Ghosts of prostitution debates past

Halloween is my Christmas. Even if I wasn’t born on November 1st and named after a witch, the Samhain season would still be holiday numero uno for me due to the candy, costumes, and supernatural spookies celebrated in the absence of religious, nationalist or familial obligations.

Since autumn reaps harvests of nostalgia, I thought it might be festive to brush aromatic leaves off the headstones of pro-prostitution arguments put in the ground years ago. Not the dippy slogan “sex work is work”, not comparisons to Prohibition regularly karate chopped with reminders that women are people and not beverages, I’m talking the doozies that haven’t horrified me with their lazy logic in a long time.

Only flyby commenters and paid-by-the-pageview writers pull out the “world’s oldest profession” artifact anymore because there’s no winning reply to the retort that slavery is historical but shouldn’t be legal. However, it pokes its victim-blaming dicktip into the media enough to be disqualified from my criteria that these moans haven’t been heard by me in the last year. Progress!

1. Men will use prostituted children less if legal, adult prostitutes are made available.

Anyone with the slightest sociological curiosity could have debunked the catharsis theory where men can ejaculate the will to rape children out of their systems. Note the twisted appeal to “think of the children!” while offering up young women’s bodies as collateral damage.

As ruthlessly libertarian as the champions of swapping gals for girls imagine themselves, the precedent hasn’t been set in any marketplace because men who want to rape little girls don’t do so in the absence of adult women owned by the same pimp. Libertarians have gone apoplectic when I propose the precedent they’re actually operating from is the misogynistic, homophobic Bible story of Lot giving gay rapists his daughters so they wouldn’t sodomize male angels:

“Now behold, I have two daughters who have not had relations with man; please let me bring them out to you, and do to them whatever you like; only do nothing to these men, inasmuch as they have come under the shelter of my roof,” (Gen. 19:8).

The oxymoronic variant, “Men will rape some women less if allowed to rape some women more” remains popular but the specific appeal to reduce pedophilia with prostitution hasn’t made me want to punch someone for about a decade.

2. Legal prostitution will lead women to pay for sex in nearly the numbers men pay for sex.

Here’s one that used to ride with the equally addlebrained, “More porn for women will improve the porn industry” some morbidly optimistic yahoos still believe. Folks, even Susie Bright has stopped repeating that mainstay of her repertoire, give it a rest.

The last time I encountered this ghost was 2009 when convicted pimp Heidi Fleiss opened the Shady Lady Ranch for women despite the Nevada law forbidding convicted pimps from running brothels. After two months and less than ten paying customers, Nevada’s first legal male prostitute Markus quit and the brothel went kaput soon after. I think women are a statistically insignificant number of prostitute-users for the same reason 80-85% of men don’t use prostitutes, because the idea of being intimate with a stranger faking desire for you is repugnant.

Every feminist has met the Women-Do-It-Too dude who insists women are inherently just as violent as men. Many women believe that too, unfortunately, and they show off their use of pornstituted women (mainly through porn and strippers) as a performance of how aspirationally masculine their sexuality is. I’ll never forget the woman who beamed to me with pride that her lover said she fucked like a man.

Men’s sadistic sexuality, including prostitutes used in the flesh and via the canned cunt of porn, is the default norm in our culture. It takes a whole lot of capitalistic indoctrination to come to the conclusion that women NOT paying for sex is a misogynistic aberration that will be fixed when women have enough economic and social power to comfortably consume sex workers.

I hope this argument is vanishing because we have evolved from wishing women could be as equally exploitative as men we to considering that men can be just as bad as women and rape as infrequently as women do.

3. Making condoms 100% mandatory, as was done in Thailand in the 1990s, saves sex worker lives.

In 1991, Thailand put concerted effort into reducing the spread of HIV by adopting a goal of 100% condom usage in the illegal brothels. It was a successful campaign with some reports stating new infections had decreased 75% in five years, and Thailand’s safer sex example was held up as an international model. Disease rates have since risen and research from 2009 reports that Thailand has the highest prevalence of HIV in all of Asia.

Prostitution defenders praised the mandatory condom policy as a lifesaver. Abolitionists and sex capitalists alike agreed that mandatory health regulations were necessary, so what happened to this seemingly rational policy to push it out of favor with sex capitalists?

The proverbial poop flew when healthcare professionals in California decided to import Thailand’s model to the porn industry which had gotten used to getting away with ignoring workplace safety laws. Suddenly the same pro-prostitution mouthpieces who praised the Thai model and supported an ACLU lawsuit premised on selling condoms cheaply in Asian brothels began trashing condoms as more dangerous to sex workers than unprotected sex.

Pornographers like Nina Hartley and pornstitution profiteers like Charlie Glickman and  Hugo Schwyzer writing for declared themselves more knowledgeable about condoms than the venerable Alan Guttmacher Institute. They told stories of potential death by latex allergies, condom friction increasing disease transmission, and threats to move porn production into dangerous underground lairs if forced to protect employee health. I can’t think of a reason why they would say mandating condoms will push Californian sex workers underground when they had lauded mandatory condoms for Thai sex workers as a means to bring brothels ‘above ground’ where transparency provides safety. Oh wait, I forgot racism, greed, and sexsationalistic clickbaiting.

The contradictions and fake science coming from the porn lobby were bad public relations that inhibited a slick retreat to their prior “yay condoms!” stance. This particular specter is one I wouldn’t mind seeing sex worker rights groups reincarnate.

4. Under the Nordic Model, women (not necessarily sex workers) will make fake accusations of prostitution solicitation to blackmail men.

When the Swedish law passed in 1999, a flurry of blogs, articles, and position papers were published decrying the injustice to men. Professor Don Kulick wrote a paper implying that women with the ability to accuse men of commercial sexual predation will abuse it to hurt innocent men because women are conniving gold-diggers like that:

“The only positive thing for sexworkers that perhaps can to be said to have emerged from this law is that it seems that some of them have used it to rob clients or blackmail them, telling them that if they didn’t cough up more money, they would turn them into the police.”

Kulick doesn’t provide examples or sources to verify if any femme fatale extortions happened and he offers a mild counter argument:

“Of course, both robbery and blackmail are much more serious crimes than purchasing sexual services, so if a client goes to the police, the sexworker risks much harsher penalties than the client she robbed or attempted to blackmail.”

Because Kulick is a man incapable of empathizing with prostituted women, he neglects what women know about the kinds of “harsher penalties” men inflict on disobedient prostitutes.

While it’s theoretically possible women might pretend to be prostitutes (who don’t fear men’s insane amount of violence towards hookers for some reason) to extort money from men, women have been able to “cry rape” against any man, punter or not, for many years and that hasn’t been occurring.

5. The worst harm of prostitution is the shame/stigma.

Some “professional erotic technicians” have said the weight of the shame should their families and friends discover their criminal secret is their biggest problem. Frankly, as someone who had a loved one suffer and die from prostitution, I find that declaration a relief because I believe sex workers when they say they haven’t dealt with violent johns or pimps and I’m grateful for their good luck.

The tightest argument against stigma causing the bulk of damage to sex workers is that the men most likely to seriously harm them are precisely the pimps and johns most likely to accept prostitution as a natural, necessary business transaction. By the stigma rationale, paying johns should be the least likely to harm prostituted women, yet the evidence overwhelmingly shows otherwise. The oft-repeated description of men’s experiences with prostitutes being “emotionless” sex doesn’t translate into “stigmaless” sex, but someone intent on attributing rape to criminalization instead of toxic masculinity has to detach the rapist from his motivation to rape somehow.

On the sex worker side of things I agree that feeling ashamed sucks, but I can provide a very long list of prostitution-related harms that suck a whole lot more. Thanks to trafficking awareness campaigns plus the eternally creative imaginations of pimpographers, the average citizen can also whip up a hefty list of brutal nasties faced by the average prostituted woman which transcend shame. Consequently, I more commonly see stigma listed among prostitution’s many problems or as a thematic connection between a group of problems than as The Problem.


Industry lobbyists think they can replace the well-known threat pimps and johns pose to prostitutes with the specious assertion that feminists and police officers are worse. Fortunately that’s not been working well for them.

I tried to think of a new pro-prostitution argument encountered in the past year and the only one that comes to mind declares Sweden a sexually repressive, totalitarian gender dystopia disguised as a socialist democracy. Iceland also got some slander slapped on it in 2013 when they stopped pretending that the women in pornography can be sex workers without consumers of pornography being sex worker clients, aka johns.

Such weak lobs play well to the Julian Assange fanclub but I’m quite sure, “Scandinavia hates sexual freedom” has fresh dirt under its nails from digging a grave in the cemetery of pointless pro-prostitution polemics.


Samantha Berg is an activist, journalist and founder of the blog JohnStompers, as well as the website Genderberg, a radical feminist community since 2005. She speaks about sexual violence at conferences, on radio, and in print media and is the National Coordinator for Stop Porn Culture.


Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • annika

    This article had me cheering! As a proud Swede, I can say I find it hilarious that people in th US think that Sweden is this Orwellian sexual dictatorship, considering that 90% of the population supported the Nordic Model in its inception (same with the strip club laws in Iceland). I guess American pimps and fun feminists hate the idea of the stereotypical Blonde Swedish woman having consensual sex on her own terms while retaining her humanity and dignity, since that flies in the face of their beloved belief that all women can be used to make a profit.

    • Henke

      Hello landbase friend 🙂

      I was about to respond on this myself but you put it out just well
      I might add that voices for legalising prostituiotn has gone up somewhat here in Sweden but it seems to follow the political winds in this rather crappy times that is hitting Europe with a sledgehammer.
      Also I find it absurd that there are people that even belives that this would in some ways make males convicted of rape even though they have not made the crime.
      Hell, here in Sweden men still can walk free of rape even when there is proof of the crime.

  • First of all, we are/were not “prostitutes.” We are not/were not “sex workers.” We were slaves. We are women who’ve been prostituted. We are survivors of the Femicaust.

    Second, the ONLY reason there is shame and stigma branded (for life!) on those of us from the prostituted class is because NO ONE is excising the word “prostitute” from their lexicon and instead properly referring to us as CRIME VICTIMS who have been, and who continue to be, denied restorative justice and reparations.

    And we can thank both the Xtian Right AND the “sex-positive feminists” for that because BOTH are using language that is more about pushing their political agendas and making points than about helping abused, exploited women. BOTH are using language that reduces the actual crime against humanity (aimed mostly at POOR women), and reducing the truth about the institution of prostitution as the “Final Solution” to society’s discarded, poor and unwanted women, to something that is a “choice” that the victims somehow brought on ourselves.

    • riv

      Too right Jacqueline. This came into my inbox the other day. According to the UN, it is “sex work” and the women “sex workers”. How, they want to know. Let’s tell them shall we? ‘Apologies Meghan, I don’t have a link for this:

      “How can the world reduce human rights violations while improving health outcomes in the context of sex work?”

      Executive Director

      Dear Colleagues,

      Thank you for your email messages and for your engagement in this important global challenge: how can the world reduce human rights violations while improving health outcomes in the context of sex work?

      Let me start by underlining that efforts to combat sexual exploitation and human trafficking are critical to both protect human rights and to advance the AIDS response. To these ends, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) supports the implementation of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.

      We see as crucial, efforts focused on the identification and criminal prosecution of individuals and criminal networks that exploit and abuse sex workers through force, deception or fraud. This includes people who procure clients for sex workers (called “pimps” in some places) and people who run brothels. People who suffer trafficking or sexual exploitation should benefit from protective measures and should have full access to health and other needed services, as well as support to rebuild their lives. UNAIDS affirms the right of any person to leave sex work and to have meaningful access to options of employment other than sex work. UNAIDS also affirms the right of all children to be protected from sexual exploitation and trafficking and urges all States to meet their obligations to protect children.

      As sex workers bear a disproportionate burden of HIV (globally, female sex workers are 13.5 times more likely to be living with HIV than women in the general population), UNAIDS has engaged in extensive consultations and research with sex workers and other stakeholders over the past several years to identify and support effective, evidence-informed and rights-based responses to reduce HIV vulnerability among sex workers.

      Data shows that HIV infection rates are reduced when sex workers are able to: organize themselves within their communities; protect themselves from violence, force and exploitation (including from brothel-owners, procurers, clients and police); demand safer sex from their clients; and have access to health information, services and commodities.

      UNAIDS is not advocating for the decriminalization of pimping or brothel ownership. Evidence indicates that criminalization of sex work can make it difficult for sex workers to protect themselves from HIV, violence and/or exploitation. Criminalization has the unintended consequence of compelling sex workers into hiding and into dangerous situations, where sex workers may experience abuse by clients, pimps and police. Furthermore, criminalization can also heighten stigma and discrimination towards sex workers. Many sex workers report that they cannot carry condoms or access HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services because of fear of arrest and prosecution. Sex workers who have experienced abuse and violence have said they are not able to bring these human rights violations to the police and authorities because they fear arrest and prosecution. Many jailed sex workers suffer violence, as well as increased vulnerability to HIV, tuberculosis and Hepatitis C.

      In the 2011 United Nations General Assembly Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, UN Member States called on countries to review “laws and policies that adversely affect the successful, effective and equitable delivery of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes to people living with and affected by HIV.”

      For these reasons, UNAIDS, WHO, UNFPA and the Global Network of Sex Worker Projects have called on all countries to:

      ▪ Work towards decriminalizing sex work and the elimination of the unjust application of laws and regulations against sex workers

      ▪ Establish anti-discrimination and other rights-respecting laws to protect sex workers against discrimination, violence, and other human rights violations

      ▪ Put in place laws and regulations that guarantee sex workers’ rights to social, health and financial services

      ▪ Make health services available, accessible and acceptable to sex workers based on the principles of non-discrimination and the right to health

      UNAIDS welcomes a continuing dialogue on these complex issues.


      Michel Sidibé

      (Executive Director Mr. Sidibe’s email came into my inbox from “Executive Director”. No other appelation. My, my. Titles. Until I got to the context I had NO idea where this was coming from, not what org, not who he was.)

  • Missy

    I’m not sure the point of this piece, other than to say—in your opinion how foolish some are to bring up, issues you have identified as irrelevant, lazy logic, and establishing your own progress as you write, “moans haven’t been heard by me in the last year. Progress!”

    Your individual proclivities and successes are important, unfortunately the issues you raise, may make for interesting conversation, but won’t change policies, laws, nor actions to bring about the nordic model, safe homes for those who escape the complex world of sex trafficking, and most certainly, but you might try won’t change the minds of the U.N, currently close to implementing some frightening changes. The U.N’s actions signals a new affirm towards securing the sex trafficked class. Including, turning back some long hard fought progress the “United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (Trafficking in Persons Protocol).”

    The U.N had released two reports last year recommending the decriminalization of pimps, brothel keeping and demand. Both reports funded by the U.N and considered official documents of the U.N have caused quite concern as you might imagine. Initially, folk were lobbying privately to change such recommendations. Thus far, to no avail.

    A few weeks ago Equality Now and some 90 plus NGO’s many of which are survivor led launched a campaign in direct response to the U.N. findings and conclusions.

    The U.N acknowledges and uses the wording of, sex trafficking and “sex work,” along with the belief that legalizing the industry will protect women. This all under the guise of protecting all those “sex workers,” and those who are sex trafficked from HIV/AIDs – U.N reports issued last year have stated as such.

    Although, many have fought against notions of “sex work,” and condoms will magically make the industry safe—given the reality of the power dynamics involved or address the inherent violence of buying and/or selling another human to be used for sex, usually 10- 15x a day in the states, globally the numbers are far higher. This is where we are; sex work, condemns, stigma leading to decriminalizing pimps, brothel keeping and demand.

    The report(s) states: “Confiscation of condoms by police as evidence of illegal conduct or to justify harassment and extortion is a widespread problem. Countries where sex workers report condom confiscation or police harassment for possessing condoms include China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.”

    Also, quite untrue, however this is what the U.N thus far is sticking with: “Some countries have opted to criminalize clients of sex workers, rather than or in addition to sex workers. For example, Nepal criminalizes clients but not sex workers. A similar approach has been proposed in India. Laws have been enacted that criminalize clients in American Samoa, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Guam, Republic of Korea, Palau, and Taiwan. The UNAIDS Advisory Group on Sex Work has noted that there is no evidence that ‘end demand’ initiatives reduce sex work or HIV transmission, or improve the quality of life of sex workers. Efforts targeting clients sometimes encourage law enforcement officials to use condoms as evidence of involvement in sex work.”

    The reports recommendations (again, these are official documents from the U.N.), despite your dismay at such dippy slogans as “sex work is work” – I too am surprised we are back at sex work is work and condom arguments. But, it really doesn’t matter—our own opinions, reality is the U.N is very close to implementing incredibly dangerous actions.

    “Evidence from the jurisdictions in the region that have decriminalized sex work (New Zealand and New South Wales) indicates that the approach of defining sex work as legitimate labour empowers sex workers, increases their access to HIV and sexual health services and is associated with very high condom use rates. Very low STI prevalence has been maintained among sex workers in New Zealand and New South Wales, and HIV transmission within the context of sex work is understood to be extremely low or non- existent. In decriminalized contexts, the sex industry can be subject to the same general laws regarding workplace health and safety and anti-discrimination protections as other industries. The legal recognition of sex work as an occupation enables sex workers to claim benefits, to form or join unions and to access work-related banking, insurance, transport and pension schemes.”

    Anti-trafficking laws, policies and practices:
    Laws that conflate human trafficking and sex work and define sex work as ‘sexual exploitation’ contribute to vulnerability, generate stigma and create barriers to HIV service delivery. Trafficking laws have been used to justify crackdowns and raids that suppress adult voluntary sex work (e.g., Cambodia, India, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand). This has resulted in abuses of sex workers’ human rights and undermining of HIV responses.

    Finally, regardless of your views, I hope you will consider fighting to stop the U.N. from implanting such practices, as well as, their decision to narrow the definition of sex trafficking which initially was ratified after world war II, the Trafficking in Persons Protocol Protection.

    The report(s) go on to say:
    The UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work recommends that sex work and trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation be understood as separate concepts:
    Sex work implies consent of sex workers and their capacity to exercise that consent voluntarily. The exercise of agency–that is, people determining for themselves what they want to do and when–is central to the definition of sex work. Trafficking, on the other hand, involves coercion and deceit, resulting in loss of agency on the part of the trafficked person.
    …The unwillingness or inability of people to recognize that people can freely decide to engage in sex work means that sex workers are often automatically labelled as victims of trafficking when they are not. Often sex workers are portrayed as passive victims who need to be saved. Assuming that all sex workers are trafficked denies the autonomy and agency of people who sell sex. Moreover, such perspectives mean that anti-trafficking efforts typically ignore the possibility of engaging sex workers as partners in identifying, preventing and resolving situations that do involve trafficked people. Sex workers themselves are often best placed to know who is being trafficked

    Although you may draw weary of conversations of stigma, the U.N really doesn’t care, what you are tired of, i might add, stigma is a bit more complex as well as its impact, than your writing has expressed.
    Final conclusion(s) from the U.N includes:

    Criminalization of sex work
    All countries of Asia and the Pacific criminalize sex work or certain activities associated with sex work, except New Zealand and New South Wales (Australia). Criminalization increases the vulnerability of sex workers to HIV by:
    • fueling stigma and discrimination;
    • limiting access to sexual health services, condoms and harm reduction services;
    • adversely affecting the self esteem of sex workers and their ability to make informed choices about their health.

    Criminalization of clients:
    Some countries have opted to criminalize clients of sex workers, rather than or in addition to sex workers. For example, Nepal criminalizes clients but not sex workers. A similar approach has been proposed in India. Laws have been enacted that criminalize clients in American Samoa, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Guam, Republic of Korea, Palau, and Taiwan. The UNAIDS Advisory Group on Sex Work has noted that there is no evidence that ‘end demand’ initiatives reduce sex work or HIV transmission, or improve the quality of life of sex workers.38 Efforts targeting clients sometimes encourage law enforcement officials to use condoms as evidence of involvement in sex work.

    Lack of labour rights and social security rights
    Sex workers in all countries of the region except New Zealand and the state of New South Wales (Australia) lack the labour rights afforded to other workers, including the legal right to a safe and healthy workplace and to reasonable terms and conditions of employment. In Thailand the Labour Protection Act applies to sex workers but is not enforced, and sex workers have some entitlements under the state social security scheme. Labour laws and
    social security laws that do not recognize sex work as legitimate work contribute to stigma and marginalization of sex workers.

    The U.N. clearly states their recommendations:
    The 2011 report of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work made the following recommendations on the legal environment:
    States should move away from criminalizing sex work or activities associated with it. Decriminalization of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work. To the degree that states retain non-criminal administrative law or regulations concerning sex work, these should be applied in ways that do not violate sex workers’ rights or dignity and that ensure their enjoyment of due process of law.
    Whatever the legal regime, states should ensure that sex workers have unimpeded access to all HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes and that they participate meaningfully in programme and policy decision-making affecting them. Prevention programmes should ensure access to lubricants as well as condoms. HIV- positive sex workers must be considered a high-priority population for uninterrupted access to treatment services.
    States should take all necessary measures to enable sex workers to enjoy work- related protections like other workers, including workplace safety and protection from violence, exploitation and discrimination.
    Where criminal law applies, governments and donors should support sex workers’ access to legal services, mechanisms of accountability for police abuse, information for sex workers on their rights, and removal of impediments to forming sex worker organizations. Reduction of sex work-related stigma should figure in public awareness and information programmes.

    Recommendations of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law (2012)
    Countries must:
    1. Repeal laws that prohibit consenting adults to buy or sell sex, as well as laws that otherwise prohibit commercial sex, such as laws against ‘immoral’ earnings, ‘living off the earnings’ of prostitution and brothel-keeping. Complementary legal measures must be taken to ensure safe working conditions to sex workers.
    2. Take all measures to stop police harassment and violence against sex workers.
    prohibit mandatory HIV and STI testing of sex workers.
    3. Prohibit mandatory HIV and STI testing of sex workers.
    4. Ensure that the enforcement of anti-human-trafficking laws is carefully targeted to punish those who use force, dishonesty or coercion to procure people into commercial sex, or who abuse migrant sex workers through debt bondage, violence or by deprivation of liberty. Anti-human-trafficking laws must be used to prohibit sexual exploitation and they must not be used against adults involved in consensual sex work.
    5. Enforce laws against all forms of child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, clearly differentiating such crimes from consensual adult sex work.
    6. Ensure that existing civil and administrative offences such as ‘loitering without purpose’, ‘public nuisance’, and ‘public morality’ are not used to penalize sex workers and administrative laws such as ‘move on’ powers are not used to harass sex workers.
    7. Shut down all compulsory detention or ‘rehabilitation’ centres for people involved in sex work or for children who have been sexually exploited. Instead, provide sex workers with evidence-based, voluntary, community empowerment services. Provide sexually exploited children with protection in safe and empowering family settings, selected based on the best interests of the child.

    If you or anyone reading this is interested in fighting, decriminalizing the industry, here is the link: including a letter to be signed, specifically the letter reads:

    I am deeply concerned about recommendations contained in two recent reports: the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), published by UNDP, and the UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS-backed report, Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012). These reports not only make recommendations in direct opposition to international human rights standards, but also largely ignore the experiences and views of survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking.

    These two reports tell countries that in order to support efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS and to promote the human rights of people in prostitution, all aspects of the commercial sex industry should be decriminalized, including pimping, brothel-keeping and the purchase of sex. However, the UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women calls for countries to “suppress all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of prostitution of women.” In addition, there is mounting evidence that decriminalization and legalization – including of brothels – does not protect people in prostitution or improve their situation.

    Furthermore, I am concerned with the two reports’ recommendation to revise and narrow the definition of trafficking in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN Trafficking Protocol), which would prevent many victims of trafficking from being recognized as such. This would jeopardize their ability to access support and justice, and reduce accountability for their traffickers.

    The Swedish (or Nordic) model on prostitution addresses demand by decriminalizing the person in prostitution and criminalizing the buyers and pimps. This approach recognizes the inherent inequality in the power dynamic between the buyer and the person bought in a commercial sex transaction. The effectiveness of combating sex trafficking through addressing demand for commercial sex has been affirmed by the UN Trafficking Protocol, the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the former head of UN Women, yet the two reports at issue call for laws that address the demand for commercial sex to be repealed.

    Promoting the human rights of people in prostitution – including their right to health, safety and freedom from violence and exploitation – and protecting them from HIV, are imperative. However, the two reports’ recommendations are in direct opposition to efforts and policies that have been and are widely supported throughout the UN. They also jeopardize efforts to prevent and address sex trafficking and promote gender equality. These cannot be side effects of efforts to prevent HIV.

    I respectfully urge you to ensure that (1) your agency clarifies its position on the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers, and (2) the future development of policies and programs on issues that affect people in the commercial sex industry includes the views of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation as well as a more diverse range of groups working on the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking.

    I thank you for your attention.

    Yours sincerely,

  • Missy

    Thank you ! for posting my thoughts and letter of action. I was waiting to post an addendum, below, if/once my comment was posted (sorry, i’m not familiar with rules and procedures).


    re history of the U.N Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (General Assembly resolution 317 (IV) of 2 December 1949) that entered into force in 1951.) (more, below).

    “Historically, the United Nations has worked vigorously to address human trafficking, and to curb the exploitation of others for a monetary profit. International concern has given rise to many important legal instruments, including the United Nations Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others (General Assembly resolution 317 (IV) of 2 December 1949) that entered into force in 1951. To a certain extent, this Convention was a legal turning point, as it was the first international instrument on trafficking and related issues that was legally binding. 2 December, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, in fact recalls the date of the adoption of the first Convention to fight human trafficking by the General Assembly.
    After nearly half a century, the most recent global effort to address this crime at the international level has been the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime which entered into force on 25 December 2003. The Trafficking Protocol for the first time provides a universally agreed upon definition of trafficking in persons. It addresses human trafficking as a crime including all forms of exploitation and all types of victims, and seeks to balance law enforcement action with the rights of victims. The Protocol commits ratifying States to combating trafficking in persons, prosecuting perpetrators, protecting and assisting victims of trafficking and promoting cooperation among states in order to meet those objectives. To date over 140 countries are party to the Trafficking Protocol.
    The Trafficking Protocol, and the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, form part of the Palmero Protocol which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000. Both protocols are important multilateral components of the worldwide effort to combat trafficking in persons and the distinct, though often related crime of migrant smuggling.
    UNODC, as guardian of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and the Protocols thereto, assists States in their efforts to implement these Protocols.”
    *The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, adopted by General Assembly resolution 55/25 of 15 November 2000, is the main international instrument in the fight against transnational organized crime. It opened for signature by Member States at a High-level Political Conference convened for that purpose in Palermo, Italy, on 12-15 December 2000 and entered into force on 29 September 2003. The Convention is further supplemented by *three Protocols, which target specific areas and manifestations of organized crime: the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air; and the Protocol against the Illicit Manufacturing of and Trafficking in Firearms, their Parts and Components and Ammunition. Countries must become parties to the Convention itself before they can become parties to any of the Protocols.

    The current understanding of trafficking, *one of the three protocols, below. (in relation to the U.N stating the consideration of narrowing of the current definition, which i established the historical timeline, if you will, above).
    What is Human Trafficking?
    Article 3, paragraph (a) of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons defines Trafficking in Persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs

    I included links, if folk are interested in reading more re UN Resolution(s)/Article(s)/Protocol(s), which I referenced.

    Again, thank you, Meghan, for the opportunity to have this discussion and/or at least to be considered.