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.  


  • Streetwalkers Show the Way: Reframing the Global Debate on Trafficking from Sex Workers’ Perspectives
    This paper documents action research and discussions on trafficking by Durbar, a network of 60,000 female, male and transgender sex workers in India. Durbar finds that the realities of trafficking as experienced by sex workers are very different from the myths. Durbar’s research found that while most of the sex workers they interviewed were poor and lacked options, they left home by their own choice, in search of better livelihoods, to escape violence or drudgery, or to seek love.
  • Taking the Pledge

    A short film by the International Network of Sex Work Projects. Taking the Pledge features sex workers from Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Mali, Thailand and more. They describe the problems created by the 'anti-prostitution pledge' required to receive USAID and PEPFAR funds. In English, Khmer, Thai, French, Portuguese and Bengali, with English subtitles. Watch in full-screen mode to read the subtitles.


  • The African Sex Worker Alliance launch new research on human rights

    Logo of the African Sex Worker AllianceThe African Sex Worker Alliance (ASWA), Bar Hostess, Sisonke and SWEAT in conjunction with the Ford Foundation, OXFAM NOVIB, UNDP and OXFAM GB are to launch research on human rights violations against sex workers.


  • The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers

    The Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers provides this window on the internet for all the issues affecting male, female and transgender sex workers in the region that is home to half of the population of the world.

  • UN Independent Commission on Aids and the Law.

    The UN has established an Independent Commission on AIDS and the Law to develop actionable, evidence-informed and human rights based recommendations for law and policy reform, which will facilitate supportive national legal environments. The Commission will focus on some of the most challenging legal issues in the context of HIV, including criminalization of HIV transmission and behaviors and practices such as drug use, sex work and same sex sexual relations.

  • Understanding the Context of HIV Risk Behavior Among HIV-Positive and HIV-Negative Female Sex Workers and Male Bar Clients Following Antiretroviral Therapy Rollout in Mombasa, Kenya

    Article in AIDS Educ Prev 2011 Aug;23(4):299-312.

  • Using human rights to address consequences of criminal laws on sexuality and reproductive autonomy

    Laws criminalising behaviour in the context of HIV and sexual and reproductive autonomy directly and indirectly violate fundamental rights of people belonging to some of the most vulnerable groups in society. States have a duty to protect and provide for the health, life and safety of their people, which includes ensuring that the consequences of policies and legislation do not infringe upon the basic tenants of human rights law.

  • Voices for Dignity: A call to end the harms caused by Canada's sex trade laws

    Pivot Legal Society is a non-profit organisation that works to advance the interests and promote the human rights of marginalised people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) in Canada.

    In this report they argue that sex workers are in the best position to describe what it is like to work and live under different social and legal frameworks and to recommend the ways in which their circumstances should be improved.

  • What is a representative sex worker?

    The claim that the sex workers’ rights movement is a purely white, western phenomenon is one of abolitionism’s biggest falsehoods. In fact, Global South sex workers could teach their Northern counterparts a thing or two when it comes to organising for sex workers’ rights. Here is a videoclip of sex workers in Sonagachi, Calcutta, marching against criminalisation of their industry.

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