Sex workers across borders

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Sex Workers' Across Borders is a grassroots educational and advocacy organization started by sex workers' rights activists. We aim to join with other sex worker organizations, advocates and allies to give voice to progressive approaches to trafficking discussions, debates and public policies.

SWAB provides a forum to examine and critique the effects of U.S. trafficking laws and policies, and to support the development of alternative policies that support all workers’ rights as labor rights. We hope to work with individuals, groups, and public policy makers to advocate for and implement more ethical, humane policies to combat forced labor, slavery and servitude in all industries.


The term "trafficking" has a history of being used against migrant prostitutes/ sex workers. Some definitions of trafficking are contradictory and this term has been used to justify laws and policies that are harmful to sex workers. Trafficking is often equated with (illegal) migration for sex work or with prostitution per se. The Freedom Network (USA) defines trafficking as “the recruitment, harboring, transporting, providing or obtaining by any means, any person for forced
labor, slavery or servitude in any industry or site such as agriculture, construction, prostitution, manufacturing, begging, domestic servitude or marriage.” For the purposes of this discussion we employ that definition. We recognize that in the global economy many people, including sex workers, must to travel to seek work and opportunities. We think that it is paramount to protect the human rights of all laborers as they seek work. Defining all sex work as trafficking or forced labor is antithetical to this goal.


We recognize the importance of differentiating between consensual and forced labor when establishing anti-trafficking policies. Anti-trafficking policies must focus exclusively on eliminating forced labor, slavery, and servitude; providing needed assistance to victims; and addressing core issues that lead to trafficking. We believe that all human beings have the right to live free from forced labor, slavery, and servitude.

We are concerned that rather than protecting sex workers from violence and abuse, anti-trafficking

measures are sometimes used to police and punish female, male, and transgender migrants and sex workers, and to restrict their freedom of movement.

For example, the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Acts are ineffective and harmful in dealing with the diverse instances of forced labor. TVPRA 2003 [Sections: 7 (g) (1) and (g)(2)] conflates forced labor/slavery with prostitution. These sections deny funding to organizations working to assist victims and end forced labor unless the organizations support the criminalization of prostitution. Yet, prostitution is not the only industry in which trafficking occurs, and refusing to differentiate between consensual and forced prostitution does nothing to help people who really are victims of forced labor.

The TVPRA 2005 targets consensual commercial sex with provisions such as increased anti-prostitution law enforcement within the United States, research, NGO service provision, conferences and police training in "the enforcement of laws prohibiting sex trafficking
and commercial sex acts."


● We acknowledge the rights of sex workers to self-determination, including the right to negotiate wages and working conditions, to enjoy occupational health and safety and to speak in solidarity with
other workers.
● We support and promote the good practices of initiatives to combat forced labor, slavery, and servitude, and we also to critique bad practices and
harm caused by existing practices.
● Consensual sex work must be decriminalized in order to maximize Occupational Health and Safety, industrial and other regulatory mechanisms. The powerlessness and potential for exploitation of illegal migrant workers is further compounded when they are working in an illegal and underground industry.
● We affirm that as sex workers are a part of the solution and not the problem. We acknowledge the work of international sex worker projects such as Comitato
per i Diritti Civili delle Prostitute and Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee as models in combating trafficking from within sex worker communities.


We contend that harm reduction and labor rights are human rights that go “hand and hand.” Thus, we demand policies that along with harm reduction measures, also recognize self-determination and bodily freedom as well as occupational freedom for migrant and sex workers.
Human rights standards must include:

● Protection of the privacy and identity of the victim

● Information on any relevant court and administrative proceedings
● Assistance to enable the views of the victim to be presented and considered at appropriate stages for any criminal proceedings against offenders

● In appropriate cases and to the extent possible provide for the

physical and psychological recovery of victims
● Appropriate housing, counseling and information in a language that the victim understands;

As needed, medical, psychological and economic assistance

● As needed, employment, education and training opportunities;

● Provide for the physical safety of victims

● Provide for measures which offer victims the possibility of obtaining
compensation for damage suffered, temporary or permanent residency in appropriate cases, facilitate the return of the person to their county of origin if it is safe for them to return.
Other non-prostitution specific law and policies, such as public health law and immigration restrictions that are used against communities of sex workers, must also be changed or repealed.


Adams, Niki. 2003. “Anti-Trafficking Legislation: Protection or Deportation.” The Feminist Review,
Vol. 73. Pp. 135-139.

Best Practices Policy Project. End Demand Fact Sheet.

Chacon, Jennifer M. 2006. "Misery and Myopia: Understanding the Failure of U.S. Efforts too Stop Human Trafficking." Fordham Law Review, Vol. 74 Issue 6. Pp. 2977-3040.

Freedom Network U.S.A. “Resources.”

Leigh, Carol. “Trafficking Policy Research Project.”

Saunders, Penelope and Alice Walker. 2006. “Harm Reduction, Health and Human Rights, and Sex Work.” Discussion paper presented at the Open Society Institute’s Sexual Health and Rights Project meeting, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Soderlund, Gretchen. 2005. “Running from the Rescuers: New U.S. Crusades Against Sex Trafficking and the Rhetoric of Abolition.” NSWA Journal, Vol. 17 Issue 3. Pp. 64-88.
U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2003. Government document.

U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection and Reauthorization Act of 2005. Government document.

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