How are sex workers are affected by the lack of rights and laws that are put into place that directly harm sex workers and those intended to buy their services? The lack of worker’s rights effect sex workers in different ways from, putting worker’s sexual and reproductive health at risk, putting workers at higher risk of being sexually and physically assaulted, having their work further stigmatized and criminalized, the effects on marginalized migrant workers regarding prevalence of HIV and making workers vulnerable to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. How does lack of workers’ rights increase their vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and physical and sexual abuse?
As described in the article, Sex Work and Trafficking: Moving Beyond Dichotomies, “Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the Atlantic, increasing concern with trafficking and violence against women has neither produced a new policy approach nor changed traditional stances with respect to sex work. What is termed prostitution remains illegal in the US, where the issue of trafficking for sexual exploitation has been increasingly conflated with that of sex work in the public discourse.” By criminalizing sex work, sex workers are forced to hide their trades and offer their services online or underground which increases their risk of getting hurt. Recognizing that the stigma associated with sex work, needs to be reconsidered in order to protect all those involved (including sex workers and those affected by sex trafficking) in living safely and freely the way they please. Many places around the world have adopted different ways in attempting to stop sex work many of those laws include criminalizing the purchase and advertisement of sex rather than the actual sex work itself, this makes it almost impossible for sex workers to be able to get work in the first place.
Lack of worker’s rights harm sex workers in more ways than one, the different legal and human rights issues that are related to sex work affect sex workers vulnerability to HIV and increases their susceptibility to STIs. Many international agencies that are put into place to protect sex workers such as UNAIDS, have stated that the decriminalization of sex work is needed in order for sex workers to be able to excess the proper healthcare for sexual and reproductive services. Another group of workers that are largely ignored in the mainstream media are migrant and marginalized sex workers, sex workers that identify as people of colour or people of the LGBTQ+ community are treated even worse than their white colleagues. Migrant sex workers face much higher rates of health and social inequities and are at even higher risks of obtaining STIs, HIV and facing human rights violations.
For example in Vanuatu, the lack of sexual and reproductive health laws and rights in Vanuatu imply women should be able to protect themselves and their bodies from violence, sexually transmitted infections, unwanted pregnancies, and abuse but only if the women that need help are women who are seen as ‘pure’ and ‘virginal’ are seen as worthy of obtaining the help and services they need. If women are not perceived as ladylike, feminine and proper, they are seen as not being worthy of rights or protection. These societal pressures cause not only the public to perceive sex workers in a negative light but also causes sex workers to see themselves negatively, which puts them at risk for lower self-esteem as well.
Researchers found that in order to help migrant sex workers become safer, “Researchers need to develop population-tailored procedures to address fears related to immigration and criminalization, and to reinforce positive and non-stigmatizing relationships with migrant sex workers”, the authors go on to explain additionally how leading community efforts in reducing stigma and foster community organizations and supports for migrant sex workers are recommended, as moving away from punitive legal approaches and moving towards approaches that safeguard and prioritize the human rights of migrant sex workers is much more beneficial.
The increased physical and sexual abuse of sex workers has become alarmingly high in the sex work trade, the continuous calling of the decriminalization of sex work has been supported by many sex workers organizations such as the International Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) and Amnesty International. Not only are sex workers at an increased risk of being abused by clients or bystanders but they are also at an increased risk of being abused by police officers, sex workers are beaten, sexually assaulted, raped, whipped, and shocked with electrical rods simply because of the field of work they are in, the risk of getting abused is increased when the sex worker is a woman or transgender. The different laws that have been put into place to protect and save ‘young’ women from becoming victims of sex trafficking or from becoming ‘criminals’, are the same laws that put sex workers into vast danger every day.