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Sex workers are adults who receive money or goods in exchange for consensual sexual services or erotic performances, either regularly or occasionally.
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Prostitution, on the other hand, has connotations of criminality and immorality. Sex workers sell sexual services in order to earn a livelihood.
The vast majority of sex workers choose to do sex work because it is the best option they have. Many sex workers struggle with poverty and destitution and have few other options for work.
Sex work and exploitation: what do you need to know?
Others find that sex work offers better pay and more flexible working conditions than other jobs. And some pursue sex work to explore and express their sexuality.
Criminalization includes everything from criminalizing the sale and purchase of sexual services, to blanket prohibitions on management of sex work. Criminalization makes it harder for sex workers to negotiate terms with clients, work together with other sex workers for safety, and carry condoms without fear that they will be used as evidence of prostitution. Sex workers in many settings report extreme levels of violence and harassment in connection with their work, including from clients, managers, and police. Criminalization makes it difficult for sex workers to report rights violations, especially by the policebecause they are vulnerable to incarceration, further abuse, and retribution.
Many opponents of sex work acknowledge the harms that result from criminalizing sex workers and support a system that criminalizes buyers and third parties—such as managers or brothel owners—but not sex workers themselves.
This model perpetuates stigma against sex workers, leading to discrimination in social services, housing, and health care, and does not address the fundamental problem of criminalization, driving sex work underground and pushing sex workers away from safety and services. In France, for example, the purchase of sexual services was criminalized in and two years later a study demonstrated that the impact on sex workers was severeincluding major deterioration in living conditions and greater exposure to violence. In Sweden, where criminalization of the purchase of sexual services was introduced inonline advertisements for sexual services has increased exponentially in the past decade.
Decriminalization means removal of criminal and administrative penalties that apply specifically to sex work, creating an enabling environment for sex worker health and safety. For decriminalization to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by a recognition of sex work as work, allowing sex work to be governed by labor law and protections similar to other jobs. The Open Society Foundations support decriminalization of sex work as the best way to protect the health and human rights of sex workers.
Human trafficking is an egregious human rights violation involving the threat or use of force, abduction, deception, or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation. This may include forced labor, sexual exploitation, slavery, and more.
Sex work, on the other hand, is a consensual transaction between adults, where the act of selling or buying sexual services is not a violation of human rights.
Conflating trafficking with sex work can be harmful and counterproductive. Precarious work, restrictive migration policies, and gender inequality all contribute to greater vulnerability to exploitation. The fact that sex work is work does not mean that it is good work, or empowering work, or harmless work. However, sex work is not inherently harmful, but criminalization and stigma do make sex work circumstantially harmful. Sex workers, like most workers, have diverse feelings about their work.
Some sex workers dislike their work but find that it is their best or only option to make a living. Some are agnostic about their work but find that it offers flexibility or good pay.
And some enjoy the work and find it all around rewarding or fun. Regardless of what sex workers think about their work, they deserve workplace health and safety and human rights. The Open Society Foundations support sex worker—led organizations and other advocates to advance the health and rights of sex workers.
For example:. This brief provides ten reasons why decriminalizing sex work is the best policy for promoting health and human rights for sex workers, their families, and communities.
Why do some people do sex work? What is decriminalization of sex work? What is human trafficking, and how is sex work different?
Is sex work inherently harmful? How do the Open Society Foundations support sex workers?
The hidden nature of sexual exploitation
In South Africa, the Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforcean organization that is leading the sex worker movement across the country, has helped train sex workers as paralegalsand works with lawyers to offer legal aid to sex workers. In Germany, a collective of sex workers called Objects of Desire is working to dismantle misconceptions about sex workers through art and exhibitions about the complex relationship between sex workers and their clients.
April September 1, Stacey-Leigh Manuel. June 25, Aisha Akoshile.