For Sex Workers, Recommendation #86 Will Go Down in History

Recently I blogged about how the United Nations’ Human Rights Council flagged sex worker rights in its periodic review of the United States’ human-rights record. Member state Uruguay recommended that the U.S. “ensure access to public services paying attention to the special vulnerability of sexual workers [sex workers] to violence and human rights abuses.”

Within four months of Uruguay’s recommendation to the U.S., and after a subsequent flurry of advocacy efforts by sex worker activists, researchers, and allies (including me), the State Department has released its response. To each of the 228 Universal Periodic Review recommendations, the State Department replied in one of three ways: “fully support,” “partially support” or “do not support.”

In what is being heralded as a victory for sex workers’ rights, the State Department chose to “fully support” Uruguay’s recommendation, stating: “No one should face violence or discrimination in access to public services based on sexual orientation or their status as a person in prostitution.”

This simple statement marks a potential monumental shift in U.S. policy: a new recognition that anti-trafficking policy alone is not an adequate response to the human rights violations of all sex workers. There is mounting evidence that current anti-trafficking policy ignores (and even exacerbates)  human rights violations of adult, consensual sex workers and of people working under coercive or trafficked conditions.

Members of my group, Human Rights For All: Concerned Advocates for the Rights of Sex Workers and People in the Sex Trade (HRA) were ecstatic. “People in the sex trade have been marginalized and stigmatized when seeking public services, including through law enforcement. This is a big step forward to acknowledging sex workers’ human rights,” says Kelli Dorsey, Executive Director of Different Avenues, a group dedicated to reproductive justice by and for girls and women of color.

“We were long overdue for the United States to take the needs of sex workers seriously, particularly the need to stem violence and discrimination,” says attorney Sienna Baskin, Co­-Director of the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center in New York.

On Friday, March 18, sex workers will stage demonstrations in cities across the country to celebrate the adoption of Recommendation #86. For further information on the demonstrations, as well as supporting documents, see the HRA website.

Image of Pride parade from Flickr user azza-bazoo under Creative Commons 3.0

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