Sex Worker Rights Are Human Rights-A Major Woodhull Focus

From Woodhull Freedom Foundation news letter

By: Carol Queen, Board of Directors WFF

Over th
Carol Queene past two years, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation has become increasingly active in an important human rights issue-protection of sex worker’s rights.  Last fall, WFF helped sex worker organizations put on the first-ever Sex Worker’s Leadership Institute.  This year, we sponsored and participated in the national Desiree Alliance Sex Workers Conference, which was held this July in Chicago.  And today we are again providing support to the coalition of local and national groups working in San Francisco to pass Proposition K, a city ballot initiative addressing major issues crucial to the sex worker rights movement.

What do we mean when we talk of “sex workers”?  The term encompasses a wide range of wage-earning activities (by men and women) in which the worker is paid to perform sexually or to render sexual services to a client or clients.  Broadly interpreted, it includes work in the porn industry, erotic dancing in clubs, and even some forms of waitressing, in addition to escorts, street walkers, phone sex operators, etc.

You will note that we refer to this as a human rights issue.  It was recognized as such by the Secretary General of the United Nations at this summer’s International AIDS Conference.  The decriminalization of sex work is not just about the legal right to engage in a specific type of employment.  If treated as criminals, sex worker’s access to health services is compromised and their vulnerability to HIV and other STDs is increased.  They also have scant ability to access legal resources for employer violation, or for abuse by clients, or to seek fair wages and safer working conditions.

In fact,  criminal treatment of sex workers actually leads to abuse by the police themselves!  A recent study by the University of California, San Francisco found that one in five sex workers had been paid for sex by police officers and one in seven were threatened by officers with prosecution if they refused a demand for sex.  In San Francisco, the police and DA’s use presence of condoms as evidence of prostitution, a clear disincentive to practice safe sex.

Proposition K addresses these problems.  It would decriminalize prostitution and focus law enforcement on the real criminals-rapists, abusers, and those who traffic in unwilling victims.  It would stop police from harassing innocent people engaged in consensual sex. It would end the waste of $11 million dollars of taxpayers’ money now spent on harassment and prosecution of consensual sex workers and their clients.

Proposition K will be a hard fight.  Conservative forces are lined up against it.  But its passage, or even a strong showing at the polls, will be a major step toward improving the lives of sex workers, preventing prosecution of fully consensual sex, and redirecting law enforcement toward the real criminals.

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