Posts tagged ‘prostitution’

STOP – feminist violence against sex workers

By Leena Neena

“ The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) has been for years delivering a clear political statement committed to work towards a Europe free from prostitution, by supporting key abolitionist principles which state that the prostitution of women and girls constitutes a fundamental violation of women’s human rights, a serious form of male violence against women, and a key obstacle to gender equality in our societies. The EWL Centre on violence against women is now working on an EWL campaign to deliver a strong message towards a Europe free from prostitution.”

It is beyond belief that this kind of campaign can take place in this day and age. How do these people feel when they sit around deciding to do things like this without speaking to sex workers ?  No sex worker, no matter how they  came to the sex industry,   could mistake what this fist means. It means violence. No doubt the euro  feminists fantasise about the punch they are recommending landing on bad men – the fantasy pimps of their imagination –  and helping innocent girl victims who also live in their imaginations. But every sex worker knows that every  punch lands  on her /him no matter what fantasies are in the heads  of the punch throwers.

That this is a group that says it opposes violence is a joke.  These middle class  women who think they know better than us should be made to take responsibility for the violence they advocate. This campaign is what the Americans call ‘ hate speech’  But who will stop it ? Who can raise a voice in the face of the millions of dollars and euros driving violence against sex workers all over the world.

Read anti trafficking superstar Leela Neena’s blog at


09/11/2010 at 08:44 4 comments

Rantsev v Cyprus and Russia : can a sensible judgement stem the trafficking hysteria ?

On 7 January 2010, in an historic first judgment concerning cross border human trafficking in Europe, the European Court of Human Rights has found that Cyprus and Russia committed a number of human rights violations. In a judgment which confirmed the obvious –  that trafficking cannot be considered compatible with the values of the European Convention on Human Rights, or with a democratic society – the Court  further clarified states’ obligations to protect against, as well as to investigate, trafficking. It is an important judgement because it links trafficking to the human rights that are aimed at preventing violence and forced labour, not at those ‘human rights’ that aim to protect women from the indignity of selling sex ( sexual exploitation as defined by CEDAW). In other words, it targets the violence not the sex work.

The case concerns the death of a twenty year old Russian  sex worker Oxana Rantseva in Cyprus where she had arrived under the “artiste” visa scheme. She was working in a cabaret in the island’s largest coastal resort, Limassol. Ms Rantseva was found dead below the balcony of an apartment belonging to an employee of the cabaret, having been taken there from a police station by the cabaret’s owner. The police found a bedspread tied to the railing of the balcony on the upper floor of the apartment. An inquest in Cyprus found she had died as a result of injuries sustained when she jumped from the balcony. In describing the nature of human trafficking the judgment states that, “by its very nature and aim of exploitation [human trafficking] is based on the exercise of powers attaching to the right of ownership. It treats human beings as commodities to be bought and sold and put to forced labour, often for little or no payment, usually in the sex industry but also elsewhere…It implies close surveillance of the activities of victims, whose movements are often circumscribed… It involves the use of violence and threats against victims, who live and work under poor conditions.

Noting that, as a relatively modern phenomenon, human trafficking is not mentioned in the 1950 European Convention, the Court found that it nevertheless fell within the scope of Article 4 of the Convention (prohibiting slavery, servitude, and forced or compulsory labour). The Court elaborated on the positive obligations of states in the context of Article 4 with respect to trafficking, holding that there is a positive obligation on states to adopt appropriate and effective legal and administrative frameworks, to take protective measures, and to investigate trafficking where it has already occurred. The Court described as “indisputable” that the latter obligation involved the need for a full and effective investigation covering all aspects of trafficking allegations, from recruitment to exploitation. The Court noted that these positive obligations applied to the various states potentially involved in human trafficking – states of origin, states of transit and states of destination.

One way forward is to allow migrant women to work on their own as sex workers, if they so wish, with equal rights under the law as Cypriot workers and increased protection because of the risks and vulnerabilities of the sector. But this is unlikely to be permitted, as it is likely to seen by the authorities and the prevailing conservative public opinion as sanction prostitution and migration for the purpose of prostitution. One needs to deal with each component part of ‘trafficking’ as a form of distorted migration hence the question of freedom of movement/ border need to be addressed in the same way as with other irregular or undocumented workers. Regularisation is the only way to deal with ‘irregular migration’ therefore trafficking must be dealt with by abolishing visas that produce/reproduce trafficking (i.e. artistes) visa and regularisation of the work of foreign prostitutes. Monitoring, implementing labour standards and unionising sex workers is crucial.

PS :   The judgement says trafficking is not proscribed in older law because it is a new phenonomenon. But it seems to me that ‘procuring’ became ‘trafficking’ at some point.  What drove this change ? What does it mean? Answers on the back of an envelope.

for more see  and

06/10/2010 at 00:05 Leave a comment

Legal services for sex workers

Indian courtWhere governance is poor and the rule of law is weak, female, male and transgender sex workers are typically exposed to severe and pervasive human rights abuses. Abuses may consist of violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, unlawful confiscation of property, limits on freedom of movement, and discriminatory and corrupt treatment in both public and private domains. 

Chronic abuse of this kind will impact negatively on any person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Responding to these matters has been a key focus of sex worker activism globally. Sex workers have been involved in many projects in order to reduce the occurrence of these harms. There range from local anti-violence initiatives and police training to international human rights advocacy.

However the impact of legal services for sex workers generally, the relationship between legal services and health status, and the place of legal services amongst other responses has not been rigorously examined.  (more…)

15/06/2009 at 10:54 Leave a comment

AIDS 2010

Cheryl Overs, from Monash University Medical School, has joined the Community Programming Committee (CPC) for the International Aids Conference on behalf of the Paulo Longo Research Initiative. The conference will be held in Vienna next year. She attended the first planning meeting of the committee in Vienna in May which was held in conjunction with the Joint Programming Committee. This first meeting was for committees to develop a clear understanding of the conference structure, the process for building the conference programme and roles and responsibilities of committees. Cheryl will co-chair the Global Village Working Group with Anastasia Kamlyk of UNAIDS.  

Later in the year the PLRI will develop a proposal for a session on sex work research at the conference and we look forward to your suggestions about that. Meanwhile information about the conference can be obtained at

15/06/2009 at 10:28 1 comment

Law reform in South Africa

A recent article on deals with decriminalising sex work in South Africa and how it relates to public health.

Some of the arguments contained in the article relate to a policy brief ‘Sex work, HIV/AIDS and the socio-legal context in South Africa’, prepared by Marlise Richter, commissioned by the Reproductive Health & HIV Research Unit, University of the Witwatersrand in October 2008.

The article states:

A recent study conducted in Cape Town found approximately 1 500 sex workers, according to Jankelowitz. “In the 1990’s it was estimated that there were 10 000 sex workers in Johannesburg, but it is unclear where this estimation comes from.”

The lack of reliable figures seems to be typical of a wider lack of engagement with the issue of sex work among policy-makers and researchers. Apart from some non-government organisations and research units there is still very little being done – both in terms of research and health interventions tailored to the needs of sex workers.

The issue of the decriminalisation of sex work for the 2010 Fifa World Cup has grabbed the headlines, not always for positive reasons. Some have argued that it would lead to an increase in human trafficking. These fears were also expressed in the lead up to the World Cup in Germany although there is research from the International Organisation for Migration commissioned by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) to show that this was not the case.

It appears policy reforms towards decriminalisation in South Africa have stalled due to bureaucratic red-tape.

Read more…

04/12/2008 at 19:46 Leave a comment

Sex work and HIV: Only rights can stop the wrongs

The UK Government is currently running a consultation on its institutional relationship with UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) and UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS). For sex workers and their allies this is timely indeed.

UK Government supports sex workers rights

The UK Government has a strong record of supporting sex workers’ right to health – for example the current DFID AIDS strategy acknowledges that sex workers are vulnerable to HIV infection and associated human rights abuses in many developing countries. Of sex workers and other vulnerable groups they state,

‘They are more likely to be living with HIV than the general population, are less able to deal with the impact of the epidemic and are most likely to be failed by existing policies, programmes, support and services. This is a direct result of their unequal position in society and the negative effects of gender inequality, harmful sexual norms, stigma and discrimination, and economic need and status.’

The document goes on to suggest that it is more difficult to reach sex workers with health interventions because national authorities deny their existence or make sex work illegal. Sex workers rights advocates and their networks wholeheartedly agree with this position and argue that legal and policy frameworks that protect workers’ rights in the sex industry and their human rights, including health and safety at work and ensure access to services, are the best way to reduce their vulnerability to HIV.

UNAIDS Guidance steers away from UN stance

Unfortunately recent policy guidance from UNAIDS, led by UNFPA, has appeared to shy away from previous UN statements on the central importance of respecting, protecting and fulfilling the rights of sex workers in programmes and policies related to sex work and HIV.

Rather than pressing a harm reduction approach the April 2007 UNAIDS Guidance Note: HIV and Sex Work places a strong emphasis on strategies to reduce the number of women who sell sex by encouraging sex workers to leave the sex industry and preventing young women taking up sex work. Unfortunately, despite little evidence that this approach can lead to the reductions in numbers of sexual partners required to slow HIV epidemics, a number of governments have adopted it, especially in Africa. The result is that resources are allocated away from the other crucial components of comprehensive prevention and care or ‘combination prevention’ targeting large numbers of sex workers to moderately successful income generating projects for a very small number.

UNAIDS approach condemned

Another focus of the Guidance Note is reduction of demand for sex work as an HIV prevention strategy by criminalising or otherwise repressing the purchase of sexual services. Human rights advocates have condemned this approach, which is sometimes called the Swedish model, as it can increase the risks of HIV for sex workers by driving sex work underground and limiting the choice of working conditions and the choice of clients.

Trafficking laws need review

The conflation of sex work with sexual exploitation and human trafficking has led to laws aimed at eliminating sex industries and ‘rescue and rehabilitation’ operations of ‘victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking’ throughout the developing world, often led by evangelical Christian organisations. Changes to the legal framework on trafficking have undermined HIV prevention and care programming and generated human rights abuses, most recently in Cambodia as well as many other countries including Korea, Nigeria, India and The Philippines.

Sex workers recognise the importance of combating human trafficking and argue that to identify and help the real victims, trafficking must be delinked from consenting adult sex work. They also argue that adult sex worker communities can play a vital role in programmes to reduce trafficking along with HIV and cite impressive achievements where that has been the case.

A call for more evidence-based policy analysis

At a meeting in April at IDS Meena Seshu, who works with one of India’s most successful projects for sex workers Sangram in India, said that the gulf between the thinking of the sex workers’ networks and that of the US government, the UN and HIV/AIDS donors has occurred in a relative vacuum of independent scholarship on sex work.

Sex worker rights activist and researcher Cheryl Overs has commented,

‘Despite 20 years of the HIV pandemic, various conferences, declarations, programmes and publications reliable research and policy analysis of sex work and prostitution as a gender, human rights and public health issue is lacking. Too often the information upon which sound policy and effective, rights based programmes could be built is not produced, not disseminated or simply not listened to.’

In the case of the UNAIDS Guidance Note it appears to be a case of evidence ignored as sex workers took part in consultations leading up to its creation and have launched a high profile campaign to prevent the Guidance being adopted by UNAIDS and to have it amended to reflect learning and experience in this area. Since action at the International AIDS Conference in Mexico last month it appears that UNAIDS may be becoming more receptive to their argument. However, the role of key international donors and partners, such as the UK Government, will be decisive in promoting a research and policy environment that shapes evidence based rather than ideologically driven responses to sex work and HIV and human trafficking in the developing world.

01/12/2008 at 18:15 Leave a comment


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