Sex worker organisations have struggled with the concept of ‘sex trafficking’ ever since it was mainstreamed into international law with the adoption of the UN Palermo Protocol nearly 20 years ago. Some collectives, such as EMPOWER Thailand, explicitly state that it is an unnecessary concept that was forced onto the global south by the global north. Other organisations were found to share EMPOWER’s position in a recent report from the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women. For these groups trafficking is, according to the report, “an issue that was introduced from outside the industry itself, propelled by a moralistic agenda, that organisations have felt obliged to understand, in order to counter the harmful effects of conceptually conflating trafficking and sex work.” Criticism of data collection methods that aim to assess the volume of trafficking for sexual exploitation and the often singular focus on trafficking in the sex industry is also widely shared by sex workers all around the world.

Nevertheless, it would be challenging to find a single sex worker organisation that does not acknowledge that exploitation and forced labour are common in the sex industry. That these phenomena exist and that they are dangerous are not disputed. Many groups have thus, often on shoestring budgets, instituted creative strategies to combat exploitative conditions and abuse in their communities. For others in the anti-trafficking field they should be natural allies. Yet they are often proactively prevented from engaging in anti-trafficking events and in discussions that are highly relevant to their communities.

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The two-fronted fight of Sex Workers against trafficking by Boglarka Fedorko

June 14th, 2019