History of the Sex Worker Rights Movement

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Vietnam Closes Detention Centre Number Five


After years of campaigning by sex workers, the infamous Detention Centre Number Five is closed down.

Although not officially a prison, Detention Centre Number 05 was the centre where drug users and sex workers were sent for anywhere between three months and two years after they were arrested for the “crime” of using drugs or doing sex work.

Supposedly a ‘merciful’ alternative to prison where new skills and professions could be learned, in practice conditions involved excessive hours of work and inadequate food, sanitation and medical care.

Vietnam Network of Sex Workers is Formed


Sex workers in Vietnam get together and form a national network in order to bring about positive changes for their communities.

During the annual Vietnam Civil Society Platform on AIDS in 2012, sex workers who had been organising in small groups for some years, realise there is a lot of interest among sex workers to create a national network to have a bigger voice.

Ashodaya Academy is Launched (India)


In 2009, Ashodaya Samithi formally launch the Ashodaya Academy, a teaching and learning program for sharing experiences of sex worker-led approaches to effective HIV prevention, in Karnataka state, India.

UNAIDS recognises the Ashodaya Academy as a learning site for the Asia Pacific region. Sex workers, NGOs, and government officials from over 15 countries are trained on sex worker-led interventions and learn from the Academy’s curriculum.

The Ashodaya approach is based on three pillars of intervention:

Ashodaya Samithi is Formed (India)


Female, male and transgender sex workers in Mysore, India, formally register Ashodaya Samithi as a sex worker-led community-based organisation. This sex worker community initially came together to access HIV prevention related services in 2004, but over time aspired to achieve other goals as well. By 2015, they are working with over 8000 sex worker members.

With links to the University of Manitoba, Canada, and support from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the organisation’s early activities include:

Supreme Court of Nepal Rules that Discrimination Against Sex Workers is Unconstitutional


The Supreme Court of Nepal rules in 2002 that sex workers should not be discriminated against in the criminal law. The case relates to provisions of the criminal law that apply a lighter penalty to rapists in cases where the person raped was a sex worker. The court rules this is discriminatory and unconstitutional and that sex workers should not be discriminated against with respect to penalties that apply to perpetrators of rape. The judgment is based on the constitutional rights to equality and to choose one’s own profession.

Bangladesh High Court Rules in Favour of Evicted Sex Workers


In 1999, police evicted Bangladeshi sex workers in Tanbazar and Nimtali from their workplaces and confined them in a centre for homeless people. This was supposedly done for the purpose of “rehabilitation” of the sex workers. This action resulted in a human rights court case against the government. The case files describe a raid at night-time where, “the policemen suddenly dragged [the sex workers], abused and beat them and pushed them and their children into the waiting buses using filthy language.”

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Call for Committee to Review Sex Work Laws


In 1988 the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) signed a contract with the Ministry of Health to provide a range of services to sex workers, focused on HIV/AIDS prevention.

However, by 1991, the NZPC is fed up with police raids that negatively impact sex workers, and indicates to the Ministry of Health that they will be unable to continue contracting with the Ministry unless an interdepartmental committee is established to investigate repealing the laws against sex work.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective Formed


A group of women who work as "masseuses" in massage parlours and private houses, joined by women and transgender street workers, get together in 1987 to discuss the formation of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC).

A founding member later says, "we met on beaches, sat round pub tables, huddled in doorways, and spoke on the telephone to unseen, like minded, sex workers throughout the country. Sex workers were on the move. People started to talk about us as if we were a force to be reckoned with. This is really when we realised we were becoming an organisation."

Curaçao Opens Campo Alegre Brothel


In 1949, Dutch Caribbean island Curaçao opened the largest brothel in the Western hemisphere at that time. Called Campo Alegre, the brothel brought in migrant sex workers from throughout the Caribbean to cater to the needs of male migrant workers, Dutch marines, and US military personnel.

Campo Alegre means The Happy Camp. The brothel started as a 100 room sex hotel. It has its own police department to provide security, and government-enforced medical services.