17th December 2019 marks the 16th annual International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers.
For sixteen years, sex workers around the world have used this day to highlight the need for action to end violence against sex workers. The issues faced by sex workers often vary from region to region, due to different laws, social and cultural contexts, but one common issue faced by all sex workers is their vulnerability to and experience of violence.
Sex workers around the world are vulnerable to violence because of the criminalisation and legal oppression of sex work, compounded by stigma and discrimination. This vulnerability to violence is increased for sex workers living with HIV, sex workers who use drugs, transgender sex workers, migrant sex workers, and sex workers that are part of other marginalised groups.
In 2019, in every region of the world, sex workers have reported multiple instances of violence against them.
A report from Amnesty International showed that sex workers in the Dominican Republic face routine abuse and torture from police. Since the introduction of the Nordic Model in the Republic of Ireland in 2017, violence against sex workers is up 92%. At least six sex workers have been murdered in France this year alone. Sex workers in Abuja faced violence and abuse from police, which was condemned by a broad coalition of sex workers and human rights and women's organisations, and crackdowns continue in Tanzania.
Sex workers in the USA and further afield continue to experience the impact of FOSTA/SESTA, and websites were also closed down by police in other countries. The criminalisation of sex workers’ online workspaces has a similar, negative impact on sex workers’ safety, health, and human rights as the criminalisation of sex workers’ physical workspaces. While sex work is still criminalised in some form in almost every country in the world, sex workers will continue to experience violence and stigma.
Violence against sex workers globally is caused and exacerbated by criminalisation of sex work, stigma, and punitive laws and law enforcement. NSWP and its members support sex workers’ fundamental right to live and work free from violence, and oppose all forms of criminalisation and legal oppression of sex work.
2019 has seen increasing support for the decriminalisation of sex work, with decriminalisation policies adopted by ILGA World, STOPAIDS and the UK’s Royal College of Nursing, letters of support from LGBT groups in Washington D.C. and civil society groups in Canada, and a decriminalisation Bill passed in Australia’s Northern Territory. Mexico City Congress voted to decriminalise sex workers and clients, and in South Africa, the government is moving forward with legislation to decriminalise sex work. In San Francisco, new legislation has been introduced to protect sex workers when reporting serious crime.
This year, the Global 16 Days Campaign focused on violence in the world of work and the ratification of the newly adopted ILO (International Labour Organization) special instruments on violence and harassment in the world of work. The ILO acknowledges sex workers as part of the global ‘informal economy’, and these special instruments are an opportunity for sex workers to call for greater protection from violence from their governments.
Access to justice is a key issue for sex workers, and next year NSWP will publish a new resource on sex workers’ access to justice following a consultation with our members on the violence and discrimination they face. NSWP members continue to engage with CEDAW, submitting shadow reports in advance of their country sessions, and engaging with consultations on the CEDAW General Recommendation on Trafficking in Women and Girls in the Context of Global Migration.
NSWP members are holding events and actions all over the world to mark 17th December. See the full list here.
Worldwide sex workers use 17th December to honour those that have experienced violence or been killed during the year, and to call for the decriminalisation of sex work to protect and fulfil their human rights.
NSWP demands the following actions be taken to ensure the rights of sex workers are respected:
- An end to the criminalisation and legal oppression of sex workers, clients, and third parties
- Equal protection from law enforcement and the criminal justice systems;
- An end to condoms being used as evidence of sex work
- Equal access to rights-based health and social services for sex workers, including sexual and reproductive health.
For more information about sex workers' demands, please read the NSWP Consensus Statement.