearly reveals that there is a significant lack of implementation of the victims’ rights laws and international standards in practice, mainly by front-line police officers, and documented the impact of criminalisation of sex work on their ability to access justice. As a result of the prohibition of sex work, victims of human trafficking are neither identified nor protected, and community research has shown that sex workers who are migrants have very limited access to justice or services. However, community-led services lead to significant benefits for sex workers that allow them to address structural barriers to their rights. Sex workers must be included in policy-making, as both experts in their work and as anti-trafficking allies. ESWA rejects carceral feminist and simplistic approaches, such as client criminalisation, which foster violence against women, contribute to sigma, and create barriers to services. Sex workers rights defenders do important anti-trafficking work through relationship-building as they challenge imperialist, neocolonial, racist, patriarchal, and classist structures. Click here for the full submission.

FIZ Advocacy and Support for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking runs two support services: One is the Counselling Centre for Migrant Women. In this service FIZ provides, amongst others, advice to sex workers. The second service is the specialised Victim Protection Programme for Victims of Human Trafficking. FIZ also does educational and policy work. FIZ’s assessment is based on four decades of experience and practical knowledge acquired through our work at grassroots level in Switzerland. FIZ emphasises the clear and critical distinction between self-determined sex work and trafficking or exploitation. Conflating the two fails to protect both victims of human trafficking and sex workers, a diverse community (regarding gender, race, etc.) with majority migrant representation within Switzerland.

  As the majority of sex workers in Western Europe, as well as a significant number in Central and Eastern Europe, have a migrant background and/or are racialised, they are disproportionately impacted by criminalisation and violence by law enforcement authorities. Not only do they experience a conflation of sex work and trafficking policies, but also the intertwining of sex work and migration policies. Most EU and Swiss policy on anti-racism is silent on the interrelationship between migration policy and structural racism. Today, we are seeing a continued shift toward EU and Swiss migration policies characterised by increasing criminalisation of people on the move and heightened instances of violence against people seeking to migrate to Switzerland and other European countries, compounded by a criminalisation-centred approach to sex work. This approach ignores the ways that intersectional forms of oppression like racism, classism, sexism, whorephobia, transphobia, and xenophobia make racialised sex workers more vulnerable to criminalisation and violence.

  FIZ asserts that while there is a connection between sex work and violence, sex work itself is not the cause. Rather, the criminalisation of sex work, including the “Swedish Model” (criminalisation of making use of sexual services), contributes to violence against sex workers by weakening their rights and self-agency. Although sex work is legal in Switzerland, it is often not recognised as a regular form of employment, leaving few possibilities for migrants to obtain a residence and work permit to work regularly as sex workers. This means that migrant sex workers often have little choice but to reside and work irregularly, creating vulnerabilities and leading to said criminalisation. To prevent and end violence, FIZ emphasises the importance of ensuring accessible legal migration and work opportunities, as well as the inclusion of sex workers’ voices in these decisions. Click here for the complete submission

Hydra, a counselling centre in Berlin run by sex workers, social workers, and feminist allies, has been a persistent champion for sex worker rights for more than 4 decades. Among other services, Hydra offers counselling to current and prospective sex workers, as well as victims of trafficking. They assert that violence and exploitation experienced by sex workers are symptomatic of broader issues such as patriarchy, capitalism, and classism, exacerbated by restrictive immigration legislation and migrant-hostile labour laws. 

Hidden forms of sex work increased since the introduction of the Prostitutes Protection Act in 2017. At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, the German government temporarily forbade sex work for both, sex workers and clients. Both introductions accelerated the shift to more hidden forms of sex work. Sex work is a business which is often conducted by precarious and vulnerable populations. The protection rules during the COVID-19 pandemic increased the level of destitution. Pressure to earn money for daily survival and archiving responsibilities of being caregivers, while lacking job alternatives, a part of sex workers needed to keep working, some people started with sex work. When Hydra intervened in Berlin, the Berlin senate, therefore, abolished the penalisation of sex workers, which at least relieved them from penalty fees. Still, violence against sex workers increased while the penalisation of clients was enforced.

Hydra firmly rejects the notion that sex work itself is a form of violence against women and emphasises the need to address the root causes of exploitation and trafficking within complex power structures. Citing the Prostitution Act of 2002, Hydra highlights the long-standing acknowledgement of sex workers’ ability to consent, challenging the effectiveness of legal regimes like partial decriminalisation as simplistic solutions to complex problems. They criticise questions framed in the Rapporteur’s call for input for perpetuating anti-prostitution bias and stigma. Hydra advocates for the decriminalisation of sex work, labour rights recognition, and the inclusion of sex workers’ rights organisations in policy discussions. Their comprehensive approach calls for the abolition of patriarchy, sexism, capitalism, poverty, racism, and restrictive immigration policies, while also urging the introduction of housing, an embrace of harm reduction strategies, and structural support for sex workers. Click here for the full submission.

La Strada International, a European NGO Platform against trafficking in human beings, based in Amsterdam, has nearly 30 years of experience using a human rights perspective to address human trafficking. La Strada International comprises 33 member organisations across 24 European countries whose efforts aim to prevent trafficking, protect victims’ rights, and provide them support. They criticise the interchangeable use of terms like “prostitution” and “human trafficking” that trivialise human trafficking. They emphasise that not all sex workers are trafficking victims and advocate for addressing violence against sex workers by protecting their self-determined rights.

Data from the organisation highlights the complexity of trafficking as it reveals shifts in the predominant forms of exploitation in Europe. While cases of trafficking into the sex industry have decreased in Western and Southern Europe, there have been increases in reported cases of labour exploitation and forced criminality. Migrant women, who represent an essential component of the workforce, are particularly vulnerable to sexual and labour exploitation as they find themselves governed and managed by immigration laws. Sex workers worldwide suffer various violence forms, including social-emotional (bullying, privacy violations, stalking), sexual, and physical violence like aggravated assault. Sex workers also encounter financial-economic violence, from non-payment by customers to discrimination by financial institutions. However, few report these incidents due to the criminalised and stigmatised nature of sex work, leading to unpunished violence. Addressing this requires protecting sex workers’ rights and investigating and prosecuting all violence in the sex sector.

La Strada International opposes the criminalisation of the knowing use of services provided by trafficking victims because it promotes risks for those providing sexual services and functions as a prostitution regulation disguised as an anti-trafficking effort. Their recommendations include distinguishing between trafficking and sex work, engaging sex workers in policy-making, decriminalising sex work, ensuring safe reporting mechanisms, and providing legal migration and work opportunities. Click here for the full submission.

National Ugly Mugs (NUM), a leading UK charity, pioneers efforts to combat violence against sex workers and address the root causes of survival sex work. NUM is the only national reporting and alerting mechanism for adults in the sex industry in the UK, supporting individuals in preventing and recovering from violence. They emphasise the importance of including sex workers as experts in decision-making processes and as advocates against biased language and policies that characterise all sex work as inherently violent. Violence is not an inherent condition of sex work. NUM rejects stereotypes by emphasising the diverse backgrounds of sex workers, the vast majority of whom are working due to factors such as financial need and disability. 

Research highlights instances of state violence, especially in policing, where sex workers face verbal abuse, fear, and rape due to the lack of rights, fair treatment and protection. Sex workers must be able to define consent for themselves. Defining all sex work as non-consensual ignores labour and human rights and ignores how this exclusion creates the conditions that lead to violence against sex workers and reduces their abilities to control their working arrangements. While many sex workers make choices about their involvement in sex work under significant constraints, this does not negate their ability to make that choice. The way to reduce forced labour in sex industries is to ensure that populations at risk of survival sex work have their material needs are met so that poverty does not force people into sex work. 

The organisation opposes increased state power and criminalisation, citing how such measures amplify violence against sex workers and discourage them from accessing legal assistance. NUM’s 2022 “Changing The Game” research sheds light on some of the barriers faced by those who desire to leave sex industries, like stigma, criminal records, and low wages and poor conditions in mainstream employment. The organisation calls for criminal record expungement, strengthened workers’ rights, and targeted efforts to end poverty. Overall, NUM advocates for the full decriminalisation of sex work and for their full cultural citizenship, urging leaders to recognise sex workers as valuable stakeholders in ending violence and improving community safety for all. Click here for the full submission.

Influenced by decades of grassroots work with sex workers, ProCoRe emphasises the importance of distinguishing between human trafficking for sexual exploitation, which is a severe human rights violation, and consensual adult sex work, which is legal in Switzerland, where ProCoRe is based. They emphasise consent, as defined by Amnesty International, as a pivotal factor in distinguishing between voluntary sex work and forms of exploitation. In Switzerland, sex work is legally recognised and protected by constitutional economic freedoms because the criminalisation of prostitution is believed to leave sex workers more vulnerable to exploitation and violence by driving the industry underground. According to estimates, an overwhelming majority of sex workers in Switzerland are migrants. In accordance with the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons, sex workers from EU/EFTA countries can pursue sex work in Switzerland. Bureaucratic hurdles and legal uncertainties faced by migrant sex workers, though, make them particularly vulnerable to violence. Sex workers in Switzerland often face high rates of physical, sexual, and psychological violence, as well as structural violence perpetuated by everyday stigma. While a recent court decision granting sex workers the right to sue for unpaid wages marks a significant advancement, the conditions under which individual sex workers operate are heavily influenced by migration policies.

Sex work can be practised in a self-determined manner. It can increase one’s ability to stay safe in a world made vulnerable not by sex work, but by poverty, discrimination, gender or racial hierarchies, and economic inequality. Legal migration and job opportunities provide the most effective defense against violence and exploitation for sex workers, while the criminalisation of sex work, such as through the Nordic Model, undermines their rights and exacerbates their vulnerability, which has led many major UN and human rights organisations to oppose such approaches. ProCoRe advocates for societies free of poverty, gender inequality, and racism, where migration is legalised and the fundamental rights of sex workers are upheld, and highlights the importance of complete decriminalisation to ensure the safety and dignity of all workers in the sex industry. Click here for the complete submission

The Red Umbrella Sweden’s submission to the SR VAWG’s report on violence against women and prostitution emphasizes the harmful effects of the Nordic Model on individuals involved in sex work. Originating in 1999, the Nordic Model, also known as the End Demand Model, partially criminalizes sexual services, predominantly targeting the clients of sex workers. Red Umbrella Sweden emphasizes that this model engenders various forms of violence, including economic, physical, social, verbal, psychological, and gender-based violence.

Economically, the Nordic Model diminishes the financial stability of sex workers by penalizing their clients, thereby restricting sex workers’ access to income. Physically, it increases sex workers’ vulnerability to violence by isolating them and impeding their ability to organize for safety. Socially, it marginalizes sex workers by criminalizing not only their clients but also those associated with them, such as landlords and life companions, leading to further stigmatization and exclusion. Moreover, the organization highlights the psychological harm inflicted by the model through its labeling of sex workers as victims, effectively gaslighting them and undermining their agency. They underscore the gender-based violence perpetuated by the Nordic Model, particularly affecting women and migrants, and critique its rebranding as the “Equality Model,” arguing that it actually exacerbates inequality. 

The submission categorizes the Nordic Model as a form of collective violence. This violence remains enforced by various entities such as political majorities, pressure groups, and religious communities, thereby exerting social, political, and economic pressure on individuals engaged in sex work and those associated with them. Ultimately, the submission contends that the model perpetuates violence against sex workers and others associated with them. Violence is both a means and a goal of the Nordic model. Click here for the full submission.

SekswerkExpertise, Dutch Platform for the advancement of sex workers rights, and the Dutch CEDAW Network emphasise that international law does not view sex work as incompatible with human dignity, contrary to the suggestion of the Special Rapporteur, who refers to the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others. The 1949 Convention fails to distinguish between trafficking and sex work and considers any distinction based on the will or consent of the women involved irrelevant. A position that is unacceptable today. In contrast, the UN Trafficking Protocol makes a clear distinction between trafficking and sex work, taking the use of coercion, abuse, and deceit as the defining elements of trafficking.

In 2000, the Netherlands lifted the ban on brothel keeping; at the same time any use of violence, coercion or deceit became stricter penalised. This enabled the regulation of sex business under labour and administrative law and the treatment of sex work as labour, based on the idea that the principle of self-determination also applies to sex workers and that the right of women to physical and psychological integrity and to have control over their own bodies also gives them the right to choose sex work as a profession. Not prostitution as such, but violence and coercion need to be combated. Importantly, CEDAW has never deemed Dutch sex work policies a violation of its obligations under art. 

A growing body of evidence suggests that the criminalisation of sex work, including of clients, adversely affects the safety, health, and rights of sex workers, which affirms the importance of decriminalising adult consensual sex work. To safeguard sex workers from violence and other human rights abuses, sex work policies need to be rights-based and evidence-led. It is crucial to distinguish between sex work and trafficking, as well as to involve sex workers in policy development and evaluation. Click here for the full submission.

Sex og Politikk is the Norwegian member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF). They promote sexual reproductive health rights in Norway and abroad, drawing from different Norwegian perspectives, including the Prostitutes’ Interest Organization in Norway. The organization acknowledges that women, men, and non-binary people of all nationalities and ages participate in Norway’s sex trade. According to Pro-senteret, an organization in Oslo that provides assistance to those who have sold or exchanged sex, 25% of users were Norwegian, with Spain (16.6%), Romania (8.2%), Ukraine (5.9%), and Thailand (4.4%) following closely behind. Norway currently adheres to the “Nordic model,” which criminalizes the buyer but not the seller of sex. The provisions of the Criminal Code regulating sexual offenses are currently being reviewed, and in January 2023, the Criminal Code Council delivered their report to the government, NOU 2022:21. The Council recommended that § 316 be repealed, and that the purchase of sexual services be decriminalized. The proposal is mainly based on the right to sexual self-determination and the harm principle. Sex og Politikk stresses their view that adult sex workers are capable of giving and withdrawing consent, and there are various reasons why individuals choose to enter sex work.

The well-documented violence against sex workers is a pressing concern, with criminalization exacerbating their vulnerability to abuse. In Amnesty International’s 2016 study “The human cost of ‘crushing’ the market: Criminalization of sex work in Norway,” sex workers experienced threats and violence from a variety of perpetrators. New and unfamiliar male buyers of sex and/or buyers who were drunk often featured as abusers in the women’s testimonies.” In addition to client and bystander violence, the criminalization of buying sex also results in violations and a lack of protection for the human rights of sex workers.  Sex workers in Norway are denied the right to residency, security, equal treatment under the law, health, non-discrimination, and privacy, according to the previously mentioned report by Amnesty International. Sex og Politikk cites the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women’s guidance on preventing violence and discrimination against sex workers to support the full decriminalization of all aspects of sex work. The group uses evidence-based viewpoints, collaborative initiatives, and full decriminalization of all sex work to address the complex dynamics of sexual reproductive health rights in Norway and beyond. Click here for the complete submission.

TAMPEP, a European network founded in 1993, stands at the intersection of migrant advocacy and sex worker rights. The network has developed a tripartite human-rights approach centred on “the right to work, the right to health, and the right to move freely.” 

The organisation sheds light on the vulnerabilities faced by migrant women in the context of international migration, attributing the increase in migration to economic disparities and globalisation. They criticise narrow frameworks of “illegal immigration” and emphasise the integral role migrant women play in the labour market, who often turn to sex work as an alternative as a professional choice during the migration process, or due to lack of work permits, recognition of educational level, or language barriers. In some European countries, migrant workers comprise up to 70% of sex workers. 

TAMPEP supports the concept of a firewall—a clear separation between immigration enforcement and the provision of essential services. Putting the enforcement of immigration rules ahead of people’s fundamental rights prevents sex workers without regular status from accessing services, reporting crimes, and getting protection. Essential to the social and political inclusion of sex workers is the recognition of their needs and rights via an ongoing dialogue with sex workers – through sex worker-led organisations and non-judgemental service providers.

Some examples of such dialogue over the last decades have resulted in the establishment of health and social care support services, including protection programs for victims of trafficking, that work in partnership with sex workers to ensure their efficacy in responding to the reality of sex workers’ lives. Such interventions, to be successful, should be unaffiliated with any state authority and operate within an ethical framework of civil and human rights for all. Responding holistically to the needs of migrant sex workers is the most effective instrument against their exploitation and, therefore, against trafficking.

TAMPEP advocates for decriminalisation, arguing that such a shift would ensure safer working conditions and empower sex workers to assert their human rights. Punitive measures against sex workers, in particular against migrant and mobile sex workers, endanger the security and well-being of sex workers, compromise their health and working conditions, and precipitate more dependency and more exploitation. 

TAMPEP consistently promotes the visibility of migrant sex workers as a way to dismantle victimisation theories and to raise awareness of the daily circumstances of sex workers in Europe. It also addresses the conflation of sex work and trafficking in EU policy, urging policymakers to view migrant sex workers as part of labour migration rather than victims. The organisation calls for the separation of anti-trafficking laws from sex work and the active involvement of sex workers in policy development. In their advocacy, TAMPEP continues a 30-year commitment to recognising migrant sex workers as agents of social change. Click here for the full submission.

Amnesty International offers its support for states in addressing violence against women and girls, including victims of trafficking, while safeguarding the rights of sex workers. Discrimination and structural inequalities play a role in sex workers’ lives that expose them to heightened risks of violence due to the stigmatised and criminalised nature of their work. The conflation of sex work with trafficking poses additional challenges, as the anti-trafficking initiatives used to criminalise sex work lead to adverse human rights outcomes for sex workers and victims of trafficking alike.

Amnesty’s research underscores the global human rights violations against sex workers, and provides recommendations for safeguarding their rights. Recent Amnesty International research has also focused on the issue of violence against sex workers in Ireland and found that the criminalisation of aspects of sex work is forcing sex workers to take more risks as they avoid the police, putting their lives and safety in jeopardy. The research shows how the lack of trust in the police and social stigma reinforced by criminal law are key concerns for sex workers. The overwhelming majority of sex workers interviewed reported experiencing violence while engaging in sex work. Yet sex workers also reported being fearful of the police. Among the reasons given for preferring not to engage with the police when experiencing violence were a lack of trust and a belief that no action would be taken. In addition, sex workers expressed a fear of harassment or violence at the hands of the police, as well as their landlords being notified or targeted, which could lead to eviction and homelessness. The majority of the sex workers interviewed for the research wanted sex work fully decriminalised, including the purchase of sex. They also said that sharing premises with other sex workers helped to increase their safety and limited the potential risk of violence.

 Instances in the Dominican Republic also illustrate the dangers sex workers face due to criminalisation, resulting in increased risks, a lack of trust in law enforcement, and a fear of violence. Sex workers who face intersectional discrimination encounter even greater harms. Despite these human rights abuses potentially constituting gender-based torture under international law, states often fail to intervene. The voices of sex workers are routinely silenced but critically important to decision-making processes, as is the meaningful participation of survivors of trafficking. To effectively combat trafficking, Amnesty International recommends that states address stereotypes, clarify the distinction between sex work and trafficking, repeal criminalising laws and restrictive immigration policies, and ensure full protection under the law for sex workers. Click here to read the full submission.

On behalf of 46 researchers with expertise in law and policy reform across areas of gender, violence, public health, migration, mental health, and trafficking, Dr. Marlise Richter and Dr. Rebecca Walker question the framing and positioning of prostitution and violence in the Special Rapporteur’s Call for Input. Criticising the automatic equation of sex work with trafficking and violence, which portrays sex workers as inherent victims, the authors challenge the assumption that sex workers lack agency as they advocate instead for the terminology of “sex workers” and “sex work” over stigmatising language. They highlight the vulnerabilities faced by migrant sex workers due to criminalisation laws and discrimination, emphasising that criminalisation, rather than sex work itself, exposes individuals to various forms of violence, including exploitation and structural violence. In the context of greater vulnerabilities that include poverty and unemployment, sex work can remain a viable livelihood strategy for many individuals, including migrants. Criminalisation jeopardises these measures.
The conflation of sex work with trafficking particularly harms migrant sex workers when they find themselves targeted through anti-trafficking raids. By advocating for decriminalisation, the researcher collective argues for the removal of barriers to healthcare, challenges prejudicial attitudes, and promotes the safety and dignity of sex workers. They propose a model that distinguishes between sex work, exploitation, and mobility to better understand the overlap between each category, emphasising the importance of evidence-based approaches and meaningful involvement of sex workers in anti-trafficking programs. They conclude with recommendations to decriminalise all aspects of sex work, expunge criminal records related to sex work, develop clear conceptual tools to differentiate sex work from trafficking and implement evidence-based anti-trafficking programs in consultation with sex workers. Click here for the full submission.

The Count Me In! Consortium (CMI!), comprising eight feminist donors and movement building organisations, draws on its eight years of work with local partner organizations across numerous continents. It is crucial to use a rights-based vocabulary that rejects stigmatised terms around “prostitution” and instead employs terms such as “sex worker,” which emphasise that sexual work is not violent while highlighting the labour aspect of the occupation and the agency of the individual. Punitive and moralistic laws that lack clear differentiation between sex work and trafficking or exploitation lead to the infringement of fundamental rights of and adverse outcomes for sex workers and their communities. These laws make it more difficult to assist actual trafficking victims who urgently require assistance. Regional sex worker organisations have confirmed the dire consequence of criminalisation on sex workers, which exacerbates their existing challenges through confrontations with law enforcement, increased stigma, and difficulties accessing health care. 

By imposing criminal and punitive measures against sex work, authorities expose sex workers to threats of extortion, bribes, and other criminal charges. A Ugandan sex worker alliance noted that in situations of murder, the state authorities have been known to manipulate evidence. They note that cases of sex worker homicides often involve tampering with evidence and are exacerbated by a lack of public outcry. For instance, a sex worker organisation in Kenya noted: “criminalisation also leads to victim blaming and shaming. When sex workers are murdered or violated, we are asked why we do sex work instead of trying to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.” In response to the negative consequences of criminalisation, CMI! proposes multifaceted strategies that include the promotion of social dialogues between police, brothel owners, local leaders, and sex workers, support for community-led interventions such as hotlines and drop-in centres, and recognition of the intersectionalities within the sex worker community. The Consortium challenges laws that criminalise sex work and supports the empowerment of sex workers through education and familial support, skill development, and strategic planning for alternative livelihoods, if desired. Click here for the full submission.

CREA and the Global Health Justice Partnership of the Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health jointly submit a response to the Special Rapporteur. They collectively highlight the need for interventions to incorporate attention to the diversity of those in the sex sector, the need for accurate and careful analysis of relevant provisions and terms in international law, and the need for the development and  application of credible research, which in turn can be used in developing effective and rights-promoting legal frameworks for sex work. Integrated into the submissions and included as an appendix are interviews with sex worker collectives across Kenya, Bangladesh, and Uganda that record common forms of violence against sex workers, the impact of punitive laws, and exit options for sex workers, as well as the harms enabled by the conflation of sex work and trafficking. In addition, CREA and the Global Health Justice Partnership include, for reference, Global Rights’ annotated guide to the 2000 Palermo Protocol, which emphasizes the significance of a rights-based approach to trafficking in persons and offers a framework for understanding the Protocol’s objectives and obligations.

People of all types are involved in the sex trade and their experiences vary based on factors such as type(s) of sex work performed, gender, sexuality, race, place, and migration status. Using a rights-based approach, the Special Rapporteur is advised to pay attention to the diversity of persons impacted by the legal frameworks that regulate anti-trafficking interventions and the selling and buying of sex. Efforts fueled by stereotypes and misconceptions perpetuate abuse and injustice, so anti-trafficking interventions must consider the experiences of the full range of individuals engaged in the sex trades to avoid inadvertently perpetuating harm, including violence. Law enforcement practices such as raids and legislation, like the US created on-line crimes of  SETSA/FOSTA, increase sex workers’ exposure to coercion, arrest, and violence. 

The precise articulation of international law is critical in guiding state action to safeguard the rights of those in the sex sector. The Call for Input raises concerns regarding the selective and misleading citation of international authorities, which skews understanding and impedes the inclusion of vital data. This selectivity is exemplified by the unusual weight given to the 1949 Convention and the Palermo Protocol, which are both crime and migration control documents. Such an approach neglects evolutions in the broader human rights framework which have arisen over the last three decades. Human rights treaties such as the ICCPR, ICESCR, and CEDAW, alongside a nuanced intersectional analysis, can better inform efforts against discrimination and rights violations within the sex sector. This approach centers sex workers, including those who are intersex, trans, and gender fluid, as rights-bearers.

Finally, credible research, which requires clarity in methods, terms and claims of causality, must be used to inform the most effective and rights promoting responses. The submissions flag serious methodological flaws in many reports upon which  anti-trafficking efforts are based, including sampling bias and a strong reliance on anecdotal evidence (while primary and first hand testimony are an important source of evidence, and can generate individual redress, it is a kind of evidence that should be supplemented with more systemic research in seeking to identify trends and patterns from which to develop policy). The biased or less-than-rigorous research in turn leads to unreliable statistics and reinforces stereotypical narratives that are not supported by empirical research. Existing credible research on violence against people in the sex trade demonstrates that sex workers globally face violence that is rarely taken seriously. Submissions from around the world highlight how the criminalization of trading sex further amplifies sex workers’ poor working conditions, increases vulnerability, and exposes sex workers to violence. A wide range of more rigorous research challenges the efficacy of End Demand strategies and instead suggests that decriminalization and a rights-based approach are crucial in both combating trafficking and promoting the safety and rights of individuals engaged in the sex sector. Click here for the full submission. 

European Sex Workers Rights Alliance (ESWA) is a sex worker-led network that represents more than 111 organisations, over half of which are sex worker-led, that span across 30 countries in Europe and Central Asia. Sex worker voices are prioritised in ESWA’s organising. Excluded from society, sex workers’ voices are discredited, which results in policies that are made on behalf of them or behind their backs. ESWA finds the term “prostituted women” extremely disrespectful and disempowering, representative of the wider stigmatising language that sex workers face. Stereotypes of sex workers are created with no regard to what sex workers feel and think about themselves. We are concerned that the call treats the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (‘the 1949 Convention’) and the 2000 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime (‘the 2000 Trafficking Protocol’), as if they were identically authoritative sources of law, and as if they addressed prostitution law and sex work the same way. Rather, many have moved away from the 1949 Convention as it 1) does not take a human rights approach; 2) does not regard women as independent actors endowed with rights and reason; and 3) does very little to protect women from and provide remedies for human rights violations committed in the course of trafficking. ESWA notes their concern that the upcoming report may bring more confusion, instead of guidance and human rights standards.  

Sex workers do not consent to violence by virtue of their work, but the violence of criminalisation affects all who engage in sex work and causes increased risks by fostering punitive criminal responses. In November 2020, ESWA published community research ‘Undeserving victims?’ about migrant sex workers victims of crime. The report clearly reveals that there is a significant lack of implementation of the victims’ rights laws and international standards in practice, mainly by front-line police officers, and documented the impact of criminalisation of sex work on their ability to access justice. As a result of the prohibition of sex work, victims of human trafficking are neither identified nor protected, and community research has shown that sex workers who are migrants have very limited access to justice or services. However, community-led services lead to significant benefits for sex workers that allow them to address structural barriers to their rights. Sex workers must be included in policy-making, as both experts in their work and as anti-trafficking allies. ESWA rejects carceral feminist and simplistic approaches, such as client criminalisation, which foster violence against women, contribute to sigma, and create barriers to services. Sex workers rights defenders do important anti-trafficking work through relationship-building as they challenge imperialist, neocolonial, racist, patriarchal, and classist structures. Click here for the full submission.

The Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW) is an alliance of NGOs from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America whose members include migrant rights organisations, anti-trafficking organisations, and self-organised groups of migrant workers. They emphasise the distinction between sex work and human trafficking because conflating these concepts leads to harmful outcomes for sex workers. GAATW challenges the applicability of the outdated 1949 Convention, highlighting its incompatibility with the 2000 Trafficking Protocol and its rejection by the previous Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Girls. The organisation also critiques the misinterpretation of CEDAW’s General Recommendation No. 38, stressing that sex work is not considered a form of gender-based violence by CEDAW. 

There are violent consequences of conflating sex work and human trafficking and examples in Thailand, Canada, and India demonstrate the harms at the hands of state actors. In countries where laws and policies conflate sex work and human trafficking and/or criminalise sex work, sex workers and victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation are subjected to violent raids by the police, who carry out physical and sexual assaults, impose arbitrary and prolonged detention and subject women and girls to extortion. Such raids often fail to distinguish between sex workers and victims of trafficking, subjecting all women and girls to the same violent treatment. In Thailand, the greatest fear reported by sex workers is workplace raids by the police and anti-trafficking “raid and rescue” operations have been linked to frequent human rights violations, including physical violence and forced detention in government facilities. In Canada, migrant sex workers have reported multiple instances of violence at the hands of law enforcement in the context of “anti-trafficking” operations, including being strip-searched and physically and sexually assaulted. In India, many violent raids have been conducted by foreign NGOs and the police under the guise of anti-trafficking, which have subjected both sex workers and victims of trafficking to physical and sexual violence. There are also reports of police and NGOs committing sexual violence in the course of “sting” operations, posing as clients and then raping underage girls. State actors also carry out these raids of places of sex work in a sensationalist manner that is abusive and traumatic, particularly for victims of sexual exploitation who are identified in such raids. In Thailand, the publication of photographs of raids of sex work establishments in national news outlets is commonplace.  In India, images of underage girls have been publicly shared by the police in high-profile “raid and rescue” operations.

Policymakers perpetuate violence when they fail to decriminalise sex work. Decriminalisation of sex work is necessary to address labour rights violations, discrimination based on race and nationality, and obstacles faced by organisations that support trafficking victims. Concluding with recommendations, GAATW urges policymakers to decriminalise sex work, change their approach to human trafficking, and end the conflation of sex work and trafficking for more effective and rights-based responses. Sex worker organisations are well-positioned to advise in human-rights approaches to programming. Click here for the complete submission. 

The Global Network of Sex Projects (NSWP), with 394 member organisations across 105 countries, works to uphold the voice of sex workers globally. While terms like “prostituted women” assume that all women who sell sexual services are victims lacking agency, “sex worker” acknowledges the diversity of individuals who sell consensual sexual services. Under regimes of criminalisation, the rights of sex workers are violated without consequence as sex workers face violence from both state and non-state actors. In addition to facing stigma and social rejection as “criminals,” sex workers also confront difficulties accessing health, labor, economic, and justice services. A study from researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that criminalisation and repressive policing of sex work, including in countries with the ‘Nordic Model’, is linked to increased risk of violence, HIV and sexually transmitted infections. The research showed that criminalisation of the clients in Sweden and Canada did not improve sex workers’ safety or access to services. In France, where Nordic model policies were introduced in 2016, the police continue to target sex workers for arrest and there are regular police campaigns designed to ‘clean up’ areas of public sex work in France. Sex workers are now working in more remote areas to avoid police attention, which has increased their vulnerability to violence. 

Research has shown that ‘End Demand’ models have not reduced sex work or trafficking. Instead, sex workers have reported that ‘End Demand’ models have increased their vulnerability to violence and police harassment, perpetuated stigma and discrimination, and reduced their access to health, labour rights, financial services, and housing. In sum, the “Nordic model” encourages the repressive policing of sex work without reducing sex work or trafficking. Criminalisation frameworks contribute to a lack of justice, especially as sex workers encounter routine violence from law enforcement. The NSWP draws attention to the inadequacy of the 1949 Convention in its assumption of all sex work as trafficking. In addition to advocating for full decriminalisation, the network recommends support and funding for community-led interventions like the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) Self-Regulatory Board (SRB) model. DMSC’s Self-Regulatory Board (SRB) model is a successful community-led intervention to combat trafficking, helping to identify whether someone is involved in sex work by choice or coercion. The SRB model comprises members across the Department of Health, Labour and Social Welfare, medical practitioners, lawyers, social workers and sex workers. The NSWP’s call for the decriminalisation of sex work is supported by a wealth of evidence that demonstrates reduced violence and improved health outcomes among sex workers under decriminalised models. Click here for the full submission.

 Human Rights Watch has conducted research on sex work around the world, including in Cambodia, China, Greece, South Africa, Spain, Tanzania, and the United States. This research included extensive consultations with sex workers, sex worker rights defenders, anti-trafficking organisations, and other experts. It shaped the HRW policy on sex work, including the language used to speak about sex work, trafficking for sexual exploitation, and consent.

HRW supports the full decriminalisation of consensual adult sex work. In more than a decade of investigations into the subject, in countries with different political and socio-economic realities, the fundamental findings have not changed. Criminalisation, including “partial criminalisation,” discussed below, has been repeatedly proven to increase violence, discrimination, and sexual assault while having no demonstrable effect on the eradication of trafficking. It consistently puts already marginalised communities at further risk of violence and discrimination, and the use of criminal law to regulate women’s bodies is not an effective tool for their protection.

This submission focuses on the following themes:

  • The need for accuracy and respect when speaking and writing about sex workers and survivors of trafficking into sexual exploitation;
  • The causal relationship between violence against women and criminalisation;
  • The ways in which stigmatising, dehumanising language exacerbates and normalises violence against women;
  • Legislative frameworks and the prevention of violence against women;
  • Obstacles faced by organisations and service providers;
  • The ability of sex workers to give and withdraw consent. 

Click here to read the full submission.  

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) promotes and protects human rights through the Rule of Law, by using its unique legal expertise to develop and strengthen national and international justice systems. In its submission, the ICJ challenges the conflation of “non-coerced prostitution” (i.e., sex work), the “exploitation of prostitution” and “trafficking in persons”. The submission points out that, while under international criminal law States are obliged to criminalise trafficking in persons, there is no such a corresponding obligation under any branch of contemporary international law with respect to the criminalisation of “prostitution” per se. Referencing the CEDAW Convention and Palermo Protocol, the submission notes that these instruments expressly avoid repeating the claim that “prostitution is incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” or imposing an obligation on States to criminalise “prostitution” per se. 

The submission observes that, while the Special Rapporteur’s mandate is limited in focus to all women and girls, in the ICJ’s opinion it includes a diversity of women. The submission calls attention to the fact that certain individuals and groups, particularly “women and girls living in rural and remote areas, indigenous and ethnic minority communities, those with disabilities, with an irregular migration status, as well as those who are displaced, stateless or at risk of statelessness, refugees, asylum-seekers (including those whose claims have been rejected), living in or coming from conflict or post-conflict settings; and, for girls, without care or in alternative care,” are disproportionately impacted by the criminalisation of certain conducts associated with prostitution.

The ICJ submission scrutinises inconsistencies in the CEDAW Committee’s interpretations of Article 6 and cautions against conflating consensual sex work with trafficking. In advocating for a non-discriminatory approach that rejects the arbitrary criminalisation of sex work, the ICJ underscores the importance of The March 8 Principles. Instruments like the 1949 Convention and the Palermo Protocol should not be privileged over international human rights law.

Examining Lesotho’s legal framework, the ICJ points out gaps hindering effective responses to violence against women sex workers. With respect to South Africa, the ICJ commends proposed legislative changes as they emphasise the importance of adopting legal frameworks that work to eliminate gender-based violence. In this context, the ICJ welcomed South Africa’s introduction of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Bill in 2022, which marks a significant departure from historical legislation that criminalised sex work. The bill adopts a two-step approach starting with the decriminalisation of the sale and purchase of adult sexual services, with appropriate regulation to follow at a later stage, recognising the human rights of sex workers by removing the criminal sanctions that have left them unprotected and exposed them to a risk of abuse. There is already legislation that directly addresses human trafficking in South Africa but in the absence of a regulatory framework for sex work, and the absence of decriminalisation, it becomes difficult to identify and address suspected cases of human trafficking in sex work. Click to read the complete submission

The International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) addresses the framing of the Special Rapporteur’s call for submissions by explaining the difference between sex work and trafficking, the former of which occurs between consenting adults while the latter is involuntary and compelled through threat of force. The IPPF follows a human rights approach by engaging with those directly affected and recommends that the Special Rapporteur do the same by consulting sex worker organisations. In light of these concerns, the organisation provides input on the root causes of violence against sex workers and highlights institutional violence, stigma, and discrimination related to housing, banking, and child custody. Overwhelmingly, the most extensive human rights violations and abuses that sex worker-led organisations and IPPF Member Associations report affecting sex workers are institutional violence and discrimination, in particular, by law enforcement officers. Criminalisation fosters a climate of impunity for perpetrators of violence, as sex workers must work clandestinely and may not report abuse due to fears of legal repercussions. Sex workers whose rights are violated by the police and the judicial system often have no legal recourse at all. Sex worker human rights defenders can face reprisals for defending the rights of sex workers and forming sex worker-led organisations and unions. 

Sex workers face discrimination, inter alia when accessing housing, financial services (such as having a bank account) and in regards to child custody. Additionally, sex workers’ families, in particular their children, are stigmatised, face discrimination, and institutional violence, such as the removal of children from their parents’ custody. Even where sex work is considered only an administrative offence in local legislation, such as via ordinances concerning ‘public order,’ sex workers are still targeted. In these situations, sex workers are subjected to harassment, extortion, illegal detainment, and violence perpetrated by police and other law enforcement officials on the basis of these local regulations. These barriers are exacerbated for sex workers facing intersecting forms of marginalisation, including gender non-conforming and transgender sex workers, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) sex workers, sex workers with disabilities, sex workers who use drugs, migrant sex workers, sex workers living in poverty and those living with HIV. This is because sex work, like any other type of work, is affected by systemic inequalities, including gender inequality.

Sex workers’ health and safety are also jeopardized by criminalisation, increasing their risk of HIV, STIs, and sexual and physical violence. Police may confiscate condoms, safe sex information and medications, and use them in courts as evidence. Punitive policies relating to HIV and STI exposure, non-disclosure, and transmission deter sex workers from seeking testing, treatment and care for fear of legal consequences. Criminalisation also poses challenges for outreach, hampering sex workers’ access to health services. Health care providers in general, and sex worker peer health care providers in particular, face policing and other reprisals when conducting outreach to communities of sex workers. 

While consent must be understood in the context of power dynamics, adult sex workers’ decisions to consent to their work must be respected. All choices and decisions, including those regarding choice of livelihood, are influenced by the social context and power dynamics in which one makes them, including the contexts of capitalism, patriarchy, gender inequality, and institutionalised forms of discrimination based on age, gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, migration status, health status, education, disability and more. Historically, sex work has been treated differently from other areas of life in which adults make decisions, because it has been stigmatised as a moral transgression as a result of patriarchal norms and purity culture. 

IPPF argues against the criminalisation of sex work as it negatively effects sex worker health, safety, and human rights. They advocate for the decriminalisation of sex work, citing positive outcomes in New Zealand and New South Wales. IPPF encourages the recognition of sex work as legitimate labour to allow for improved working conditions and access to employment benefits. Any legislative approach to sex work should address the structural inequalities sex workers face while involving them directly in discussion of their rights. Sex worker-led organisations have already established principles for the meaningful involvement of sex workers and tools for assessing progress, and it is imperative to implement these principles and tools. Click here to read the complete submission

PICUM supports human rights and social justice through a network of 158 organizations that work with undocumented migrants in 31 countries. Prostitution and trafficking are different; to treat sex work as human trafficking hurts both efforts to reduce human trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation, but also the human rights and safety of migrant workers, especially those who are undocumented. Adults engage in consensual sexual services for diverse reasons. Regardless of the reasons for engaging in sex work, people have agency and recognising sex workers’ agency and consent is essential for their safety and access to protection and remedy for harm. When working as sex workers, undocumented migrants are placed in a doubly precarious situation vis-à-vis state authorities, facing additional discrimination and violence due to stigma and prejudice against sex work, and multiple layers of criminalisation due to their residence status and work.

Since the 1999 Swedish Sex Purchase Act, laws that criminalize the buying and organization of sex have forced sex workers to operate in ways that compromise their safety, health, working conditions, and access to justice, with no demonstrable impact on human trafficking. For example, street-based sex workers have to work in more isolated areas and to reduce the time spent conducting safety screenings of clients in order to avoid identification by law enforcement. Violence is more prevalent in these conditions. In practice, enforcement actions against sex workers, buyers or organisers frequently lead to migrant sex workers being deprived of their earnings, and undocumented migrant sex workers being arrested, detained and deported. For example, since client criminalisation was introduced in France, Chinese sex workers have been specifically targeted by police for harassment, including more-than-daily identity checks by the same officers, destruction of documents, photographing and threats, as well as immigration enforcement actions leading to their detention. Migrant sex workers have lost income and face increasing vulnerability and rates of poverty. Also in countries where sex work is not a criminal offence, it can expose migrant workers to deportation. For example, in the Swedish and Finnish Aliens Acts, a suspicion of selling of sex, or in the Swedish case, the assumption that he or she will not support himself or herself “by honest means”, is grounds for deportation and denial of entry, even if the person would be in the country regularly or would have otherwise the right to travel to the country. Laws and policies that criminalise sex workers or third parties for renting premises for the purpose of sex work add another layer of exclusion from the rental housing market.

PICUM recommends to remove all criminal and administrative prohibitions and penalties on sex work related to sex workers, clients and non-exploitative third parties; ensure migrant sex workers have safe and equal access to health, housing, decent work and justice, including labour and workplace protections, regardless of their status; implement criminal laws in a way that is victim-centred; develop migration pathways which promote rights and autonomy; and involve migrant and sex-worked led and supporting organisations in all stages of policy processes. Click here for the full submission.

The Sex Workers’ Rights Advocacy Network (SWAN) is a sex worker-led regional network in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia that unites 27 member organisations across 20 countries in its advocacy for the human rights of gender-diverse sex workers. It is of crucial importance that sex workers’ lived experience and group expertise be consulted regarding discussions of their work. Promoting respectful and inclusive language can be a tool for defending the human rights of sex workers, who prefer the designation “sex worker” over “prostitute.” To mark sex workers as victims who face inherent violence in their work rejects their agency while concealing the very real instances of violence they actually do face. Sex workers need not be subjected to “victim narratives” in order to claim their rights. Criminalisation, stigma, and discrimination are the key factors that make sex workers, and especially migrant sex workers, vulnerable to violence. These vulnerabilities are only exacerbated as sex workers struggle to access justice without labour rights and the conflation between sex work and trafficking continues. SWAN notes, in addition, that the primary argument against criminalisation – of clients, third parties or sex workers themselves – is that it exposes sex workers to higher levels of violence, stigma and exploitation, and this remains true however you choose to see them – as agents, victims, criminals, or as complex individuals.

In Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, incidents of violence and human rights violations against sex workers are very high, and well documented by numerous civil society organisations and academic institutions. Sex workers’ organisations and networks invest serious attention to document the factors which allow violence against sex workers to continue with impunity. All evidence shows that sex work is not inherently violent by its nature, but criminalisation, stigma and discrimination against sex workers are the key driving factors which make sex workers especially vulnerable to violence. Community-led research conducted by SWAN in 2015 (covering 16 countries and 320 respondents) explains how the laws and by-laws that criminalise or penalise sex work enable human rights violations against sex workers on a very large scale, by providing license for police to control and punish sex workers. Our ongoing work shows that in terms of the context for violence, the perpetrators and their impunity, and the complete lack of possibilities for legal redress, to date, the reality has not changed, and violence by state and non-state actors permeates in the CEECA region and beyond.

SWAN advocates for analysing sex work through a labour rights framework. This is especially important given that sex work is often part of the informal economy making sex workers, especially migrant workers, particularly vulnerable to labour exploitation. They further call for the inclusion of sex workers voices, respectful terminology, and the condemnation of laws and policies that criminalise sex work. Click here for the full submission.

The Sex, Work, Law and Society Collaborative Research Network (CRN6) within the Law and Society Association addresses the adverse effects of legislative frameworks that criminalise sex work, particularly those that criminalise clients (the “End Demand” model). Drawing on reports from the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women and Girls and UNAIDS, CRN6 emphasises how criminalising clients negatively impacts sex workers’ safety, health, and ability to refuse abusive clients, ultimately perpetuating violence and income insecurity. Studies comparing legislative contexts in Melbourne, Australia and Vancouver, Canada, as well as the United States and United Kingdom, demonstrate how anti-prostitution ideologies linked to client criminalisation lead to abusive behaviours from clients and hinder sex workers’ ability to report exploitation. 

Moreover, there is extensive evidence that demonstrates how violence perpetrated by law enforcement against sex workers under ‘end demand’ approaches increases the vulnerability of sex workers and their reluctance to engage with law enforcement. By framing sex workers as victims rather than workers, these approaches contribute to stigmatisation and erasure of sex workers’ voices, as highlighted by critiques from sex worker rights movements. CRN6 urges the Special Rapporteur to recognise the normalisation of violence against sex workers under the anti-prostitution framework and advocate for the full decriminalisation of sex work instead, which would align with the calls of various UN officials and bodies to reduce violence against sex workers. Click here for the full submission.

The Alliance raises concerns regarding the biased nature of the Special Rapporteur’s questionnaire, which can hinder protagonists from freely expressing themselves without being ensnared in prejudiced discourse. Notably, there exists a prevalent misconception conflating sex work with trafficking, leading to the marginalisation and exposure of sex workers to violence amidst anti-trafficking endeavours. Yet sex workers rarely file complaints about such violence, fearing retaliation due to the criminalisation of their work. Upholding the rights of all people involved, though, as outlined by the ILO Convention 29 and the Forced Labour Protocol, necessitates that a clear distinction be made between consensual adult sex work and human trafficking. 

The dynamics of consent within both sexual and employment realms are embedded within power structures influenced by patriarchy, capitalism, and intersecting forms of discrimination. Historically, sex workers have suffered stigmatisation due to patriarchal norms, despite the movement’s alignment with labour rights. Gender inequalities perpetuated by capitalism exacerbate the challenges faced by women sex workers, who endure discrimination, violence, and legal oppression. Discrimination infringes on the rights of sex workers, but decriminalisation emerges as a crucial step, as evidenced by positive outcomes in New Zealand and New South Wales, towards enhancing health, safety, and access to justice for sex workers.

UN-led reports must employ human rights protection mechanisms by authentically engaging sex workers and their organisations, centering their experiences and proposals to address violence. Inclusive language reflecting diverse experiences and concerted efforts to combat stigma and discrimination are paramount. Recognising sex workers’ agency in decisions concerning their bodies and work is also crucial, as is moving away from paternalism towards the empowerment of sex workers themselves. Read the complete submission in English and in Spanish

The Best Practices Policy Project (BPPP) is a trans and sex worker-led organisation committed to supporting groups and advocates of sex workers in the US, as well as globally via partnerships. In every decision, they are guided by human rights principles. BPPP opposes the criminalisation of sex work, emphasising its marginalisation and stigmatisation, which denies sex workers’ agency and obstructs access to state-sponsored safety measures. Sex workers have formed informal and effective infrastructures that foster mutual aid, public education, and care networks, but the lack of legal recognition for sex work in the U.S. leads to violations of economic rights and survival. In the United States, full-service sex work is criminalised with the exception of certain counties in Nevada where it is not decriminalized but legalised. This means that full-service sex workers may work legally only under limited circumstances. BPPP maintains that sex workers are constrained by the choices afforded in a patriarchal, sexist and deeply prejudiced society. This is no different from women or persons of the global majority that must labour under policies that seek to undermine their best interest. The work conditions experienced by sex workers, like workers in any other kind of informal work sector, are threatened by these characteristics of white supremacy. Any attempt to represent sex work as inherently dangerous or inherently exploitive ignores the global history of sex work as a vocation. Sex workers’ experiences are a reflection of social attitudes around sexuality and gender and cannot be remedied by the attempted erasure of sex worker voices.

Sex workers, representing all genders, including but not limited to transgender women, cis women, and non-binary people, face mass rights violations under the “end-demand model,” disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) and gender diverse sex workers. Sex work is a means of ensuring economic survival and comfort for community members and our families under various constraints. Given this, sex workers hail from all socio-economic backgrounds and engage in the work for myriad reasons. Sex workers represent all genders, including, but not limited to, transgender women, people identifying as gender non-binary and cisgender women. As economic disruption due to volatile markets, right to work policies, and public health crises take place, sex work is a means to secure stability.

Violence against sex workers is sanctioned by the State and enabled by federal economic policies and criminal laws, perpetuating systemic discrimination. Assumptions promulgated by anti sex work advocates that sex work is coerced is an attempt to silence sex workers, short-circuiting discussions about consent. BPPP advocates for the global full decriminalisation of sex work and the recognition of sex work as legitimate work. Prioritising the voices of sex workers in advocacy efforts, BPPP recommends an intersectional approach to policy shifts and specifically calls for the inclusion of sex workers, including trans women, in policy conversations to prevent violence at the hands of state actors. Furthermore, any policy

recommendations by the Special Rapporteur must be informed by the wide range of experiences faced by trans women and girls as well as cis women and girls. Finally, BPPP calls on the Special Rapporteur to call on policy makers to advocate against government sanctioned violence against Trans women and girls. This includes medical violence, physical violence at the hands of state actors, and exclusion for necessary and life-saving services. Click here for the full submission

Raising their voices in condemnation of all forms of exploitation, coercion, trafficking, and violence against all persons, a collective of women, feminists, activists, and sex workers in Mexico and Colombia emphasise the necessity for sex workers everywhere to claim their fundamental rights. Ruling 112/2013 in Mexico City clearly distinguishes sex work from human trafficking, which may involve capturing, transporting, and harbouring. Sex workers globally face discrimination and regular violation of their human rights, with polarised views limiting the effectiveness of sex workers’ rights movements. Detailed studies reveal alarming statistics, showing that women sex workers experience heightened workplace violence. Migrant women facing additional stigma and social exclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated economic precarity, compelling some to continue working under precarious conditions for minimum wages that fail to provide for their basic living expenses. A qualitative study from nine Latin American countries shows that 60% of sex workers run a household. For many, sex work is an economic necessity. 

Public officials are often complicit in perpetrating violence against sex workers. The collective criticises punitive laws disguised as human trafficking prevention, which further marginalise and endanger sex workers. Drawing from New Zealand’s experience and reform proposals in Colombia, the group advocates for policies grounded in rights, including those of young girls, boys, and children who are subjected to sexual exploitation. Laws that criminalise sex work drive the industry underground. With 40% of the victims of human trafficking under the age of 14, drastic measures must be taken. To combat sexual exploitation, these laws must be repealed. The collective calls for inclusive language, fighting stigma and discrimination, meaningful involvement of sex workers in policy formulation, access to education, housing, and healthcare, the prevention of human trafficking, and the creation of supportive social conditions. The primary intervention for addressing human trafficking involves engaging sex workers themselves, who can intervene, raise awareness, and help others avoid victimisation and criminalisation. It is crucial to advocate for equal rights for sex workers, dignified working conditions, and a fundamental rights-based approach to eradicate violence and exploitation in the sex work industry. Click here for the full submission in English and in Spanish

The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform, comprised of 23 sex worker rights member groups led predominantly by and for sex workers. They advocate for policies about sex work shaped by those most impacted, aiming to effectively reduce violence, labour exploitation, discrimination, and abuse experienced by sex workers. Highlighting that sex work itself is not violence, the alliance emphasises the structural and systemic context exacerbating vulnerabilities to violence within the sex industry. Sex workers face various forms of violence, including institutionalised state violence, targeted violence, intimate partner violence, economic violence, and psychological violence, disproportionately affecting Indigenous, Black, migrant, and/or trans sex workers. Criminalisation, including partial measures, increases the risk and danger for sex workers, especially the most marginalised.

Research shows that criminalisation regimes underpin perilous conditions for sex workers, limiting their ability to access protection if subjected to violence, theft, and harassment as well as increasing the likelihood of violations by both law enforcement and clients.The illegality of sex work in Canada isolates sex workers to situations where we are unable to access protection if subjected to violence, theft, and harassment. Despite this, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in R v. Barton that courts should “dispel a number of troubling stereotypical assumptions about Indigenous women who perform sex work, including that such persons: are not entitled to the same protections the criminal justice system promises other Canadians; are not deserving of respect, humanity, and dignity; are sexual objects for male gratification; need not give consent to sexual activity and are “available for the taking”; assume the risk of any harm that befalls them because they engage in a dangerous form of work; and are less credible than other people.”

 Sex workers operating in all locations are unable to communicate with clients making it more difficult for sex workers to implement safety measures. When clients are criminalised, sex workers attempt to alleviate clients’ fears of arrest, which often involves reducing our safety measures. Personal relationships are often captured by third-party criminal provisions and intimate relationships are often read by law enforcement as inherently exploitative. Sex workers seeking help for domestic violence are often confronted with police officers and prosecutors more interested in “exiting” sex workers and arresting our partners as “pimps” rather than hearing our reports about intimate partner violence. When seeking assistance from community-based services, such as IPV shelters, sex workers are often rejected on the basis that our relationships are not legitimate. This approach not only harms sex workers, it also deprives all women of nuanced analyses about financial and work-related elements of abuse, power dynamics, stigma, and how abusers target their victims.

The organisation urges the immediate repeal of sex work-specific criminal laws, the removal of immigration regulations restricting migrant sex work, an end to law enforcement violence, and the funding of programs developed by sex workers themselves. In alignment with numerous international agencies, the Canadian Alliance staunchly supports total decriminalisation of sex work as the most promising solution to address the pervasive violence faced by sex workers. Click here for the full submission.

 A coalition of Latin American organisations dedicated to preventing human trafficking and advocating for the rights of sex workers collectively emphasises the importance of terminology, preferring “sex workers” over “prostitutes” to counter derogatory connotations and safeguard labour rights. Legal landscapes across Latin America vary widely, with Brazil and Colombia adopting nuanced approaches to sex work, while Ecuador maintains a controlled but not legalised stance. Mexico, especially in CDMX (Mexico City) and Merida, has formally acknowledged sex work through specific decrees, emphasising individual agency and labour rights. However, the pervasive conflation of sex work with human trafficking across many regions exacerbates violence and exploitation against sex workers.

Violence against women in the sex trade involves a complex interplay of state actors, law enforcement, and criminal elements. In Mexico, a study by Brigada Callejera reveals widespread gender violence perpetrated by public officials, reflecting systemic issues. The conflation of sex work with trafficking perpetuates persecution and undermines meaningful consent, which underscores the imperative for legal reforms and comprehensive support mechanisms. Frontline organisations encounter obstacles in aiding victims, which highlights the pivotal role sex workers can play as advocates and experts in combating trafficking and championing their rights. The collective’s recommendations include decriminalising sex work, improving police training, and fostering dialogue to uphold human rights and ensure justice for marginalised communities. Read the full submission here in English and in Spanish

Desiree Alliance is a coalition uniting current and former sex workers in the United States that seeks to deepen insights into sexual policies and the multifaceted impacts of criminalising sex work on human, social, and political realms. Prioritising sex workers’ human, health, labour, and civil rights, Desiree Alliance is grounded in principles of equity, equality, empowerment, and agency. Responding to the Special Rapporteur’s guidelines on human trafficking, Desiree Alliance sharply criticises the language as intentionally manipulative, leaving no room for sex worker rights organisations to shape global policies effectively. They argue that the guidelines fail to address the complexities of human trafficking’s root causes, offering impractical solutions such as increased policing and hyper-criminalisation. Desiree Alliance advocates for clear distinctions between consensual sex work and trafficking and recommends seeking clarifications that involve the input of those engaged in sex work and those who have experienced trafficking.

Furthermore, Desiree Alliance stresses the detrimental impact of anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, which perpetuate misinformation and lead to state-sanctioned violence, over-policing, and stigmatisation against sex workers. They call for an examination of the methods and motives behind sex trafficking laws enacted in the United States, highlighting the counterproductive nature of criminalising consensual sex workers under the guise of anti-trafficking efforts. Collateral consequences, such as hindering employment opportunities and accommodation, are noted as issues that need addressing. Desiree Alliance urges a critical evaluation of the gaps between funding and resources in the United States, emphasising the importance of robust support systems to assist individuals leaving sex work and trauma-induced environments. Specifically, the Desiree Alliance calls for written clarification to distinguish between consensual sex work and sex trafficking. Click here for the complete submission.

For more than thirty years, the HIV Legal Network has been a staunch advocate for the human rights of individuals living with HIV or AIDS, and others disproportionately impacted by HIV, by challenging punitive laws, policies, and criminalization. The organization emphasizes the need to center the perspectives of sex workers when considering the relationship between sex work and violence against women. Furthermore, it urges the acknowledgment of extensive empirical evidence highlighting the detrimental effects of criminalization on sex workers. Although sex work is not inherently violent, laws and policies that force sex workers into isolation and discourage reporting of violence make them more vulnerable to targeted physical and sexual abuse. 

In Canada, where the purchase of sexual services, materially benefiting from, procuring, advertising, and publicly communicating to sell sexual services are prohibited, research has shown that merely 16.5% of sex workers who had experienced violence at work over the past 12 months reported an incident to police — while rates are lower for Indigenous, Black, migrant, and trans sex workers. Rates of police reporting are similarly low in other jurisdictions where sex work or related activities are criminalized. In the context of criminalization, the police are perceived as potential threats to a sex worker’s livelihood, intimate partner, liberty, and well-being — resulting in a culture of impunity towards violence against sex workers, particularly the most marginal. When women in sex work are subject to intimate partner violence, they are often reluctant to report such violence because it would draw the attention of law enforcement. This can lead to domestic violence without recourse, where abusive partners take advantage of the criminalization of sex work by threatening to ‘out’ a woman as a sex worker or report her workplace. This danger is particularly acute where sex workers fear losing their children, who face profound psychological violence as a result.

For people who face structural inequalities related to gender, race, class, barriers to other labour markets, and discriminatory immigration policies, the money, stability, and autonomy earned through sex work is important. Sex workers exercise agency and the ability to meaningfully consent to sex even under conditions of economic constraint and limited options. Approaches such as the “end-demand” model, which involve the criminalization of clients and third parties, increase the vulnerability of sex workers by hindering communication and negotiation. As of 2023, the UN Working Group on discrimination against women contends that this form of criminalization leads to violations of sex workers’ rights to private life, housing, and non-discrimination. The pervasive violence against women who sell or trade sex is largely attributed to punitive laws criminalizing sex work. The conflation of sex work and different forms of violence against women, perpetuated by these laws, amplifies the risks faced by sex workers, particularly those in marginalized communities. Conversely, research on decriminalization in New Zealand demonstrates that sex workers experience increased safety compared to criminalization frameworks. The Special Rapporteur is encouraged to advocate for similar approaches. Click here for the complete submission

Living in Community (LIC), a non-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada, centres on the rights of sex workers by engaging diverse stakeholders to inform policy and practices. By addressing root causes such as colonization, capitalism, and discrimination, LIC seeks to enhance understanding and collaboration within the community. LIC emphasizes that sex work is not inherently violent but is rendered more vulnerable to harm due to criminalization and stigma. It’s crucial to differentiate between certain job-related vulnerabilities and condemning an entire industry as inherently harmful. Safety measures and regulations can ensure worker protection in sex work, much like they do in other professions. Aligning itself with international human rights and legal organizations, LIC advocates for decriminalization to afford sex workers the same rights and protections as other workers. In Canada, the criminalization of sex work under the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act has led to adverse outcomes, including increased violence, reduced safety measures, and distrust of law enforcement among sex workers. Despite laws targeting clients rather than sex workers directly, law enforcement often surveils and harasses sex workers, particularly Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour sex workers. 

The distinction between sex work and human trafficking is crucial to avoid harming sex workers. Law enforcement efforts focused on detecting trafficking within the sex industry can drive sex work underground, increasing vulnerability to violence and exploitation. Conflating sex work with trafficking diverts resources from addressing more widespread forms of labor trafficking and undermines efforts to support and protect sex workers. Indigenous women engaged in sex work are often mislabeled as trafficking victims, which overlooks the systemic issues of poverty and historical oppression that contribute to their involvement in the sex trade. Immigrant and migrant women engaging in sex work face assumptions of trafficking, often rooted in racist stereotypes, and encounter significant barriers due to criminalization based on their immigration status, with Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) prohibiting certain temporary residents from working in the sex industry since 2012. 

There is a crucial need for supportive programs and services designed in collaboration with individuals with lived experience in the sex industry, in addition to sustained funding to promote safety and security within these communities. LIC urges a shift from punitive measures to evidence-based reforms targeting poverty, homelessness, domestic violence, racism, and drug policy to address the systemic issues faced by sex workers and improve their safety and well-being. By dispelling myths and advocating for policy reform, LIC seeks to empower sex workers and enhance their access to justice and essential services. Click here to see the full submission

The National Survivor Network (NSN) was launched in 2011 as a United States values-based, survivor-led professional membership network that prioritises those with lived experiences of human trafficking as leaders in the movements to address human trafficking. Our members include migrants, US citizens, survivors of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women crisis, two-spirit and LGBTQ individuals, and people with diverse disabilities and chronic illnesses, some of which emerged from our trafficking. Our members work for local and state anti-trafficking programs as direct service providers, are consultants to organisations nationwide, or work at the national level as leaders, employees, and consultants. Many of us run full-time networks, empowering other survivors in their healing and/or work. The NSN’s diverse membership makes it uniquely representative of the myriad of situations experienced by survivors of human trafficking.

Rejecting the partial criminalisation of sex work, the NSN highlights the politically motivated misrepresentation of trafficking survivors’ traumatic experiences within an ideological, anti-sex work framework. Those who oppose sex work have intentionally misrepresented those who oppose partial criminalisation as pro-sex work, pro-trafficker, or pro-pimp. In fact, many actual survivors of human trafficking within the sex trades have been accused of being “part of the pimp lobby,” “funded by big porn,” or “maybe a trafficker yourself” when they express what solutions they believe would be helpful. This is counter to a survivor-informed movement that values lived experience, whether these attacks come from individuals without lived experience or other survivors. The organisation acknowledges diverse perspectives within its survivor-informed movement, representing both those who do and do not find sex work exploitative while underscoring that individuals often turn to sex work due to limited alternatives. The network challenges the exclusive categorisation of all sex workers or trafficking survivors as “women and girls,” advocating for the recognition of people of all genders, including non-binary and trans individuals, involved in sex work.

The NSN opposes “end-demand” legislation based on research findings that show how partial criminalisation replicates the harms of full criminalisation. As a group, they emphasise the resultant harm of criminalisation through the increased policing of sex workers, their reduced bargaining power, and economic discrimination. Operating from a human rights framework, the NSN contends that criminal-legal structures fail to provide assistance, exacerbating shame and stigma around commercial sex. The network contends that people with firsthand knowledge of the commercial sex trade should guide policy decisions and that language should avoid reinforcing stereotypes against sex workers. Partnering with fellow sex worker safety organisations, the NSN champions anti-trafficking initiatives that prioritise the well-being of people in commercial sex, whether trafficked or consensual. The network actively endorses nonjudgmental environments for sex worker organising, aiming to empower individuals to identify and decide the most effective ways to address their needs. Click here to access the complete submission

Peers Victoria Resources Society is a grassroots organization that offers essential support to both current and former sex workers in Canada, founded by sex workers in 1995. Central to their advocacy is the insistence on direct consultations with sex workers, utilizing the term “sex worker” for its rights-based emphasis, rather than the prohibitionist term “prostitute.” The society emphasizes the multifaceted forms of violence that sex workers experience, including systemic violence through the criminalisation of their work, targeted violence that goes unreported, psychological violence through the stigmatization of their profession, and economic violence through housing and business restrictions. The criminal justice system exacerbates these harms, which particularly affect BIPOC, disabled, and 2SLGBTQAI+ sex workers. 

Recognising sex work as a legitimate occupation, Peers Victoria Resources Society emphasizes the necessity of labor rights and decriminalization to empower sex workers to make choices aligned with their lives. Unfortunately, current federal laws in Canada, such as the PCEPA and IRPR, increase the exploitation and precarity of sex workers. The society offers critical recommendations, urging the repeal of all sex work-specific criminal laws and bylaws, not only in Canada but also on an international scale. This comprehensive approach aligns with their commitment to address the nuanced challenges faced by sex workers and create meaningful, rights-focused change. Click here for the complete submission.

In their submission, members of PLAPERTS (Latin American Platform of Sex Workers) stress the importance of redefining language and approaches concerning sex work and its relationship to violence. They highlight the derogatory nature of the term “prostituted women” and advocate for using “sex workers” instead, as this terminology empowers individuals and acknowledges their human rights within the labour sector. PLAPERTS rejects the assumption that sex work inherently equates to violence against women, arguing that such perceptions stigmatise and victimise those involved in the profession while failing to consider broader contexts of exploitation and coercion present in all industries.

Migration and vulnerabilities worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic can contribute to “hidden” forms of sex work, which heighten risks of violence and exploitation for all sex workers, though particularly for LGBT persons, immigrants, drug users, and homeless people. Citing examples from Latin American countries like Ecuador and Peru, where pandemic responses resulted in the closure of legal sex work establishments, PLAPERTS explains how pushing workers underground exposes them to increased dangers. The members collectively emphasise the interconnected nature of issues such as xenophobia and the exploitation of minors, urging for approaches that tackle social inequalities and uphold human rights. State programs do little to assist people in finding employment, which leaves sex workers on their own to meet their needs.

PLAPERTS affirms the agency of sex workers as well as their diverse backgrounds and motivations, emphasising that sex work is performed voluntarily and of one’s free will. It is not sex work itself that is intrinsically violent, but the stigma and discrimination against sex workers that causes violence against them. Recommendations include reevaluating language usage, promoting cultures of respect and non-violence, avoiding the revictimisation of victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, and ensuring meaningful involvement of sex worker organisations in policy-making processes at both national and international levels. Find the full submission in English and in Spanish

Sex Workers and Survivors (SWSU), a human rights coalition, works to dismantle the damaging conflation of sex work and trafficking perpetuated by US law enforcement. This conflation leads to dire consequences for adult sex workers, subjecting them to stigmatisation, criminalisation, and a lack of legal protections that increase violence against them. US law enforcement’s largely unchecked power is illustrated with examples like qualified immunity for police officers, the Supreme Court of the United States’ decisions on cases like Egbert v. Boulé that largely revoked the right to sue border patrol agents. The systemic erosion of legal recourse and human rights protections for people in the US is alarming considering the disproportionately high number of law enforcement officers who commit domestic violence and sexual assault; as well as the number of border patrol (CBP), police, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents who are human traffickers.

The US routinely chooses not to follow evidence-based best practices and develop robust social safety nets. Poverty and homelessness are proven markers of vulnerability. But the US policies criminalise the most vulnerable people, create circumstances that perpetuate homelessness, uphold unbanking practices that leave victims unable to pay for their most basic needs and in some cases have led to death by unbanking, make resources for people with disabilities (people of determination).  Codified human rights abuses are further compounded by systemic racism in the US, the foster care to trafficking pipeline, and mass incarceration. These hidden forms of oppression in the US are deadly.

Unchecked law enforcement in the US exhibits alarming human rights violations and a persistent disregard for evidence-based practices. Systemic issues like racism, the foster care to trafficking pipeline, and mass incarceration constitute hidden forms of oppression with deadly consequences. A major barrier to preventing trafficking is the ongoing criminalisation of sex work, which fosters discrimination in crucial aspects of life. The US criminal legal system, ensnaring nearly 2 million people, perpetuates inhumane conditions, disability, and widespread barriers for those with criminal records. Further threats loom over reproductive rights, healthcare access, and abortion rights, particularly after the 2022 US Supreme Court ruling. Technology misuse, inaccurate data, and unbanking add layers of vulnerability for sex workers and trafficking survivors. The current punitive approach in the US proves ineffective, inducing unnecessary suffering, and a thorough investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) confirms that sex workers face an elevated risk of violence, even when law enforcement only targets clients. SWSU strongly advocates for decriminalising prostitution to prevent trafficking, emphasising the need to redirect resources towards community-based support for a safer, more cohesive, and non-violent society. Click here for the complete submission. 

Since 1972, the St. John’s Status of Women Council (SJSWC) in Canada has championed the rights of women and non-binary individuals through political activism and community collaboration. The council emphasises the need to distinguish between consensual sex work and sexual exploitation, condemning the latter unequivocally. Sex workers themselves serve as the primary experts guiding SJSWC’s initiatives. Paternalistic laws contribute to the stigma surrounding sex work and drive underground and expose workers to exploitation. Criminalising sex work not only hinders crime reporting, communication, and safety networks among sex workers but also jeopardises their future career options with criminal records. SJSWC asserts that the current sex work laws in Canada are unsafe and unconstitutional. The criminalisation of activities related to sex work in Canada puts people who engage in sex work at risk. The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits sex workers from slowing traffic and thereby prevents street-level sex workers from taking the time to assess and negotiate terms with their clients if they were to choose to get in a car. The Criminal Code of Canada also prohibits sex workers from working out of a stable location or hiring people to protect them. This criminalisation prevents communication between sex workers about which clients are good and safe and which clients have a history of enacting violence against sex workers. These laws create haste, and haste rarely allows a person to make a reasonable and informed decision about the clients they choose to work with. Additionally, the criminalisation of activities that surround sex work puts sex workers at risk of unnecessary arrests for small “inconveniences to the public” which leads to some sex workers carrying criminal records that can prevent them from choosing other careers in the future.

Public health experts endorse decriminalisation for improved safety and health outcomes among sex workers. SJSWC calls for the immediate repeal of all sex work-specific criminal laws, the elimination of immigration regulations prohibiting migrant sex work, an end to law enforcement actions against sex workers, and the redirection of resources to support programs and services developed by sex workers. Click for the complete submission

SWAN Vancouver Society of Vancouver, Canada is uniquely positioned to provide vital support to both im/migrant sex workers and victims of trafficking or exploitation. An intersectional perspective deeply informs their work, which takes into account the complex realities of women’s lives, including aspects like race, age, class, ability, immigration status, and occupation. Like numerous UN bodies, SWAN actively addresses the stigma associated with terms like “prostitute” by using more appropriate and respectful designations like “sex worker.” Importantly, they reject the notion that sex work is inherently exploitative and challenge the prevailing conflation of sex work with trafficking.

SWAN’s commitment extends to supporting individuals often misidentified as trafficking victims, emphasising the harm caused by pervasive misinformation. In the Canadian context, the prevailing assumption that im/migrant women in sex work are coerced or forced underscores the need for more informed perspectives. Much of the violence that sex workers experience is from law enforcement and the Canadian Border Services Agency. Challenges posed by the legal frameworks like the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (PCEPA) and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR) contribute to the multi-layered criminalisation experienced by im/migrant sex workers, which makes their advocacy all the more critical. SWAN recognises the harm caused by linking sex work to exploitation and rejects the “end-demand” model, characterising partial decriminalisation as a human rights violation that undermines sex workers’ access to justice. In a routine yet alarming pattern, sex workers, instead of receiving support, often encounter barriers to healthcare and violence at the hands of law enforcement. Prohibitive migration policies that prevent im/migrants from engaging in sex work only heighten their vulnerability. There is an urgent need for a human and labor rights approach to sex work. Click here for the full submission.

Comprising a diverse coalition of university and community-based researchers, The Critical Trafficking and Sex Work Studies Research Cluster in Canada conducts multidisciplinary research addressing sex worker advocacy, discrimination, and regulation. The collective’s research, developed in collaboration with sex workers, challenges the common conflation between sex work and trafficking. The research centre explicitly rejects the endorsement of the criminalisation of sex work, recognising its disproportionate impact on those already most marginalised.

The collective’s recommendations for the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women underscore the importance of reframing terminology to align with sex workers’ perspectives. In Canada, nobody under the age of 18 can legally consent to working in the commercial sex industry and should not be labelled “prostitutes.” The organisation advocates for clear distinctions between minors and adults, as well as between sexual exploitation and consensual sex work. Sex workers reject state-led raid and rescue models, emphasising the importance of alternative approaches that respect their autonomy and prioritise their well-being. International imperialist human sex trafficking campaigns that encourage the “raid, rescue, and rehabilitation” industry discount the fact that some people choose to work in the sex industry, or that, when all options are considered, it could be the best employment option to provide for themselves and their families.  

Emphasising sex worker-led models, the collective highlights that all genders engage in the sex trade, not exclusively women. Their research, which incorporates insights from Canadian and global studies alike, highlights the adverse effects of criminalisation and its resultant violent policing on migrant populations, especially trans and racialised individuals. The collective emphasises the autonomy of sex workers, recognising their capacity for informed consent in their profession. By incorporating these insights, the collective contributes to a nuanced understanding of sex work that challenges stereotypes and advocates for inclusive, rights-based policies. Click here for the full submission.

US PROStitutes Collective (US PROS), a multi-racial network of current and former sex workers in the United States, actively coordinates with the In Defense of Prostitute Women’s Safety Project (IDPWS) in San Francisco to combat violence against sex workers. Originating in New York City in 1980, US PROS has been instrumental in advocating for the decriminalisation of sex work, safeguarding sex workers’ rights, and supporting resources for those who want to leave prostitution. The organisation strongly asserts that criminalising prostitution harms sex workers and makes them more vulnerable to violence. US PROS collaborates with sex workers’ rights groups in the United States and internationally to address how criminalisation exacerbates violence and exploitation. US PROS highlights the disproportionate criminalisation of women of colour and trans sex workers, noting that 68% of prostitution arrests nationally involve individuals of colour. Challenging the conflation of sex work with trafficking, the organisation urges a policy shift to address poverty as a primary focus rather than resorting to the criminalisation of sex work. They emphasise the need for financial resources, particularly for mothers driven to sex work by rising poverty rates. For example, US PROS explains, the US Child Tax Credit of 2021 was significant in reducing child poverty. US PROS condemns the sexist and racist implementation of police operations against prostitution, citing discriminatory arrests of sex workers, especially women of colour. The organisation criticises the misuse of anti-trafficking laws, citing a 2021 report from UCLA Gould School of Law that reveals the limited impact of such operations on combating trafficking as well as their violent and traumatising nature. US PROS’ campaigns have contributed to legislative changes in California, such as the repeal of the discriminatory loitering for prostitution law known as “Walking While Trans Law.” US PROS calls for evidence-based, human rights-focused policies, challenging systemic injustices and emphasising the transformative impact of grassroots sex worker campaigns on legislation across the United States. Click here to read the full submission

The Yukon Status of Women Council (YSWC) in Canada defines itself as an “intersectional, decolonial feminist research non-governmental organisation” that provides a platform for women’s voices. YSWC operates at the intersection of gender justice issues and actively involves itself in governmental interactions, research, and actionable recommendations to amplify the voices of Yukon women. At the forefront of their initiatives is the Supporting Worker’s Autonomy Project Yukon (SWAPY), aimed at enhancing well-being for individuals working in the Yukon’s sex industry. YSWC strongly advocates against conflating trafficking and sex work. They highlight the negative consequences of discriminatory legal frameworks, such as Canada’s Protection of Exploited Communities Act (PCEPA) and sections of the Immigrant and Refugee Protection Regulations (IRPR). The very legitimate fear of over-surveillance, harassment, violence and legal consequences creates a culture of silence, where the criminalisation of sex work reduces access to legal recourse and protection or reporting mechanisms. This vulnerability is not inherent in sex work itself, but is further compounded by isolation, racial biases, and transphobia, creating an environment where violence against sex workers can thrive.The criminalisation of sex work also results in economic violence which impacts various aspects of sex workers’ lives, including housing, employment, and financial stability. Rejection from traditional job opportunities, freezing of bank accounts, and surveillance by financial institutions create opportunities for economic violence against people engaged in sex work

Sex workers, when facing violence on multiple fronts, often find themselves hesitant to engage with law enforcement. YSWC underscores the risks to safety and well-being when sex work is criminalised, hindering communication, negotiation, and effective screening. Contrary to the objectives of “end-demand” models, YSWC contends that such approaches increase violence rather than mitigating it. YSWC characterises criminalisation as inherently exploitative and calls for the immediate repeal of sex work-specific criminal laws. They also advocate for the prioritisation of sex worker-led programs, against discrimination in the legal system, for policy-making to be more inclusive, and question the ideology behind the Nordic Model. They support a decriminalisation strategy that is informed by those who are most impacted by current laws. Click here for the complete submission

If you have any questions, comments, or would like to send additional submissions, please send a message to [email protected]