The high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the appraisal of the United Nations Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons is taking place on 22 and 23 November 2021 in the United Nations Headquarters in New York. The Count Me In! consortium urges the inclusion of sex workers’ perspectives and the importance of rights-based approaches during the dialogues. 

Through a video message, Vera Rodriguez from Red Umbrella Fund shares the statement below on behalf of the Count Me In! consortium:

There’s a common misconception that all sex workers are victims of trafficking or exploitation. Sex workers contend that as consenting adults, it is stigma and criminalisation of sex work – not the work itself – that can be exploitative and unhealthy.  Many of the risks faced by sex workers are created by punitive laws and policies that put sex workers in unequal power relationships with clients, the police and third parties.

Understanding the difference between sex work and trafficking is essential to effective, human-rights based anti-trafficking campaigns that respect autonomy of workers. Poorly designed interventions inaccurately portray sex workers as inevitable victims, detracting attention from the root causes of harm, and granting impunity to those who violate human rights. They divert resources to “rescuing” those who don’t seek rescue but rather labour rights and access to services. 

Rescues are often associated with serious human rights violations, such as arbitrary detention or deportation.  Such measures erase the complex circumstances in which people make choices and ignore the autonomy of sex workers, migrant workers and victims of trafficking.  Often migrants, even those who may become victims of trafficking, are fleeing dire circumstances at home, and do not want to return. 

Punitive responses risk driving workers and victims of trafficking away from the support they need for fear of arrest, persecution, separation from their families or deportation. Effective responses must rest on respect for human rights and autonomy, centre gender equality, and emphasise accountability and transparency.