The International Union of Sex Workers’ statement on the Centre For Women’s Justice challenge to convictions for street sex work

Sex worker-led organisations like the IUSW see first-hand the harm done to everyone in the sex industry – whether there by choice, circumstance or coercion – through criminalisation, discrimination and stigma. We campaign[i] for

  • an end to the laws against consensual adult commercial sexual behavior
  • full and equal respect for our consent to sex
  • services lead by service-user need and informed by evidence rather than the staff or funders’ beliefs about sex work.

We seek to remove the barriers to leaving the sex industry imposed by criminal law. Women selling sex onstreet may be arrested for loitering or soliciting[iii]; indoors, any way of working with or for another person creates a risk of prosecution[iv].

Clients are entirely criminalised onstreet and extensively indoors[v]. This means that almost anyone who encounters victims of trafficking in the sex industry has reason to fear arrest if they contact the authorities to report concerns.

This complex and confusing mess of legislation endangers everyone in the sex industry. Only complete decriminalisation offers the wholesale reform necessary to create a legal framework that offers us the same human rights accorded to others.[vi]

There is an inherent contradiction between CWJ’s suit to remedy a specific element of the many harms done by criminalisation and their ideological view of prostitution as “violence against women.”[vii]

Pro-criminalisation campaigners do not speak for current sex workers. CWJ does not include sex worker led organisations in events at which they publicise policies which harm us and deny our right to consent to sex.[viii]

Globally, hundreds of sex worker organisations[ix], comprising tens of thousands of individuals, campaign for decriminalisation and for the way we earn a living to be recognised as work[x]. This would give us equal protection before the law so we can turn to the police when we fear violence or abuse.[xi]

We hope that CWJ and other supporters of their campaign will listen to those most affected by policy on this issue – current sex workers – and believe us when we talk about the diverse reality of our lives, including our experience of sexual violence.[xii]

CWJ can also learn from the specialist anti-violence project, National Ugly Mugs, that enables sex workers to report crimes against us without direct contact with the police and every year sends 80,000 potentially life-saving alerts to sex workers nationwide.[xiii]

Finally, the Sex Work Research Hub[xiv] is a good place to begin to explore the wide range of ethically-produced academically robust evidence demonstrating the most effective ways to tackle the harms associated with the sex industry.

The IUSW hopes CWJ will support a fair and equal justice for everyone in the sex industry through laws that recognise and respect our human rights and our consent to sex.

Policies that solve problems are based in reality and on evidence, not ideology, emotion or individual cases.

A community’s worth is measured by the way it treats the most vulnerable. It is time for the UK to treat women who sell sex and adult entertainment services with respect and to prioritise our rights and safety.

Notes: Founded in 1999, the International Union of Sex Workers is a network of individuals currently working in the sex industry, allies who respect our equal entitlement to human rights and supporters of evidence-based policy. We receive no funding, have no offices and all work is by volunteers.

The International Union of Sex Workers:
For our human, civil and labour rights.  For our inclusion and decriminalisation.
For freedom to choose and respect for those choices, including the absolute right to say no.
For the full protection of the law. For everyone in the sex industry.

Law relating to the sex industry is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by preventing us from working together and decreasing the protection available from the police.

Article 7. All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 17. (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.
Article 21.(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.