Following over two years of consultations with sex workers and human rights experts in member countries globally, a leading human rights organization, Amnesty International, put forward a draft policy in support of decriminalization of sex work as critical to ensuring the human rights of all citizens. The policy recognizes decriminalization as a key measure for protecting the human rights of sex workers globally and will be discussed and voted on at the International Council Meeting to be held later this week in Dublin, Ireland.
The science is there and unequivocal — criminalization has devastating effects on sex workers health and human rights, including widespread rights violations against sex workers. In 2014, the Lancet — the world’s leading peer-reviewed global health journal – produced a special issue on HIV and sex workers (guest edited and authored by us and others). Drawing on a review of published epidemiological studies and modeling of HIV epidemics in the global south and north, the research demonstrates that decriminalization of sex work could have the largest impact on the HIV response in sex work, averting between 33-46 per cent of HIV infections over the next decade.
Reviews of both published research and human rights reports demonstrate that where any aspect of sex work is criminalized, including criminalizing the purchase sex and third parties, sex workers are forced to work in isolated and hidden locations and lack access to basic protections to work safely, such as ability to organize and negotiate the terms of their working conditions, including condom use and access to HIV prevention and care. Where violence is ubiquitous, fear and threats of violence and arrest prevent access to basic health, social and legal protections afforded to all citizens and enshrined in international human rights laws.