1. Criminalization fuels and fosters violence against women, men and trans sex workers Sex work being criminalized makes it illegal for sex workers to work in their own homes or in establishments – the very places where they are safest because they can have security measures in place (i.e. cameras, neighbors, known exits). Also, in order to avoid coming to the attention of the police, street-based sex workers often abandon safety strategies such as working in pairs, soliciting in well-lit populated areas, and taking the time to carefully assess a client prior to entering a vehicle.
2. Criminalization undermines sex workers’ access to justice Criminalization creates an adversarial relationship between police and sex workers. As a result, sex workers do not feel comfortable turning to the police when they are in need. Also sex workers are over-policed but under-protected. As a result, they are hyper-vulnerable to violence and predators target them with virtual impunity.
3. Criminalization hinders the ability to maintain physical and sexual health Social judgment of sex work is a significant barrier to sex workers’ access to health services. Not only do sex workers face abusive and disrespectful attitudes from healthcare providers, but these prejudices taint the ability of health professionals to adequately assess the situation and respond appropriately. As a result, sex workers may not receive the health services they require and do not feel that they can be forthright without being the object of discrimination. The police’s informal use of condoms as proof of ‘prostitution’ or to pressure sex workers to self-incriminate creates a powerful disincentive to carrying, and therefore using, the most effective protection available against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections
4. Criminalization denies sex workers the protection of labor laws
Sex workers do not have medical aid, parental leave, retirement plans or vacation pay. Nor do they have recourse when they are wrongfully dismissed or discriminated against at work. Sex workers cannot organize into labor unions through which they could address labor exploitation, bargain for better working conditions, or collectively negotiate wages.
5. Criminalization takes away the right to sexual autonomy
Adult women, men and trans persons freely consent to exchange sex for many different reasons including physical satisfaction, emotional reward, self-validation and financial benefit. There exists a continuum of socioeconomic sexual exchanges from donation to payment. The commercial aspect does not justify a criminal justice response. Also all persons have the right to choose what they do with their bodies – they have the right to have a baby or to have sex for pleasure or for profit or for both. In the 21st century, criminalizing consensual sex between adults is outdated. Laws should reflect the mores and values of the society.
8. Criminalization marginalizes and isolates sex workers
Sex workers are members of our communities. They are our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, neighbors and friends. Criminalization undermines the ability of these citizens to be fully integrated into society. Street-based workers are particularly vulnerable to being alienated, ostracized and excluded from the communities in which they live and work. At times these workers are the objects of concerted efforts by vigilante community groups to displace them. It is difficult for sex workers to provide proof of their income. Without an institutionally recognized record of earnings it is very challenging to get credit for things like a mortgage or a car loan; even renting an apartment can be problematic.
9. Criminalization is unnecessary to address harms
The prostitution laws are redundant. There are ample provisions in the penal code to sanction those who harm, abuse or exploit sex workers. There are laws to protect all citizens from criminal acts, including the prohibition of trafficking in persons and forcible confinement organized crime, physical assault, sexual assault, intimidation, extortion, theft and harassment. Ironically laws ostensibly put in place to protect sex workers criminalize the very people deemed vulnerable and in need of protection.
10. Criminalization legitimates discrimination – Criminalizing clients is equally, not the solution
The very existence of ‘prostitution’ laws positions sex workers (and their partners, employers etc.) as inherently different from ‘normal’ citizens and in the process reaffirms and legitimates that perceived difference. Discrimination against sex workers appears justified. In current legal discourse, the identity of people who work in the sex industry is confused with the work they do. All other aspects of those individuals are negated and all their behaviors and relationships are evaluated through the lens of this one activity. This is precisely what stigmatization is. The idea that sex workers are powerless victims in need of salvation is often used to justify criminalization. This delegitimizes and silences sex workers at the same time as it renders their diversity, engagement and agency invisible. When clients are targeted, sex workers’ customer base is eroded and they are more likely to take risks with new or unknown clients and/or provide services they would not otherwise be prepared to offer. They may also reduce the fees they charge which in turn means they must work longer and more often to generate the same income.