Criminalizing adult, voluntary, and consensual sex – including the commercial exchange of sexual services – is incompatible with the human right to personal autonomy and privacy. In short – a government should not be telling consenting adults who they can have sexual relations with and on what terms.
Criminalization exposes sex workers to abuse and exploitation by law enforcement officials, such as police officers. Human Rights Watch has documented that, in criminalized environments, police officers harass sex workers, extort bribes, and physically and verbally abuse sex workers, or even rape or coerce sex from them.
Decriminalizing sex work maximizes sex workers’ legal protection and their ability to exercise other key rights, including to justice and health care. Legal recognition of sex workers and their occupation maximizes their protection, dignity, and equality.
This is an important step toward destigmatizing sex work. Sex work is the consensual exchange of sex between adults. Human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children are separate issues. They are both serious human rights abuses and crimes and should always be investigated and prosecuted. Laws that clearly distinguish between sex work and crimes like human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children help protect both sex workers and crime victims.