CRIMINALIZATION IN THE SEX TRADE
Recently, public health has made gestures to integrate anti-trafficking into its sphere of influence, calling for health-oriented approaches to preventing violence against women.
Both prevention and intervention efforts have emphasized community collaborations between community organizations, healthcare, and government agencies, most often including law enforcement.
In order to successfully intercede in labor/sex trafficking, public health must fully understand how anti-trafficking approaches have been leveraged against marginalized individuals and communities, particularly through their criminalization and surveillance. This includes people trading sex who are not being trafficked, or not being forced, coerced, or defrauded into participating. The sex worker rights movement has long called for the decriminalization of the sex trade. Evidence suggests that full decriminalization may prevent more violence than other models, like full criminalization and partial criminalization (End Demand/the Nordic model). Systems of criminalization create conditions that set the stage for sex trafficking, increased proximity to state violence, increased social stigma, and reduced access to resources. Often, public health approaches to supporting both trafficking survivors and other participants in the sex trade involve partnerships with law enforcement. The following resources are curated to illustrate the harms of partnership with law enforcement when taking health approaches to reducing the harm in the sex trade. Updated 3/23/22.
- Girls Do What They Have to Do to Survive: Illuminating Methods used by Girls in the Sex Trade and Street Economy to Fight Back and Heal, Young Women's Empowerment Project
- Police Interactions Linked to Increased Risk of Client Violence for Female Sex Workers, American Journal of Public Health
- Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization, American Medical Association Journal of Ethics
- Diversion from Justice: A Rights-Based Analysis of Local “Prostitution Diversion Programs” and their Impacts on People in the Sex Sector in the United States, Yale School of Public Health
Evaluation of Prosecutorial Policy Reforms Eliminating Criminal Penalties for Drug Possession and Sex Work in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
- A Systematic Review of the Correlates of Violence Against Sex Workers, American Journal of Public Health
- Accountability and the Use of Raids to Fight Trafficking, Anti-Trafficking Review
- The Effect of Decriminalizing Prostitution on Public Health and Safety, Chicago Policy Review
- Can Anti-Trafficking Be Rescued?, Reframe Health and Justice
- The "End Demand” model of criminalization still criminalizes buyers of sexual services and continues to create harmful conditions that make people in the sex trade more vulnerable to client and police-initiated violence. How do both full and partial criminalization of the sex trade negatively impact the health and safety of sex workers and trafficking survivors?
- In the reading “Diversion from Justice,” we see that policing “reforms” like diversion programs are not having the intended effects of reducing harm -- in fact, they prolong contact with the criminal legal system and have the potential to cause even more harm. How should that inform public health approaches to recommending anti-violence interventions for the sex trade?
- In the report “Girls Do What They Have to Do to Survive,” research on youth in the sex trade was conducted primarily through Participatory Action Research methods. How can public health researchers take more participatory approaches to increase the reliability of research and make sure participants have agency in framing their own narratives around violence and harm?
Who To Follow
- Baltimore Safe Haven @baltimorehaven
- Red Canary Song @RedCanarySong
- Solutions Bot Punishment Collaborative
- Kate D’Adamo @KateDadamo
- Chris Ash @ChristianAshNC
- Decriminalized Futures @DecrimFutures
- Freedom Network USA @FreedomNetworkUSA
- Hacking//Hustling @hackinghustling
- aya tasaki @asiannomad
- DecrimNow DC @decrimnowdc
- SWOP Behind Bars @swopbehindbars
- BIPOC Adult Industry Collective @BIPOC_AIC
- Melissa Gira Grant @melissagira
- Tamika Spellman @tamikahs66
For Further Learning
- Criminalization of Sex Work Normalizes Violence
- Why You Shouldn’t Study Sex Workers
- Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire: Sex Work/ers in the Courts and in Research
- Criminal, Victim, or Worker? The Effects of New York’s Human Trafficking Intervention Courts
- State Violence, Sex Trade, and the Failure of Anti-Trafficking Policies
- Black Sex Workers’ Lives Matter: Appropriation of Black Suffering
- The Trials of Nina McCall: Sex, Surveillance, and the Decades-Long Government Plan to Imprison Promiscuous Women
- The impact of end-demand legislation on sex workers’ access to health and sex worker-led services: A community-based prospective cohort study in Canada
- The Paradox of Policing as Protection: A Harm Reduction Approach to Prostitution Using Safe Injection Sites as a Guide