On June 2nd we celebrate the march (and stroll) towards decriminalization. Decriminalization of prostitution was enacted in New Zealand in 2003. Decriminalization has gained adherents amongst human rights bodies and organizations around the world including Human Rights Watch. We celebrate the immense progress of this grassroots sex workers rights movement, with this collection of such successes, statements by international bodies, country/state commissions and human rights organizations supporting decriminalization of sex work and sex worker rights.
Human Rights Watch
• From May 2013, Human Rights Watch report- “Swept Away”: Abuses against Sex Workers in China http://www.hrw.org/reports/2013/05/14/swept-away
"The imposition of punitive penalties for voluntary, consensual sexual relations amongst adults violates a number of internationally recognized human rights, including the rights to personal autonomy and privacy. Human Rights Watch takes the position that this also holds true with respect to voluntary adult commercial sex work, and that respecting consenting adults’ autonomy to choose to engage in voluntary sex work is consistent with respect for their human rights. Criminalization of sex work also creates barriers for those engaged in sex work to exercise basic rights such as availing themselves of government protection from violence, access to justice for abuses, access to essential health services as an element of the right to health, and other available services. Failure to uphold the rights of the millions of women who voluntarily engage in sex work leaves them subject to discrimination, abuse, exploitation, and undercuts public health.
• From Human Rights Watch 2014 Report:
"The logic of Toonen and Goodwin* informs two recent foci of Human Rights Watch’s privacy-related work: our call for decriminalizing simple drug use and possession (see the essay The Human Rights Case for Drug Reform in this volume), and our push for decriminalizing voluntary sex work by adults."
*Court case in Australia regarding physical privacy
"Both drug use and even voluntary sex work can pose serious risks to health and safety (including heightened risk for HIV/AIDS), but driving participants into the shadows is usually highly counterproductive to efforts to treat, mitigate, or prevent harm. Criminalization in both cases can cause or exacerbate a host of ancillary human rights violations, including exposure to violence from private actors, police abuse, discriminatory law enforcement, and vulnerability to blackmail, control, and abuse by criminals. These severe and common consequences, and the strong personal interest that people have in making decisions about their own bodies, mean it is unreasonable and disproportionate for the state to use criminal punishment to discourage either practice."
Global Commission on HIV and The Law (convened by the United Nations Development Programme-UNDP)
• Here are the sex worker recommendations ONLY from the Global Commission Report on HIV and The Law : http://traffickingpolicyresearchproject.org/GlobalComiss_SexWorkers.pdf The full chapter includes essential details.
To ensure an effective, sustainable response to HIV that is consistent with human rights obligations:
3.2 Countries must reform their approach towards sex work. Rather than punishing consenting adults involved in sex work, countries must ensure safe working conditions and offer sex workers and their clients access to effective HIV and health services and commodities. Countries must:
3.2.1 Repeal laws that prohibit consenting adults to buy or sell sex, as well as laws that otherwise prohibit commercial sex, such as laws against “immoral” earnings, “living off the earnings” of prostitution and brothel-keeping. Complementary legal measures must be taken to ensure safe working conditions to sex workers.
3.2.2 Take all measures to stop police harassment and violence against sex workers.
3.2.3 Prohibit the mandatory HIV and STI testing of sex workers.
3.2.4 Ensure that the enforcement of anti-human-trafficking laws is carefully targeted to punish those who use force, dishonesty or coercion to procure people into commercial sex, or who abuse migrant sex workers through debt bondage, violence or by deprivation of liberty. Anti-human-trafficking laws must be used to prohibit sexual exploitation and they must not be used against adults involved in consensual sex work.
3.2.5 Enforce laws against all forms of child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, clearly differentiating such crimes from consensual adult sex work.
3.2.6 Ensure that existing civil and administrative offences such as “loitering without purpose”, “public nuisance”, and “public morality” are not used to penalise sex workers and administrative laws such as “move on” powers are not used to harass sex workers.
3.2.7 Shut down all compulsory detention or “rehabilitation” centres for people involved in sex work or for children who have been sexually exploited. Instead, provide sex workers with evidence-based, voluntary, community empowerment services. Provide sexually exploited children with protection in safe and empowering family settings, selected based on the best interests of the child.
3.2.8 Repeal punitive conditions in official development assistance—such as the United States government’s PEPFAR anti-prostitution pledge and its current anti-trafficking regulations—that inhibit sex workers’ access to HIV services or their ability to form organisations in their own interests.
3.2.9 Take decisive action to review and reform relevant international law in line with the principles outlined above, including the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking In Persons, Especially Women And Children (2000).
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
This research led me to the work of Cheryl Overs, who has led the way towards many of these accomplishments (as a founder of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects among other key contributions) and Bebe Loff with this paper, which refers, quotes and links to UN Guidelines and Guidance notes.
• The International guidelines on HIV/AIDS and human rights, first issued in 1996 and reissued in 2006, include this language about sex work:
"With regard to adult sex work that involves no victimization, criminal law should be reviewed with the aim to decriminalize, then legally regulate occupational health and safety conditions to protect sex workers and their clients, including support for safe sex during sex work. Criminal law should not impede provision of HIV/AIDS prevention and care services to sex workers and their clients…"
-- Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) (2006). http://data.unaids.org/Publications/IRC-pub07/jc1252-internguidelines_en....
• The UNAIDS Guidance Note on Sex Work, published in 2009, echoed these themes.
UNAIDS, UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work 2009, Last updated April 2012). http://www.unaids.org/en/media/unaids/contentassets/documents/unaidspubl....
Excerpted from Toward a Legal Framework
The South African Law Commission
• The South African Law Commission investigating sex work and HIV in South Africa said of legalized sex work with health controls:
"[It] represents the same difficulties that criminalization does, especially since criminalization is the inevitable ‘default’ position where prostitutes do not comply with the conditions for working within the parameters of the legal sector. The inclusion of mandatory HIV testing as one of the conditions for legalization compounds the difficulties created by criminalization."
South African Law Commission, (2002) “Sexual offences: Adult prostitution,” (citation 8.43) in South African Law Commission, Chapter 8 – Prostitution and HIV/AIDS (Issue paper 19, Project 107). Available at http://www.saflii.org/za/other/zalc/ip/19/19-CHAPTER-8.html#fnB831.
Supreme Court of Canada
According to the court opinion, the laws were "overbroad ... imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky - but legal - activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks ... depriving them of security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice."
“The law punishes everyone who lives on the avails of prostitution without distinguishing between those who exploit prostitutes (such as controlling and abusive pimps) and those who could increase the safety and security of prostitutes (for example, legitimate drivers, managers, or bodyguards.”
International Labor Organization-ILO
• "At an international level, the ILO has begun this process by incorporating sex work into international labor standards through a recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work, 2010 (No. 200). In 2010, during the 99th Session of the International Labour Conference, delegates stated sex workers were implicitly covered in the category of:
all workers working under all forms or arrangements, and at all workplaces, including…persons in any employment or occupation.44
44. International Labour Office (ILO), Recommendation concerning HIV and AIDS and the World of Work, 2010 (No. 200) (Geneva: ILO, 2010). Available at http://www.ilo.org/public/english/region/eurpro/moscow/info/publ/wcms_142706.pdf."
Many other such statements are also available. This list will be updated.
The Global Network of Sex Work Projects has been a world leader in this struggle and publishes this work in the website at http://www.nswp.org/ also providing links to many of these documents.