Now You See Her, Now You Don’t: Sex Workers at the UN Trafficking Protocol Negotiation

Article by Doezema J in Social & Legal Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1, 61-89 (2005).

In December 2000, over 80 countries signed the ‘Protocol to Suppress, Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children’ (The Trafficking Protocol) in Palermo, Italy. The UN Trafficking Protocol was the target of heavy feminist lobbying during the two years in which the negotiations took place. The lobby efforts were split into two ‘camps’, deeply divided in their attitudes towards prostitution. One lobby group framed prostitution as legitimate labour. The other considered all prostitution to be a violation of women’s human rights. Not only feminist NGO networks were deeply divided over the issue of prostitution. Many state delegations used the negotiations as an opportunity to denounce the evils of prostitution, while others (fewer in number) argued that focusing on prostitution detracted from the efforts to come to an agreement on trafficking. These differences were most ferociously fought out during debates on the proposed definition of trafficking, with the pivotal term ‘consent’. This article is an examination of the role played by sex workers in these debates, and of ‘sex work’ in competing definitions of trafficking in women. (abstract author's own)

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Doezema J