Misinformation about sex work and sex workers has long served as a tool for politicians, religious leaders, fundamental feminists and abolitionist groups, and anti-trafficking organisations to advance anti-sex work agendas. The conflation of sex work with trafficking and exploitation is at the root of misinformation on sex work. ‘End Demand’ models that criminalise sex workers’ clients, ‘raid and rescue’ operations, and ‘exit’ and ‘rehabilitation’ services further deny the diverse lived experiences of sex workers while obscuring true victims of trafficking. When sex workers are not seen as victims, they are often seen as criminals or ‘vectors of disease’. When viewed as criminals, sex workers are frequently humiliated, blamed for acts of violence committed against them, and denied rights-based support services and legal redress. Misinformation surrounding sex workers, sex work, and health leads to a range of negative consequences for sex workers – reduced access to non-discriminatory high-quality health care, increased social stigma, and the promotion of public health policies that violate sex workers’ human rights.
This Briefing Paper examines the most common forms of misinformation about sex work and sex workers, as well as their impacts on policy, research, public discourse, and sex workers’ everyday lives. This paper also explores strategies of how sex worker-led organisations have resisted and challenged misinformation, concluding with a list of recommendations for addressing the sources and impacts of misinformation about sex work and sex workers.
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