Policy Brief: The Impact of Anti-trafficking Legislation and Initiatives on Sex Workers


Trafficking in persons has generated increasing global attention in recent decades, largely due to the development of international frameworks, pressure from fundamental feminist and abolitionist groups, and as a reaction to increased migration for labour. International policies on trafficking frequently contain vague or ambiguous language, which can cause harm to sex workers in a number of ways. The language in various protocols, including things like CEDAW, can be used to the advantage of fundamental feminists and abolitionist groups to further policies that violate sex workers’ human rights. The conflation of sex work with exploitation, and the conflation of exploitative work conditions in the sex industry with trafficking, leads to harmful legislation that alienates sex workers from material resources and prevents them from organising for better work conditions or asserting their labour rights.

This Policy Brief examines emerging trends in anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives that are harmful to sex workers. It begins with an overview of international policies on trafficking, followed by a review of regional policies and patterns in anti-trafficking legislation and initiatives. It then details the impact of conflating sex work and trafficking on sex workers’ health, safety, and ability to self-organise.

Contents include:

  • International Policies on Trafficking
  • US Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP report)
  • Conflation of Sex Work and Trafficking within Regional and National Anti-Trafficking Legislation
  • Increased Criminalisation of Sex Workers’ Clients
  • Increased Criminalisation of Third Parties
  • Increased Regulation
  • Rescue Raids and Forced ‘Rehabilitation’
  • Exclusion of Sex Workers from Services
  • Discriminatory Immigration Laws and Restrictions
  • Dangerous Working Conditions and Increased Violence Against Sex Workers
  • Impact of Anti-trafficking Legislation and Initiatives on Sex Worker Organising
  • Sex Worker Responses to Harmful Anti-Trafficking Legislation and Initiatives
  • Conclusion
  • Recommendations

You can download this 18 page document above. It is available in English, Chinese, French, Russian and Spanish. A Community Guide is available here