A pertinent question that we need to answer is that how do human rights apply to sex workers and what laws and policies should the countries make? How should sex workers’ laws look like, if human rights are to be respected to the fullest extent?
Answers to these questions, however, are controversial – both philosophically and politically. It may be mentioned here that in the past few years, several countries have put sex work policies on their political agenda – for different reasons and with different goals and outcomes.
There are numerous examples worldwide, where the courts have upheld sex workers’ human rights and questioned existing prostitution laws or filled legal grey areas. In New Zealand, where sex work is decriminalised, a sex worker won a case for sexual harassment against a brothel owner. Both in Germany and in Austria, court rulings abolished to the notion of prostitution as being ‘immoral’, thus opening up a space for legal reform and the recognition of sex work as work.
The European Court of Justice has repeatedly ruled that ‘prostitution’ is an ‘economic activity’ and that within the European Union member states cannot restrict ‘freedom of movement’, not even for sex workers.
While court rulings are useful and necessary in reminding us that sex workers have rights too, relying solely on courts to read human rights into existing legislation cannot be the sole answer to injustices that sex workers face. Democracies need to step in to make laws that actually improve sex workers’ lives – a goal that has proven difficult to reach.
Sex workers all over the world face a constant risk of abuse: but we are seldom informed about it as this is not news. Nor is it news that they are an extremely marginalised group of people, frequently forced to live outside the law. No one would be surprised to learn that they face discrimination, beatings, rape and harassment – sometimes on a daily basis – or that they are often denied access to basic health or housing services. These are some of the basic human rights that are enjoyed by every single individual and accordingly, every sex worker too has the right of enjoying the same.
But as said earlier, the sex workers are not just deprived of their rights but the same are grossly violated as well. And this has been on and on since time immemorial.