As social norms continue to evolve, outdated perceptions of sex work are crumbling away. In its place, a productive and necessary dialogue is developing around the human right of sex work—a discussion that is rooted in an acceptance of diversity and the value of consensual and unpaid sex. This article argues that sex work is an inherent human right and should be decriminalized globally.
The term sex work refers to any activity that deals with the physical exchange of sexual services, whether these transactions are compensated or not. It is a blanket term that includes a variety of activities, such as prostitution, stripping, pornography, and escorting.
Stigmatization of sex work, sadly, still exists today, and it pervades many attitudes and behaviors around the world. This stigma contributes to hostility towards and criminalization of sex work. These negative perceptions and laws have numerous negative effects for sex workers, such as decreased access to services and heightened exposure to violence.
High social and economic disparities lead many people—especially women—to sex work as it is one of the few options for them to make a living. When compared to other methods of making money, sex work often provides a greater level of financial security while allowing workers to maintain a degree of autonomy over their work. People enter sex work for many different reasons – including economic empowerment, income security, and freedom from constraints.
In spite of the stigma surrounding it, sex work is a valid livelihood and should be treated as such. This requires that sex work be decriminalized in all countries, to allow workers to safely engage in activities without fear of legal repercussions. Decriminalization of sex work strikes the right balance between recognition and protection of sex workers’ economic and human rights, while still preserving public health and safety measures.
Since human trafficking and exploitation are common tactics used to force people into sex work, it is essential that sex work be distinguished from such crimes. This is especially true for vulnerable populations, who are at greater risk of experiencing exploitation. Laws must be enacted, and special protections put in place, to rebalance the power difference between those who are truly victims of trafficking and those who, by contrast, have willingly chosen a life of sex work.
Additionally, it is important that sex workers are afforded the same basic rights and benefits as other workers. This means providing them with access to labor rights, pensions, health care, and other services that are afforded to other types of workers. Sex workers should also be extended the same protections provided to other workers such as the right to fair wages and safe working conditions.
The decriminalization of sex work and the recognition of sex workers’ human rights are long overdue. Criminalization of sex work creates an environment of fear and distrust and prevents sex workers from accessing the same rights and services as other workers. It is essential that we end the criminalization of sex work and fully embrace the inherent rights of all sex workers, to ensure that they have access to health care, financial security, safety, and respect. Furthermore, by fully recognizing the legitimate and valuable nature of sex work, we can move towards a healthier, more equitable society where sex workers are valued members of their communities.