India’s Supreme Court rules that sex workers have the right to refuse services

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Last week India’s Supreme Court ruled that sex workers have the right to refuse services, in a landmark case overturning a 2009 ruling in which 4 people were acquitted of rape. On 30th October, the Supreme Court ruled that sex workers are entitled to bring charges of sexual assault and seek redress through the court system, as “she [a sex worker] has a right to refuse to submit herself to sexual intercourse to anyone”.

The ruling was made as the Court overturned a 2009 acquittal of four men, who were accused of raping a sex worker in Mumbai. The four defendants in the case, from 1997, had previously been acquitted on the grounds the victim was “a woman of bad character who indulged in prostitution”. This ruling also overturns a 2016 ruling on a sex workers’ right to file a case of rape in instances where clients refuse payment.

Justices of the Supreme Court said: “Even if the allegations of the accused that the woman is of immoral character are taken to be correct, the same does not give any right to the accused persons to commit rape on her against her consent.” They acknowledged that the previous ruling had overlooked evidence based on the complainant being accused of being “a woman of bad character”, as she “indulged in prostitution”. The Court restored the convictions of the four men, and ordered they come forward within four weeks to serve the rest of their 10-year sentence.

India is often referred to as the ‘the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman’, with a series of high profile cases on rape and abuse of women, including sex workers, sparking protests in recent years. Since 2012, India has introduced new laws to combat violence against women, sexual harassment and sexual abuse of children.