Promoting the Human Rights of Sex Workers During the Global Economic Crisis


This article is cross-posted with permission from Race-Talk.

As the global economic crisis has become more deeply entrenched over the past few years, people of all income levels have become desperate for some level of financial stability. This is particularly true for those who were already living on the edge financially before the crisis. Some of those who have been most affected have been workers in the informal economy: street vendors, domestic workers, and sex workers. Informal workers are those who work in sectors that lack stable conditions, job security, and protection of their basic rights. Among informal workers, sex workers are often targeted in the worst ways. They are treated as criminals or victims, with little genuine help or protection of their human rights. As we search for solutions that support a fair chance for all, we also need to make sure we examine existing policies that drive vulnerable informal workers, and especially sex workers, even further underground.

One such policy is what has become known as the Anti-Prostitution Pledge. This policy applies to U.S. international funding of HIV and AIDS programs, and to domestic and international anti-trafficking monies. While the pledge is found in different areas of law, and the actual language of the pledges that apply to HIV and to trafficking funds differs a bit, both have prohibited recipients of U.S. funding from engaging in activity or taking positions that might be construed by the U.S. government as supporting the legalization or practice of prostitution. There has been no clear guidance or definition as to what “supporting the legalization or practice” eans, and funding recipients have been left to figure it out on their own. Groups have erred on the side of caution, meaning they have avoided associating with sex workers and organizations that fight for their rights and empowerment.

The idea of a pledge against prostitution initially sounds harmless, especially since it is unheard of for service providers and advocacy organizations to actively promote prostitution. But there are serious repercussions. The vast majority of people get into sex work because it is a way to make more money than they can make in the other limited work options open to them. Even before the current economic crisis, many sex workers engaged in this work as a way to supplement income from mainstream jobs—they were not being paid living wages in the mainstream economy. A report from the Sex Workers Project includes information about jobs people had engaged in before they began sex work. These largely included jobs like waitressing or food service, domestic work, and freelance jobs that did not offer a living wage. One research participant, “Dana,” (not her real name) stated about her work, “[In other jobs, you are] enslaved by people, especially in minimum wage jobs. Bosses wield a lot of power. Sex work is better because you have your own hours and money and no boss to humiliate you.” For others, engaging in sex work meant that they had the time and flexibility to raise their families, go to school, or have another day job.

Despite this very real and human reason for engaging in the work—providing for themselves and their families—sex workers face violence and abuse (from police as well as customers), isolation, and most of all, stigma. Their basic human rights and their sense of dignity are often ignored, even by the institutions that should be helping them, like law enforcement and public health agencies. The reality is, organizations with the most effective HIV-prevention and anti-trafficking programs build their efforts on a sophisticated understanding of the social and personal dynamics faced by sex workers, and start by building trust and credibility among them. They recognize that it is necessary to provide social, legal, job placement, and health services to men and women in sex work without judging them.

When it was first implemented, the impact of the pledge was immediate and severe. Around the world, groups that offered basic services and empowerment programs to sex workers lost funding, meaning that organizations that offered drop-in programs or literacy services to sex workers were imperiled, and organizations who had reservations about working with sex workers were now given a handy excuse to stay away. For example, in the video Taking the Pledge,  a sex worker advocate from Bangladesh described the closure of dozens of drop-in centers that were the only places homeless women could use a toilet or bathe. In the United States, some service providers in the anti-trafficking arena were subjected to off-the-record reminders from government officials not to make any public statement that might indicate anything other than a firm judgment against  prostitution, and others were told they simply could not discuss sex work at all. Advocates have censored themselves in public speaking engagements in order to ensure they do not risk the funding they need to be able to continue necessary service provision for their clients. The effect of this kind of pledge is chilling precisely because it compromises the ability of advocates to speak honestly and engage in an open discussion of ideas. This also negatively affects the quality of services provided to the most vulnerable among us.

The U.S. government has sent mixed signals about how it enforces the pledge, but leaving it to political winds in a time of desperate need and economic crisis is dangerous. We need to get beyond empty words that further alienate vulnerable groups like sex workers, and include all workers, including those in the informal economy, in human rights protections. This means supporting the human rights of sex workers, addressing their needs, and improving their access to legal, health, and social services. These are the kinds of necessary efforts that will empower sex workers to overcome stigma and discrimination so they can fight for safer working conditions, as well as targeted and effective policy solutions.

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  • maxine-doogan

    anti prostituion pledge=anti women’s health

     

    since women are the primary occupants of the sex industry. 

    Our group got our local labor council to endorse this repeal the anti prostition pledge and let all of its endorced elected national officials know this position.

    Every group across the nation needs to endorse this resolution and make public to hold elected officials accountable…And given The Obama Administration has accepted UN Human Rights recommindation #86, it time to hold them accountable.

    The reauthorization of this horrible practice and policy by congress comes up on 2013 so get busy!

     

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    Resolution to Demand Congress Amend Current U.S. Policy and Practice on HIV Funding

    Whereas, the “United States Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act” (Global AIDS Act)  of 2003 forces non-government organizations (NGOs) to take an “anti- prostitution pledge” when receiving funding.

    Whereas, the existing legislation has two clauses known as the Anti-Prostitution Pledge includes the following clauses: 1) “No funds [...] may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.”;  2) “No funds [...] may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking

    Whereas, the Anti-Prostitution Pledge causes numerous problems and challenges.

    Whereas, the pledge further alienates and compromises both prostitutes and those who are having their labor forced, and makes outreach to an already difficult-to-reach group more challenging.

    Whereas, supporting the rights and self-determination of prostitutes has proven instrumental in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Whereas, the language of this pledge promotes the misconception of prostitutes as vectors of disease and results in further stigmatization of sex workers.

    Whereas, the policy conflates prostitution and sex trafficking, which creates barriers for both sex worker advocates and forced labor opponents to make effective gains to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Whereas, prostitution is not a federal crime and should not be internationally legislated through manipulation of funds.

    Whereas, in 1992, a sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV Intervention Program was established by India’s National AIDS Control Organization in Calcutta’s Sonagachi, Rambagan and Sethbagan, Jorabagan, and Rabindra Sarani districts with a conceptual framework that emphasized respect for sex workers, recognition of their profession, and reliance on their understanding.

    Whereas, UNAIDS – the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – has supported the Sonagachi Model as a “best-practices” model.

    Therefore, be it resolved, the San Francisco Labor Council shall send letters to our elected officials – House Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Diane Feinstein – to advocate for removal of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge from the Global AIDS Act and to bring this matter to the attention of our President.

    And further, be it resolved, this letter shall request that, as Congress continues to review renewal legislation for the Global AIDS Act, our representatives promote legislation aimed at saving the greatest number of lives and protecting the most people, and promote the Sonagachi Model.*

    submitted by Maxine Doogan, Erotic Service Providers Union and passed by the San Francisco Labor Council and the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee April 2010

     


       The Global AIDS Act originated as a part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and currently governs the distribution of HIV/AIDS funding distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

  • maxine-doogan

    anti prostituion pledge=anti women’s health

     

    since women are the primary occupants of the sex industry. 

    Our group got our local labor council to endorse this repeal the anti prostition pledge and let all of its endorced elected national officials know this position.

    Every group across the nation needs to endorse this resolution and make public to hold elected officials accountable…And given The Obama Administration has accepted UN Human Rights recommindation #86, it time to hold them accountable.

    The reauthorization of this horrible practice and policy by congress comes up on 2013 so get busy!

     

    Resolution to Demand Congress Amend Current U.S. Policy and Practice on HIV Funding

    Whereas, the “United States Leadership against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Act” (Global AIDS Act)  of 2003 forces non-government organizations (NGOs) to take an “anti- prostitution pledge” when receiving funding.

    Whereas, the existing legislation has two clauses known as the Anti-Prostitution Pledge includes the following clauses: 1) “No funds [...] may be used to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking.”;  2) “No funds [...] may be used to provide assistance to any group or organization that does not have a policy explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking

    Whereas, the Anti-Prostitution Pledge causes numerous problems and challenges.

    Whereas, the pledge further alienates and compromises both prostitutes and those who are having their labor forced, and makes outreach to an already difficult-to-reach group more challenging.

    Whereas, supporting the rights and self-determination of prostitutes has proven instrumental in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Whereas, the language of this pledge promotes the misconception of prostitutes as vectors of disease and results in further stigmatization of sex workers.

    Whereas, the policy conflates prostitution and sex trafficking, which creates barriers for both sex worker advocates and forced labor opponents to make effective gains to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

    Whereas, prostitution is not a federal crime and should not be internationally legislated through manipulation of funds.

    Whereas, in 1992, a sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV Intervention Program was established by India’s National AIDS Control Organization in Calcutta’s Sonagachi, Rambagan and Sethbagan, Jorabagan, and Rabindra Sarani districts with a conceptual framework that emphasized respect for sex workers, recognition of their profession, and reliance on their understanding.

    Whereas, UNAIDS – the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – has supported the Sonagachi Model as a “best-practices” model.

    Therefore, be it resolved, the San Francisco Labor Council shall send letters to our elected officials – House Representative Nancy Pelosi, Senator Barbara Boxer and Senator Diane Feinstein – to advocate for removal of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge from the Global AIDS Act and to bring this matter to the attention of our President.

    And further, be it resolved, this letter shall request that, as Congress continues to review renewal legislation for the Global AIDS Act, our representatives promote legislation aimed at saving the greatest number of lives and protecting the most people, and promote the Sonagachi Model.*

    submitted by Maxine Doogan, Erotic Service Providers Union and passed by the San Francisco Labor Council and the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee April 2010

     


       The Global AIDS Act originated as a part of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and currently governs the distribution of HIV/AIDS funding distributed by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).