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Sex worker activists among world's most 'at risk' human rights defenders

The report notes several cases of activists being asked to provide sex to police in exchange for the freedom of other detained sex workers.

Sex worker rights defenders from Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Sex worker rights defenders from Zanzibar, Tanzania.
Image: Erin Kilbride/Front Line Defenders

SEX WORKER ACTIVISTS routinely face violent attacks and are among the most at risk defenders of human rights in the world, a four-year investigation has said.

The research, published today by human rights organisation Front Line Defenders, found that their visibility as sex workers and the fact that they are engaged in human rights work on behalf of sex workers means they face targeted abuse.

Front Line Defenders interviewed more than 350 sex workers in 20 countries about the violent, targeted attacks faced by those who engage in the activism.

Fact-finding missions were conducted in Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar and El Salvador.

Sex Work Alliance Ireland (SWAI) was involved in additional shorter consultations along with similar organisations in the United States, the UK, Thailand, Malawi, the Dominican Republic and Indonesia.

The services the activists provide to sex workers include: negotiating access to brothels, conducting training on how to access justice mechanisms and report experiences of violence, identifying medical needs, harm reduction, and advocacy for freedom of movement and free choice of employment for those seeking to leave sex work.

Erin Kilbride, research and visibility coordinator at Front Line Defenders and lead author of the report, said: “They are the known community advocates that others call during emergencies, arrests and raids. Their visibility sustains life for the collective.

But that recognition also magnifies the risk of being targeted by authorities, arrested, detained, and abused using the laws and discriminatory policies typically deployed against sex workers. 

The report notes several cases of activists  being asked to provide sex to police in exchange for the freedom of other detained sex workers.

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The activists  interviewed said they had been subjected to violations above and beyond what are typical for sex workers in their area.

These included torture in prison, threats by name on the street, targeted abuse on social media and demands for sex in exchange for an advocacy meeting with a police commissioner. They also faced attacks from clients. 

About the author:

Céimin Burke

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