Human Rights and Law

Human Rights and Law

PLRI is committed to examining the strengths and weaknesses of international human rights and domestic legal frameworks as they apply to sex work. We aim to evaluate the impact of various international and domestic laws and policies on the human rights of female, male and transgender sex workers and their communities.

Sex workers universally claim that their human rights are abused. In some cases this means exposure to violence and barriers to accessing services, resources and justice. In other cases arbitrary detention, criminal law and lack of access to clean safe places to live and work are cited as human rights issues.

International human rights standards and norms have traditionally constructed sex work as an affront to human dignity and as a result have failed to endow sex workers with the range of rights normally accorded to others unimpeded by occupational or moral status. The conflation of adult female prostitution with trafficking and child abuse that has occurred this decade has lead to the revival of law enforcement in many countries which appears to have lead to human rights abuses.

Questions about what legal and policy approaches can best protect sex workers, clients and the broader society are of great importance to sex worker advocates.  


  • Debating the right to sell sex in Switzerland - 2012

    Switzerland is one of the most liberal countries when it comes to prostitution. Yet those who offer sexual services for payment do not have ordinary workers’ rights and the profession is still considered immoral.

    To imagine a society without prostitution is utopian. Those who are willing to offer their own bodies in exchange for money must be allowed to do so without being stigmatised or punished. This is the view put forward by Terre des Femmes Switzerland, an organisation that campaigns for the rights of women.

  • Embodied cosmopolitanisms: the subjective mobility of migrants working in the global sex industry - 2012

    Anti-trafficking rhetoric and policies emphasise the extent of exploitation and coercion of female migrant sex workers and obfuscate the shared ambivalences and contradictions experienced by migrant female sex workers and their male agents and partners. By engaging in the global sex industry, both young men and women negotiate their aspiration to cosmopolitan late modern lifestyles against the prevalence of essentialist patriarchal gender values and sexual mores at home.

  • Mandatory Testing for South African Sex Workers - 2012

    This report for the South African Law Reform Commission suggests that laws around sex work be changed so that sex workers can be made to submit to medical examination in exchange for not being arrested as in Nevada and Australia.


  • Prevalence of HIV and sexually transmitted infections among clients of female sex workers in Karnataka, India: a cross-sectional study - 2012


  • Prosecution dropped against UK sex worker for lack of evidence - 2012

    Sheila Farmer, a sex worker who worked with other women from premises for safety had charges of brothel-keeping dismissed today in Croydon Crown Court. She worked with other women since being viciously raped and attacked whilst working alone.
    Ms Farmer left court with over 20 supporters delighted and relieved that she no longer faces a criminal conviction and possible prison sentence. Ms Farmer suffers from severe diabetes and a malignant brain tumour. Her doctor had provided evidence that an onerous and stressful trial would have exacerbated her condition.

  • Prostitutes + Condoms = AIDS?: Leadership Act, - 2012

    Scholars and field experts have argued extensively that the U.S. policy stating that fund recipients may not promote prostitution is unconstitutional because it compels speech.

    Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the Federal Register to clarify what

  • Prostitution Policy Models and Feminist Knowledge Politics in New Zealand and Sweden - 2012

    This article analyses expert discourse on prostitution in New Zealand and Sweden using governmentality theory. The article shows that in both cases, experts adopted research methodologies based in criticism of past research
    as supporting heterosexual male hegemony. New Zealand experts emphasized giving voice to prostitutes as a marginalized, predominately female population and producing research that benefited them. Swedish experts argued that research should focus upon global sex markets and hegemonic
    masculinities, successfully advocating criminalizing

  • Security, Equality, and the Clash of Ideas: Sweden's Evolving Anti-Trafficking Policy - 2012
    An article in Human Rights Review.
    Seeking to explain the emergence of anti-trafficking initiatives, scholars have explored two sets of ideas—national security and gender equality—thought to shape policy. In this study, we examine whether such ideational influence accounts for Sweden's evolving anti-trafficking policy over the past decade.
  • Sex workers talk about sex work: six contradictory characteristics of legalised sex work in Melbourne, Australia - 2012

    Despite research suggesting that legal sex work is safe and that emotional risks and social stigma are of greater concern than health risks, much research on sex work has focused on health risks. Given the legalisation of sex work in Victoria, Australia, it is timely to look beyond health. Three focus groups were conducted with a total of 14 female sex workers on their experience of legal sex work, both positive and negative, and the social acceptability of their profession. Thematic analysis was used to identify the key ways that sex workers described sex work.

  • Stop Harassing Us! Tackle Real Crime!, A Report on Human Rights Violations by Police Against Sex Workers in South Africa - 2012

    The findings in this report highlight the gap between the rights enshrined in the South African Constitution and treatment meted out to sex workers. Even under the present, imperfect law, there is a stark contradiction between the actions of police and the due process laid out by the law for them to follow. Based on the complaints of 308 sex workers, the WLC found the following:

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