Prostitutes face abuse, rape even from police
THINK you suffer terribly at work? But sex workers worldwide face violence, rape, widespread discrimination and extortion, a human rights watchdog said last week.
Research published by Amnesty International show that they lack protection from "horrific" abuse and violence, even in countries like Norway, which are perceived to have strong human rights laws.
From Papua New Guinea to Argentina, Hong Kong and Norway, researchers consistently found cases of sex workers being physically and sexually abused by clients and the police, said Kate Schuetze, a policy advisor at Amnesty International.
In many cases police are the perpetrators of the abuse, making sex workers reluctant to report the crime, especially if prostitution is illegal in their country, Ms Schuetze said.
She added that sex workers caught carrying condoms - seen by police as evidence of illegal activity - have been arrested or targeted for extortion, which in turn discourages safer sex practices.
Mona, a sex worker in Papua New Guinea, said she was raped by several police officers after being caught with a client. "If I go to the law, they cannot help me as sex work is against the law here."
In April, France followed Northern Ireland, Canada, Sweden, Norway and Iceland in introducing legislation to make it an offence to buy sex.
Some activists said shifting the criminal charge from victim to the client would make countries like France less attractive for pimps and traffickers.
But male sex worker Luca Stevenson said conflating sex work with sex trafficking was problematic. "Calling for an end to sex work to end trafficking for sexual exploitation doesn't make sense. It will and it does push sex work underground," said Mr Stevenson, a coordinator at the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe.
"The reality is - the large majority of sex workers make a decision to sell sex," he added.
Globally, almost 21 million people are trapped in forced labour, of which 4.5 million are victims of sexual exploitation, according to the International Labour Organisation.
Amnesty, which has called for the full decriminalisation of sex work, wants governments to create policies to protect adults who consent to selling sex for money.
For male or transgender sex workers in more conservative countries, such policies could result in less discrimination and better access to healthcare and other services.
"In Papua New Guinea, we were told that sex workers were made to wait all day in health clinics because it was known they were transgender," Ms Schuetze said.