Sex workers have many reasons for offering sexual services. True, some may not be happy with sex work, but they may be even less satisfied with other job opportunities that are open to them in their own countries. Similarly, human trafficking may be fueled by migration and labor regimes that make the lives of migrants vulnerable, rather than by actual violence.
Second, abolitionism does not solve the problem of violence which, more often than not, stems from the criminalization of sex workers and migrants, and the lack of rights that goes with it. In fact, research has shown that criminalization of sex workers makes them more vulnerable to instances of abuse and exploitation, including human trafficking.
Treated as criminals, victims of human trafficking for sexual exploitation risk remaining undetected and even further victimized by prison sentences. This has been the case in the recent FBI sting operation in the US where minors were arrested for prostitution. In the name of abolition, feminist and abolitionist organizations have supported police raids and police action in the fight against human trafficking. This is true even for those countries where the police is infamously corrupt and prone to abuse and sexually assaulting vulnerable populations such as sex workers, without ever being punished. Such policies hurt sex workers and victims of human trafficking alike. And, most certainly, they should not be called “feminist.”
By contrast, countries that treat sex work as legal labor have lower incidences of violence against sex workers. In these countries, sex workers’ working and living conditions have generally improved. The best example is New Zealand, where even migrant sex workers areprotected by law and where a liberal approach has neither increased the number of sex workers or victims of human trafficking. With the recognition of sex work as labor come many rights, such as access to health services, the social system and, in New Zealand, access to residence permits for migrant sex workers. Most importantly, decriminalization grants access to the legal system in case of rape or abuse by clients or the police.
(however, as Wendy Lyon points out on fb re: New Zealand
“All participants, excluding the NZ Immigration Service representative, stressed that existing legislation treats migrant sex workers inequitably. Most notably, under the Prostitution Reform Act, 2003 (PRA), migrants who require visas to work in New Zealand are prohibited from working in the sex industry. As such, under the PRA those on student and working visa are excluded from working as sex workers.
While the current law was lauded as having greatly improved conditions for sex workers in New Zealand the same privileges have not been awarded to migrants.
Participants challenged the law on the basis that:
§ it places migrant sex workers in an inequitable provision under the law
§ there is no evidence of migrant sex workers having been trafficked to New Zealand
§ legislation places migrant workers in an untenable position.” )