“Ultimately, sex worker rights organisations are not so different from anti-trafficking organisations. Just like anti-trafficking organisations, sex worker organisations provide information about rights and working conditions, and where to seek help in cases of rights violations. In anti-trafficking lingo this is called prevention of trafficking, awareness-raising, or empowerment.
In cases of rights violations, like anti-trafficking organisations, sex worker organisations offer assistance with filing complaints and dealing with the police, courts and immigration authorities, meeting basic needs, psychosocial counselling, family mediation and return to the community, and help with finding a new job. In anti-trafficking programming all these are broadly referred to as reintegration or social inclusion services.
Despite this important work, sex worker rights organisations are largely unrecognised and even vilified by the anti-trafficking community. In some of the research countries, we found that the contribution of sex worker organisations for anti-trafficking work was recognised by at least certain individuals in the local police or anti-trafficking unit. However, we also documented several cases where sex worker organisations had tried to join their national anti-trafficking task force or NGO network, but were either not allowed to or had to withdraw due to hostility.
We have seen the same exclusion and hostility at the EU level too. Several GAATW members and partners, who are either sex worker rights organisations or anti-trafficking organisations with a strong pro-sex worker rights position, were rejected from the EU Civil Society Platform against trafficking in human beings. Although the official grounds for the rejection had nothing to do with sex workers’ rights, this is most likely the reason, given the current climate in the EU and the vilification of sex worker rights supporters at the highest political level.
If the EU is serious about combating human trafficking, especially the trafficking of women and girls in the sex industry, as it claims, it can’t keep ignoring, and actively excluding, those organisations whose first and foremost priority is to ensure the safety and wellbeing of everyone involved in prostitution. On the contrary, it needs to recognise sex workers, and the organisations that represent them, and consult them in the development of policies and implementation of initiatives that may affect their lives, as recommended earlier this year by the EU-funded research project DemandAT. After all, sex worker rights organisations have the most interest in keeping the industry free of coercion, violence, exploitation, and human trafficking.”