How can society protect the human rights of sex workers globally? Many believe that regulating and decriminalizing prostitution is a good start. A recent article by British news source The Independent explores the many benefits that would come from the decriminalization of prostitution, not only for sex workers, but for larger communities of women as well.
The article makes reference to a policy produced by Amnesty International to protect the rights of sex workers, and of that policy, “the decriminalization of consensual sex work” is high on the list of changes to be made. This policy was incepted due to the number of human rights violations experienced by sex workers which include, but are not limited to, rape, trafficking, harassment, and denial of health services. The decriminalization of sex work would result in the humanization of sex workers and make this form of work significantly safer for everyone involved.
Rhode Island decriminalized prostitution as an experiment to see how it might affect public health. As the findings of the aforementioned Independent article were mainly in reference to the state of Rhode Island, the micro results on the the state’s decision to decriminalize sex work resulted in lower reports of sexually transmitted infections and diseases, as well as increased law enforcement resources to go towards handling other crimes.
This is supplemented by the following quote from The Independent article: “Researchers added that the decrease in sexual offences may also be down to the fact that decriminalising prostitution frees up police personnel and equipment, which could ultimately help bring down other crime rates – such as rape.”
By decriminalizing consensual sex work, resources and opportunities for sex workers to protect themselves increase significantly and violence against women can decrease over time as resources and opportunities to investigate and rectify violent crimes against women become increasingly available. Sex workers will be provided ample protection from clients who become violent with them, and rape victims will have greater quality service and equipment to aid them in getting justice. The end goal of this decision is to ultimately aid all women in receiving protection and justice; emphasis on the all.
However, in this conversation, it is also important to acknowledge that decriminalization of prostitution will be in vain if it does not address the varying issues of women on the basis of race and class. As a disproportionate numbers of women of color and trans women of color turn to sex work for survival, the criminalization of sex work exacerbates the already turbulent and downright terrifying relationship that many women of color have with law enforcement. By decriminalizing sex work, the percentage of fatalities of trans sex workers of color could ultimately decrease and police brutalization of black and brown sex workers may decline as well.
In decriminalizing sex work, it is just as important to destigmatize it within society as these two actions bear different results. In decriminalizing and regulating sex work, opportunities open up for sex workers to take control of the dangerous situations that their circumstances may put them in. By de-stigmatizing sex work, opportunities open up for sex workers to be viewed as survivors worthy of justice in the event that they have been violated. This means that society will be more willing to believe the testimonies of sex workers against attackers, or refrain from believing that as a sex worker they were “asking for it,” in any context of the phrase.
With that said, the same energy exerted to decriminalize sex work should be used in changing the cultural view of sex workers.
It seems as though the regulation of this practice promises more pros than it does cons; for sex workers and non-sex-workers alike. By decriminalizing prostitution and other forms of consensual sex work, we provide all women the chance to feel safe, which is a huge step in the right direction for empowering all women.
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