NSWP Condemnation of Proposition #35

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) exists to uphold the voice of sex workers globally and connect regional networks advocating for the rights of female, male, and transgender sex workers

NSWP condemns California's Proposition #35 on the basis that the legislation is based on a dangerous conflation of sex work and human trafficking, which fails to provide a workable approach/solution to stop forced labour and other abuse, but rather serves to heighten the criminalisation and marginalisation of sex workers and those associated with them (including their families). Proposition #35 is based on unfounded claims and a significant lack of evidence and exploits a public concern over human trafficking and slavery. The definitions that are employed by the drafters of the proposition are over-reaching and explode any distinction between sex work and human trafficking.

Sex work is work for many people and any legislative framework that fails to recognise this is a breach of the basic human rights of sex workers to livelihood. California already has laws in place that criminalise human trafficking and forced prostitution of anyone including minors. The Proposition strengthens penalties associated with these crimes, while expanding the definition of these crimes to cover anyone engaged in sex work and those associated with them. The expanded definition of the crimes of "pimping", "pandering" and "trafficking" are designed in a way that can be extended to sex workers and any person who is supported by their earnings, including their families and children. Severe criminal punishment can therefore be used against any adult sex worker or their families, including them being placed on the sex offenders register for life. 

The conflation of trafficking and sex work in Proposition #35, we argue, is no accident. We, as a global network of sex work projects, have experienced first hand the results of the over-reach of anti-trafficking laws and campaigns into our communities without consultation with sex workers, a purposeful tactic used by religious groups and fundamentalists in their attempt to abolish prostitution. While many of these initiatives seem well intentioned to the public, the reality of raids and forced rescue and rehabilitation has seen many sex workers imprisoned and stripped of their basic human rights. These practices have become commonplace, yet under the rubric and rhetoric of "anti-trafficking", police and other law enforcement agencies have been able to systematically abuse the rights of sex workers across the globe. 

Proposition #35 follows these abusive practices by extended power of law enforcement agencies to raid sex workers' workplaces and interrogate people in the name of finding trafficked victims. Not only does this fail to recognise the benefits of including sex workers in the fight against forced labour, exploitation and other abuses within commercial sex but it also puts both sex workers and victims of trafficking in a much more vulnerable situation with regards to exploitation, violence and importantly, impedes healthcare initiatives that sex workers have worked together with international government agencies to develop in the joint effort to prevent the transmission of HIV and reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDs.[1]  Sex workers will disengage with criminal justice and health agencies if these agencies are legally encouraged to not respect their human rights but rather treat them either as criminals or victims in need of rescue and rehabilitation. 

Proposition #35 is an extremely dangerous proposition and we as a global network support the sex worker groups in America in their campaign against it. Far from being an anti-trafficking law, this proposition is fundamentally an anti-prostitution campaign and if passed, will violate many of the basic human rights of sex workers. Furthermore, the outlandish claims and expansive definitions included in the proposition are unworkable in practice and will result in a significant misdirection of law enforcement to people who are voluntarily engaging in sex work and those associated with them, wasting resources that could be spent on developing and providing much needed social support services for victims of any kind of human trafficking and engaging the sex worker communities in the fight against the sexual exploitation of minors and forced sex work of any person. 

Therefore be it resolved that:

  • NSWP calls on the United States of America to recognise sex workers, our families and communities as protectable by removing the language in the federal law that conflates us with trafficked victims and slaves,
  • NSWP calls on the United States of America to stop funding these anti prostitution groups under the guise of raising awareness of human trafficking so as to end the campaign of misinformation, and
  • NSWP condemns Proposition #35 and urges California voters to reject it this November 6th 2012.


[1]Global Commission on HIV and the Law, 'HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health', July 2012 http://hivlawcommission.org/index.php/report

Author: 
NSWP