Current Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives Harm Sex Workers
January 11, 2019 – To mark January 11th, National Human Trafficking Awareness Day, sex worker rights groups across the country are highlighting the harms of anti-trafficking efforts. Sex workers, clients and third parties are the best positioned to identify and stop human trafficking in the sex trade but are prevented from doing so by criminal sex work laws and immigration regulations.
When sex work is conflated with human trafficking, sex workers and the people they work with are indiscriminately targeted for surveillance and investigation. Colleagues, employers, family members, and even sex workers are often mistakenly identified as traffickers, and third parties, who play important roles to help organize income, communicate with clients, offer additional security precautions or advertise sex workers’ services, are criminalized. Sex workers experience this over-policing as antagonistic and as a result often do not report to or seek out law enforcement if they need to. Sex workers may experience many types of violence and exploitation – and whether related to or unrelated to trafficking – none are adequately addressed through current public policy and practice. The conflation of sex work and human trafficking harms sex workers, including those who have been trafficked.
All sex workers are impacted by anti-human trafficking efforts. As part of their efforts to “locate” trafficked individuals, law enforcement agencies across Canada regularly participate in mass, sweeping efforts such as Operation Northern Spotlight. These efforts, where undercover officers pose as clients, continue to erode trust and increase suspicion between sex workers and law enforcement and are often informed by non-evidence-based and racist understandings of the sex industry.
Criminal and immigration sex work prohibitions are barriers to meaningfully addressing human trafficking. While sex work and human trafficking are profoundly different, they are conflated in legislation, policy and practice. Addressing human trafficking thus requires a review of both criminal laws and the way in which human trafficking laws are currently being enforced in a way that threatens sex workers’ safety, security, and agency.
Sex workers are essential to any campaign or initiative targeting human trafficking. Sex workers can not only facilitate access to people that may be victimized or exploited, but some sex workers are well-positioned to identify traffickers and could aid police if they were genuinely respected as partners in addressing human trafficking. Anti-human trafficking initiatives that harm sex workers create further barriers for sex workers to engage in human trafficking prevention.
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform makes the following recommendations for a human rights-based approach to preventing human trafficking:
• Recognize that sex workers and sex worker rights organizations are best placed to support sex workers who are experiencing human rights violations because they are in constant contact with people working in the sex industry.
• Invest in community initiatives run by and for people working in the sex industry that are non-directive and support sex workers’ human rights.
• Remove laws that increase sex workers’ contact with police, or laws that mandate police to monitor sex workers and work spaces. This includes sex work-specific criminal laws, including provisions introduced through the Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act and immigration regulations and work permit conditions that prohibit migrant people from working in the sex industry.
• Stop unsolicited visits and raids of sex work spaces, detention and deportation of sex workers and ensure that the Canada Border Services Agency is never involved in anti-trafficking investigations.
• Recognize that sex work is work and eliminate discrimination against sex workers. Support sex workers’ rights, and justice, and the right not to be “rescued”.
See our full recommendations below in our submission to the Subcommittee on Justice and Human Rights, Human Trafficking Consultation
The Canadian Alliance for Sex Work Law Reform formed in 2012 and is composed of sex worker rights and allied groups and individuals in cities across Canada: Calgary, Edmonton, Hamilton, London, Longueuil, Montreal, Kingston, Québec, Sault Ste. Marie, St. John’s, Toronto, Vancouver, Victoria,
and Winnipeg. Members work together to fight for sex work law reform, sex workers’ rights, and
community well-being. Its member groups include: Angel’s Angels (Hamilton); Action Santé Travesties et
Transexuel(le)s du Québec (ASTTeQ) (Montréal); BC Coalition of Experiential Communities (Vancouver);
Butterfly Asian and Migrant Sex Workers Network (Toronto); Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (Toronto) Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence (SWUAV) (Vancouver); Émissaire (Longueuil); FIRST (Vancouver); Maggie’s Toronto Sex Workers Action Project (Toronto); Maggie’s Indigenous Sex Workers Drum Group (Toronto); Migrant Sex Workers Project (Toronto); PEERS (Victoria); Projet Lune (Québec); Prostitutes Involved Empowered Cogent Edmonton (PIECE) (Edmonton); Providing Advocacy, Counselling & Education (PACE) Society (Vancouver); Rézo, programme travail du sexe (Montréal); Safe Harbour Outreach Project (S.H.O.P.) (St John’s); Safe Space (London); Sault Ste. Marie Sex Workers’ Rights (Sault Ste. Marie); Sex Professionals of Canada (SPOC) (Toronto); Sex Workers Advisory Network of Sudbury (SWANS) (Sudbury); Stella, l’amie de Maimie (Montreal); Stop the Arrests! (Sault Ste. Marie) Strut! (Toronto); Supporting Women’s Alternatives Network (SWAN)(Vancouver); Shift (Calgary); West Coast Cooperative of Sex Industry Professionals (WCCSIP) (Vancouver); Sex Workers of Winnipeg Action Coalition (Winnipeg).
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