Sex workers are in a difficult position, fighting both exploitation in the sex industry and misguided policies that are supposed to help them, according to a new op-ed by Boglárka Fedorkó in Open Democracy.
Fedorkó writes that sex worker organizations all acknowledge that exploitation and forced labor exist in the sex industry, but too often these groups are excluded from anti-trafficking events and programming.
As a result, policies and reports aimed at combating trafficking erroneously claim that prostitution is a form of slavery — a perspective that is pushed by the exclusion of sex workers from the discussion and crucial funding.
Fedorkó explains in Open Democracy:
Sex workers’ own analysis of the issues affecting them is not heard at policy-making levels because sex worker organisations are routinely discredited and dismissed.
They are given no access to formulate their views in these arenas. For example, not one sex worker organisation has been allowed into the European Union Civil Society Platform against Trafficking in Human Beings, which contains over 100 participants, despite many groups’ efforts to join.
These exclusionary mechanisms also manifest in funding. A review of 321 anti-trafficking projects financed by the European Commission between 2004 and 2015 shows that not a single project had a sex worker-led organisation as a project lead.
This is unfortunate but not surprising. Sex worker groups only rarely receive funding from their own national, provincial and municipal governments. Consequently they do not have sufficient capacity to reach as high as commission-level funding.
So what would sex worker organizations say if they were allowed access to anti-trafficking spaces?
As Fedorkó states, the most common challenges facing sex workers is the casual, insecure character of their labor arrangements. Furthermore, she says that the “end demand” model only exacerbates sex workers’ vulnerability to discrimination and violence, on top of decreasing their incomes.
“Shifting the mode of intervention away from blanket criminalisation and toward supporting sex workers to stay safe while they work gives us many more points of entry than abolition alone,” writes Fedorkó.
“Sex workers have an in-depth knowledge of the sex industry and are the only ones to have experienced life as a sex worker. They should be the driving force behind anti-trafficking policies, not the collateral damage of measures that aim to save them.”