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#TalkTraffic: Why Decriminalize Sex Work?

This is the ninth video in our 10-part #TalkTraffic video series, which we are releasing on Human Rights Day 2016. See Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Trafficking happens in a wide range of low-wage industries, including sex work. In most places around the world, engaging in sex work can get you arrested. This actually makes it harder for sex workers and survivors of trafficking to seek help when they need it. Learn more about why it’s important to decriminalize sex work and keep people out of the criminal justice system.

What You Need To Know

People engage in sex work for a variety of reasons, most often because they need to support themselves and their families, and their other work options won’t pay enough for a living wage. At NY Anti-Trafficking Network, we often say, people engage in sex work because of choice, circumstance, or coercion, with life circumstance being the most common reason.

  • But there are sex workers who face coercion, which is the key element of trafficking. This means they are working in a climate of fear, or in isolation or abuse, and they are afraid to leave.
  • Sex workers who have been trafficked may have someone withhold their passport; advertise a job as waitressing when it really involves prostitution; make threats against their family; engage in physical abuse; or threaten to call the police or immigration to make an arrest.
  • The threat of arrest makes it difficult for a trafficked person to leave, because sex work is considered a crime in most parts of the world.

Many sex workers who have been trafficked are arrested, often repeatedly, before anyone in the criminal justice system understands they need help. Arrest is never an appropriate way to try to help someone who may be a trafficking survivor or is involved in sex work.

  • Arresting people who may be trafficked only drives them further into vulnerable situations.
  • Arrests create trauma, chaos, and unintended consequences in a person’s life (for example, affecting their family, children, housing, and co-workers.)
  • Arrest also adds an additional layer of complex legal consequences into that person’s already complicated and difficult situation. Under U.S. immigration law, even having a prostitution-related arrest on your criminal record can affect a person’s chances to stay on the roadmap to citizenship.

It is also dangerous for sex workers and trafficked people when customers of sex workers get arrested.

  • When customers are afraid of being arrested, it makes it more difficult for sex workers to negotiate safe conditions and decent pay. Sex workers may also be threatened by police so they will cooperate in a criminal case.
  • Actually, customers and other brothel workers are often the people who help sex workers leave trafficking situations, since they know more about their lives and daily routines than most of us.

Ultimately, it is protecting the human rights of sex workers and creating better economic options for people that helps to prevent trafficking and to keep sex workers safe.

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Production Credits — Producers: Juhu Thukral, Jeffrey Yamaguchi, and Suzanne Seltzer. Video Production/Filming/Editing: Jordan Timpy and Cassie Timpy of Agape Visuals (Read their write-up about working on this project). Music: Broke For Free.

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Suzanne Seltzer and Juhu Thukral’s “Human Rights and the Fight Against Human Trafficking”

In honor of Human Rights Day on December 10, NYATN steering members Suzanne Seltzer and Juhu Thukral have written, “Human Rights and the Fight Against Human Trafficking,” for The Huffington Post.  They write, in part, “Unfortunately, a well-meaning but misguided trend in anti-trafficking efforts hasn’t proven to help, but it has the potential to backfire and harm countless victims, survivors, and bystanders: Using sex offender registries as an anti-trafficking tool. Sex offender registries have their place in law enforcement, but human rights advocates and policymakers have been warning that over-use has been dangerous, both because they rarely protect potential victims, and they overload law enforcement agencies.”  Read more….

NYATN Member Asks: “Are New Policies Really About Human Trafficking?”

NYATN Steering Member Suzanne Seltzer’s piece, “Are New Policies Really About Human Trafficking?” in honor of Human Rights Day on Race-Talk, examines misguided policies such as California’s Proposition 35 which purport to be anti-trafficking legislation but actually may be harmful to many of those who are are trafficked.  Read more here.

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