Decriminalisation of Sex Work Position Statement
A Way Out is a charity founded upon a Christian vision and the support and contributions, both financial and otherwise, of the local Church and Christian volunteers. A Way Out exists because it was driven by the faith, radical hope, and sense of social justice of Christians and the local Church. We do not expect all staff and volunteers to subscribe to the Christian faith, but to understand and acknowledge the Christian values which are the heartbeat of A Way Out.
We continue to partner with the Christian community to support our work; we believe in the power of prayer and faith in our work amongst the most marginalised. Hope gives us a vision of a changed life. Faith helps us believe that is possible. We welcome staff, volunteers, supporters and service users from all faiths and denominations and those who are agnostic or atheist. We do not expect anyone at A Way Out to subscribe to the Christian faith, but to respect and understand the importance of our Christian values, as we do for others.
When sex work is decriminalised sex workers can press for safer working conditions and use the criminal justice system to seek redress from abuse, discrimination and exploitation. By limiting sex workers freedoms to negotiate condom use, access public services like health care, and organise and advocate for their rights, criminalisation also increases vulnerability to violence, abuse, health risks and extortion.
A Way Out believes that decriminalising sex work is the best policy to promote the health and human rights of sex workers, their families and communities. Removing criminal prosecution recognises sex work as work and supports the right of sex workers to operate free from the stigma of criminalisation. Taking this approach means that sex workers are more likely to live lives free from harm, abuse and exploitation. Removing criminalisation also enhances the opportunities for individuals to find work outside of the sex industry, should they wish to move on from this form of work.
Studies and results from New Zealand where decriminalisation has been introduced have identified the following:
‘Decriminalisation – of both the sale and purchase of sex – is incredibly important for enabling access to justice when crimes are perpetrated against sex workers. A study conducted with street-based sex workers indicated a significant positive change in relationships between police and sex workers after the law changed. It showed how decriminalisation supports sex worker’s safety strategies, enabling street workers to take their time in initial conversations with clients, without risking their clients being arrested and losing income as a result.’
10 reasons for decriminalising sex work (Open Society Foundations)
Human rights and dignity.
Sex workers fight for human rights cannot be fully recognised if criminal law threatens their access to health and justice outcomes, undermines their right to labor and workplace protections. This exposes sex workers to violence, abuse, harm and exploitation and also a criminal record.
Guards against abuse, harm and exploitation
Sex work is not inherently violent and to avoid increasing the risk of violence occurring both seller and buyer should not be in fear of arrest. This means that sex workers can operate in safe spaces, screen clients properly, negotiate condom use and will feel able to report to police any offence that has taken place.
Safeguards against State (police) abuse and violence
When sex work is criminalised there is a power differential between police and sex workers that can be exploited. Decriminalisation empowers sex workers to come forward and register complaints against police or any other state agency who act unlawfully and to bring offenders to justice.
Improves access to Justice
The laws that criminalise sex work can cause sex workers to feel unsafe reporting crimes, including violent and sexual crimes because they fear prosecution, police attention, stigma and discrimination.
Avoiding a criminal record
Criminal records are a source of stigma and limit access to the employment market. This means that sex workers wishing to change careers from sex work to other forms of employment can find significant barriers to accessing other forms of work.
Improved access to health services
Sex workers can face stigma and discrimination in their interactions with health care providers and may mean that access to important health and sexual health service provision is not taken up. Decriminalisation of sex work would be a step towards addressing barriers and removal of the stigma associated with health interventions.
Reduces the risk of HIV and STI’s
When sex work is decriminalised sex workers are empowered to insist on condom use and are better able to access testing and treatment for HIV and STI’s. a study in The Lancet (2014) identified that decriminalising sex work would have the single greatest potential to reduce HIV infections in female sex work communities.
Promotes safe working conditions
Decriminalisation enables the conditions to create a safer working environment through health and safety regulations. Additionally, it provides the opportunity for sex workers to collectively organise and address risk factors in the workplace and advocate for better conditions.
Allows for effective responses to trafficking
Sex workers can be natural allies in the fight against trafficking and when freed up from the threat of criminal penalties can organise and collaborate with the criminal justice system to address this crime. There is no evidence that suggests that criminalising selling or buying sex has any impact on trafficking and conversely there is no evidence to suggest that decriminalising sex work increases this crime.
Challenges state control over bodies and sexuality
The right to privacy and freedom without undue state control is enshrined in the ECHR.
Decriminalisation respects gender equality and sexual rights and laws against sex work constitute a form of state control over the bodies of women and LGBTQ+ persons who make up the large majority of sex workers worldwide.