We Must End Violence Against Sex Workers

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December 17, 2015

Today, on the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, sex workers and their allies will rally to “renew our commitment to the on-going struggle for empowerment, visibility, and rights for all sex workers.” Events are scheduled around the nation and around the world.

Criminalization keeps people working in the shadows and endangers lives. It’s a compounding factor for members of the LGBTQI communities Lambda Legal represents, because sex work may be one of few accessible options for individuals pushed to the margins due to family rejection, or discriminated against in accessing education or employment. When people are marginalized, they are more vulnerable to victimization and violence, and have less recourse to redress it. These are core reasons Lambda Legal agrees with Amnesty International’s policy opposing criminalization of sex work.

On this day of protest, we raise our voice to help end violence against sex workers. Here are some of the actions we have taken and realities that motivate us:

  • Campaigning to end the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution-related crimes: When police and prosecutors use condoms as evidence in prostitution cases, they savage public health by discouraging people to use condoms.
  • Lambda Legal's Protected and Served? survey of thousands of community members revealed overwhelming complaints that police officers neglect incidents of sexual assault against LGBT people, particularly those who are people of color. Being profiled as a sex worker exacerbates the problem.
  • Stacking up convictions for sex work blocks people who seek to leave sex work for other employment.
  • "For too many LGBTQ people, participation in street economies is often critical to survival, particularly for LGBTQ young people and transgender women of color, who face all-too-common family rejection and vastly disproportionate rates of violence, homelessness, and discrimination in employment, housing, and education. The lack of supports for our young people is disastrous, and the fact that any of them lack other options besides sexual exchange is a community tragedy. And even LGBTQ young people and adults who are not doing sex work, particularly those of color, are often profiled and arrested under prostitution laws, contributing to high rates of incarceration.”
  • "The forces driving people to trade sex for money cannot be arrested: the need to pay bills, feed yourself and your family, and keep a roof over your head. If we want to give people better opportunities, it’s hard to see how arrest and prosecution further that goal."
  • Transgender women of color are routinely profiled as sex workers, harassed and arrested, where laws that criminalize sex work are used against them.
  • LGBTQ youth who've been kicked out of their homes by unsupportive families make up a fifth to a quarter of young homeless people. Many trade sex for shelter or cash to survive. We need resources and support for routes out, to avoid further stacking the deck against them.
  • "Laws criminalizing sexual exchange—whether by the seller or the buyer—drive the industry further underground, undermine workers’ ability to negotiate with customers, and put people at higher risk for violence and coercion. Meanwhile, anti-trafficking group La Strada International reports that 'criminalization does not solve any of the problems that our [trafficked] clients face, nor does it prevent or stop human trafficking.' Indeed, resources that could go to uncovering actual trafficking and supporting victims are being wasted on locking up sex workers and shuttering escort sites. "
  • "Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse."

International leaders agree that the plague of violence “is not just violence against sex work[er]s—it’s also violence against trans women, against women of color, against drug users, against immigrants. We cannot end the marginalization and victimization of all sex workers without also fighting trans-phobia, racism, stigma and criminalization of drug use, and xenophobia.”