Sex Workers Are Key Players in Promoting Human Rights and Harm Reduction

Human rights for sex workers: Recognizing and ensuring the protection of sex workers’ human rights is essential to promoting health and safety. Ensuring that sex workers have full enjoyment of their human rights is the best way to reduce or eliminate the discrimination and abuse to which sex workers are often subjected and to improve or eliminate the discrimination and abuse to which sex workers are often subjected and to improve access to health and social services.

Sex workers are part of the solution: Sex worker leadership and empowerment are essential in fighting HIV and discrimination. Sex workers are their own best resource – they should be at the forefront of developing and implementing the programs and policies that impact their lives. It is only by empowering sex workers to speak for themselves and developing sex worker leadership that stigma and rights violations will be stopped.

Support of self-representation of sex work experiences and culture: A rich tradition of cultural representation (books, films, online presentations, festivals, dance) exists in sex workers’ communities and organizations all over the world. Cultural expression makes the aims of our rights based movement more accessible to people who may not be familiar with the realities of sex workers’ experience and is an essential part of our struggle for rights and change.

Sex work is work, not “harm”: Sex work (itself) is not inherently harmful. The reasons people engage in sex work vary widely, as do the reasons people choose a variety of other jobs. Many sex worker health and rights organizations use a harm reduction framework when they address the needs of sex workers. Other sexworker organizations have a less comfortable relationship with harm reduction because “harm” is sometimes erroneously defined as sex work or sex workers (themselves). We are resolute that any harm associated with sex worker results from repressive environments in which sex worker is not recognized as work, and because sex workers lack basic human rights and access to appropriate health services.

Labor rights for sex workers:Sex worker should be recognized as work in order to ensure safe and appropriate working conditions. The lack of labor rights leaves sex workers vulnerable to abuse and poor working conditions. Sex work should not be “over-regulated” or subject to special restrictions because of discriminatory fears about sex worker and sex workers. Sex work should be treated like other forms of labor.
This statement was originally prepared by the International Sex Worker Harm Reduction Caucus, a working group committed to increasing the participation of sex workers and their organizations in discussions of harm reduction at the international level. The statement was written for the International Harm ReductionAssociation’s 19thInternational Harm Reduction Conference in Barcelona, Spain, May 11-15, 2008.

Harm reduction for sex workers is knowing your legal rights. Harm reduction for drug users is providing condoms. Harm reduction for sex workers is education on safe practices. Harm reduction for drug users is providing a safe space. Harm reduction for sex workers IS harm reduction for drug users. Drug users and sex workers have the same concerns about stigma and criminalization. The battle against sex workers and the battle against drug users are two fronts of the same war. Many sex workers use drugs and/or hormones and many drug and/or hormone users are also sex workers by choice or for survival.

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