The U.S. government makes around $300 million in funding available annually for anti-trafficking organizations, a significant amount for the sector to continue providing direct services to survivors and advocate for legislative and policy changes to help build communities resilient to trafficking.
However, the ‘Anti-Prostitution Pledge’, a legislative provision for recipients of this federal funding, restricts anti-trafficking organizations’ ability to advocate for the decriminalization of sex work as a means to preventing trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Grantees are limited by signing a statement that they will not “promote, support, or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution”, causing anti-trafficking organizations to err on the side of caution when discussing effective trafficking prevention strategies as they relate to sex workers.
While some organizations posit that there is room to maneuver around the language in the pledge so as to be able to continue openly supporting sex workers and the decriminalization of sex work, for many the threat of audits and loss of funding is too real to risk.
The power of the Anti-Prostitution Pledge is partly due to the limited sources of funding that anti-trafficking organisations have outside the federal government. Local community foundations can rarely sustain these programmes, and national funders are unlikely to fund direct service provision at a national scale – the bread and butter of most of anti-trafficking organisations.
Philanthropic foundations are also strongly inclined to stay ‘on the fence’ regarding sex work. In 2019-2020, the Sex Worker Donor Collaborative worked with Strength in Numbers to research global funding for sex worker rights, including what strategies would help funders to deepen existing support or unlock new funding. In addition to the tragically low amounts of funding available (less than 1% of human rights funding in 2018 was given to sex workers’ rights), we also identified several reasons why philanthropists are reluctant to stand a stand.
Arguably, the pledge has made it comfortable for some anti-trafficking organizations to avoid taking a position when it comes to advocating for the decriminalization of sex work. It’s time for allies in the anti-trafficking space to no longer remain silent and ensure sex workers are engaged in developing trafficking prevention strategies and policies to better protect these workers from violence and exploitation.
To learn more about the links between sex workers’ rights and building resilience to trafficking, visit our dedicated research hub.