Human Rights Watch Supports Push for Decriminalising Voluntary Sex Work by Adults

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On January 21st, HRW released their 24th annual review of human rights practices around the world. The report summarises key human rights issues in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide drawing on events through to November 2013.

On the decriminalisation of sex work, the report states on page 47: "...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."

In the report HRW reiterates its push for the decriminalisation of voluntary sex work by adults (as well as the decriminalising simple drug use and possession). On sex work, HRW states further that given the context in which sex work occurs i.e. that there are serious risks to health and safety, driving sex workers into the shadows is usually counterproductive to efforts to treat, mitigate, or prevent harm. Criminalisation of sex work can cause or worsen 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. According to HRW, these severe and common consequences, and the strong personal interest that people have in making their own bodies, mean it is unreasonable and disproportionate for the state to use criminal punishment to discourage sex work.

The report highlights human rights violations perpetrated against sex workers in Cambodia, China, Vietnam, Greece, Lebanon, and the USA. The report does not highlight sustained human rights violations often perpetrated against sex workers by police in much of sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere.

Human rights abuses of sex workers discussed in the report include; arbitrary detention (Cambodia), punitive crackdowns, coercive HIV testing, privacy infringements, mistreatment by health officials (China), forced rehabilitation of sex workers (Vietnam), detention and forced HIV testing of alleged sex workers (Greece), subjecting sex workers (along with drug users and LGBT people) in security forces’ custody to ill-treatment and torture (Lebanon), the use of condoms as evidence of sex work (USA).

You can download the report here.