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.
Evaluation of Prosecutorial Policy Reforms Eliminating Criminal Penalties for Drug Possession and Sex Work in Baltimore, Maryland, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
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For Further Learning
Find out where your city and state fall on criminalizing sex work, learn about sex work decriminalization campaigns, and volunteer to support them.
Advocate for policies that reduce the material conditions that allow human trafficking and labor exploitation to occur.
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Last updated May 2021