Sex Work and the Law: Understanding Legal Frameworks and the Struggle for Sex Work Law Reforms


This briefing paper describes the different legislative frameworks used to criminalise and oppress sex work and sex workers, including oppressive regulatory frameworks. It also provides insight into the language and shared principles that NSWP members use when advocating for law reforms that respect and protect sex workers’ human and labour rights.

The global sex workers’ rights movement has a long history of campaigning against laws that violate the rights of sex workers. One of NSWP’s core values is opposition to all forms of criminalisation and other legal oppression of sex work that affects sex workers, clients, third parties*, families, partners and friends. Advocacy efforts also extend to reforming police practice and law enforcement, which is inseparable from the law itself, and often includes extortion, corruption and the discriminatory targeting of sex workers.

Contents include:

  • Legal Frameworks and Law Reform Strategies
    • Decriminalisation
    • Depenalisation
    • Legalisation
  • Other Legal Oppression of Sex Work
    • Criminal Laws Not Specific to Sex Work
    • Public Health Law and Policies
    • Labour and Employment Laws
    • Immigration Laws
    • Tax Laws
    • Religious or Traditional Laws
    • International Laws
  • Conclusion: Principles for a Legal Framework That Respects, Protects, and Recognises Sex Workers' Human and Labour Rights

*The term ‘third parties’ includes managers, brothel keepers, receptionists, maids, drivers, landlords, hotels who rent rooms to sex workers and anyone else who is seen as facilitating sex work.

You can download this briefing paper as a 17-page PDF above. This resource is available in English, Chinese, French, Russian, and Spanish.