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Sex work and the misguided anti-trafficking development industry

by, 8 September 2008

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[10 April 2008 ]

Sex work and misguided anti-trafficking efforts

Anti-trafficking policies may start with good intentions of helping people out of situations of forced labour, however they have often become focussed on raiding brothels and ‘rescuing’ women from the sex industry (male and transgender sex workers are less often targeted for rescue). Often women with irregular migration status are then deported, and others put into ‘rehabilitation’ programmes such as sewing where they earn less money and may be more vulnerable to sexual harassment.

These programmes may be motivated more by the desire to ‘save’ rather than a response to the realities of sex work. Meena Seshu (VAMP, India) and Nandinee Bandopadhyay (Durbar, India) reported how one NGO wanted to help women leave sex work by offering income generation alternatives. The sex worker organisations asked if any of their members wished to take part in this project, and several older women signed up – their incomes were declining due to client preference for younger women. Unfortunately the NGO, like the clients, refused them for being too old, wanting instead to save the young and ‘vulnerable’.

Sex workers themselves can be most effective in combating trafficking because they know who is new in the brothel or neighbourhood and who is underage or unwilling. Sex worker organisations may do a better job finding out if and how these people want to get out, instead of just handing them over to the police who, in many countries, are themselves the key perpetrators of violence and rape against sex workers.

Listen to Hard talk:
- (Cheryl Overs, Nandinee Bandhopadhyay, Meena Seshu) (53 minutes)