News & Resources: Fighting criminalization of sex workers

Criminalization of sex workers – or their clients – both violates individual rights and prevents prostitutes and other sex workers from the regulation that has been shown to keep the “oldest profession” safe and provisioning of a living wage. The equation of sex work with “human trafficking” – a concept heavily promoted by Western governments and NGOs but little analyzed – serves to strip sex workers of any volition and presents them as pure victims. The result in recent years has been an intensified regime of surveillance of migrants, travelers generally, sex workers, and customers — as well as large upticks in punishments in the U.S. for completely consensual activities. Sex workers and their allies around the world are organizing to fight for reasonable regulation and legal protection.


credit: Molly Crabapple / NYRB


  • ‘Whores But Organized’: Sex Workers Rally for Reform – from New York Review of Books’ blog, an essay by Molly Crabapple about a rally by sex workers in New York City, showing indications of growing traction for a “Nordic” model of decriminalization that doesn’t simply target male customers.  “It is not possible to police clients without policing people who trade sex,” Crabapple quotes activist Cecilia Gentili in a press release organizers sent off about the demo. “The Nordic Model constantly polices, surveils, and harasses people who trade sex for information about our clients.” Crabapple notes that “Activists like Gentili are pushing for full decriminalization of sex work, to get the cops out of their lives altogether.” Read more at


  • Sex Workers Project describes itself as “a client-centered organization that provides legal and social services to people who do sex work, no matter what led them to engage in such work. They advocate for human rights for sex workers and victims of human trafficking. The Sex Workers Project is one of the very few U.S. organizations that serve the marginalized sex work community with crucial resources like legal education workshops enabling them to be protected by becoming aware of their rights and options.” Their website is


  • Sex Worker Outreach Project USA (SWOP USA) is a Bay Area-based effort to decriminalize sex work in the hopes of decreasing harm and promoting agency among those who work in this area. More than an outreach program, SWOP USA’s goal is to foster a social justice movement for sex workers and their communities. More at


  • Desiree Alliance brings together current and former sex workers to raise awareness of the “human, social, and political impacts of criminalization.” See their National Sex Worker Anti-Criminalization Principles. More at


  • “Associations Between Sex Work Laws and Workers’ Health” – PLoS Medecine (December 2018) – A meta-analysis on the risk of violence and sexual and emotional health linked to the criminalization of sex work. The authors attempt to quantify how much criminalisation negatively impacts sex workers. More at


  • Decriminalization, guest post on the “Naked Anthropologist” blog– February 2019
    “Decrim” – short for decriminalization – is at the forefront of sex work campaigning, writes Dr. Laura Agustin, a former sex worker with a PhD in anthropology. Much of her work deals with activism and laws on sex work. She is realistic about the difficulty of achieving decriminalization because of the wide range of laws and policies whose vagueness gives the police wide scope for de facto criminalization of sex workers and clients, but offers paths for activists to explore. More at


  • The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) represents over 100 organizations in Europe and Central Asia opposing sex-work criminalization and countering the equation ofsex work and trafficking. They address issues around female, male, and transgender sex worker. More at



  • The International Union of Sex Workers is an information clearinghouse offering advice and legal support in cases of criminal prosecution as part of their membership. More at


  • Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT) is based in Africa and advocates for adult sex work being acknowledged as legitimate work, with sex workers themselves having a strong voice. SWEAT has promoted the inclusion of sex workers as valuable members of society and offers a legal defense center. More at


  • France’s sex-work union STRASS has campaigned for decriminalization and improved conditions since 2009. The union is gender-inclusive and welcomes sex workers of all categories. It offers free self-defense lessons on their website. More at



  • “Sex Workers of Europe” – (June 2015) – Europe has generally been more progressive than the U.S. with respect to prostitution and other sex work – though criminization of sex workers’ customers is a recent growing problem. Politico covered the 2015 convention in Lyon, France, where sex workers met to discuss and strategize on the legal and social issues they face (such as ostracization). Read at


  • essay: The argument for legalizing prostitution  – In the United States, there are serious problems with rape and with sex trafficking, where persons are forced to engage in sex against their will. At the same time, with the criminalization of sex work, many non-violent persons are arrested and placed in prison for many years. This contributes to high rates of incarceration, huge prison budgets that are a waste of taxpayer dollars, and many destroyed and wasted lives. All of these factors combine to make the rate of sexually-transmitted infections higher than in any other economically advanced nation. Read more here …