“The problem with the raid and rescue industry is that it uses some of the most oppressive arms of the state to target sex workers – the police,” Meena Saraswathi, director of SANGRAM, a grassroots HIV organization in India, told IRIN.
“Whether sex workers have been trafficked or not, their understanding of what the police do is very different than that of other people because they are so often targeted as sex workers, migrants, transgender people, or for other reasons.
“This impacts how they perceive any attempt by the police to help them,” she said.
It is not only during anti-trafficking raids that sex workers have come to fear the police.
According to research compiled by WHO and the Global Coalition on Women and AIDS, nearly half of the street-based sex workers in Bangladesh reported being raped by “men in uniform” while 70 percent of sex workers surveyed in India reported being beaten by the police.
Poorly conducted anti-trafficking operations have done little to abate such fears.
A 2003 study in Indonesia revealed sex workers rounded up during anti-trafficking raids have faced police abuse, including beatings and sexual abuse. A 2007 anti-trafficking law in Cambodia led to raids of sex work establishments in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, some of which involved police violence against sex workers, according to activists.