ii.) The decriminalisation of sex work makes sex workers more vulnerable
We are unaware of any research that would support the claim made by Equality Now above. In fact, the opposite has been found not only in the robust work and wide consultation of various UN bodies, but in the public health literature.
In a review in New Zealand five years after the implementation of legislation on decriminalisation of sex work, sex workers reported that their working conditions and well-being had improved, that they felt safer, and that they were more likely to report abuse to the police. Researchers also found that sex workers were generally practicing safer sex and that there was no increase in the number of sex workers in the industry – a popular public fear associated with decriminalisation. Elsewhere, in a study in Australia, data showed better coverage of health promotion programmes for sex workers in a city that had a decriminalised legal framework as compared to cities with a legalised or criminalised framework.
These findings are in line with many other studies that show that stigmatised populations are protected, valued and respected if human rights-based laws are applied, and not the criminal law.
iii.) UN bodies did not listen to sex workers in their recommendations.
A multitude of sex workers – including many from Africa – participated in the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s deliberations which resulted in the report: HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health. Their voices were documented in a variety of media and forums, and were captured with precision in the various reports produced by the Commission. Detailed submissions from Africa sex workers – also available online – described how the criminal law on sex work in Africa have led to large-scale human rights abuses, torture and maltreatment of sex workers and their clients.
New Zealand and Australia have low rates (lower than Sweden, for one!) of trafficking and abuse, but both work with a decriminalised legal framework.