Sex workers' rights are human rights
by Melissa Gira Grant — Writer and sexuality rights activist
November 10, 2009 – 09:48
I’ve chosen this video, produced by members of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers — a group of organizations, founded and led by sex workers, who advocate for their own human rights. This video documents and responds to the violations of sex workers’ human rights in Cambodia, where, in 2008, the United States threatened sanctions if prostitution was not outlawed there. Were sex workers consulted about what prostitution in Cambodia looks like, about what might happen if the police were futher empowered to enter their homes and businesses? As a result of this law and increased enforcement, sex workers were detained, interrogated, incarcerated, and physically and sexually abused by those they were told were "rescuing" them from harm and from violence. How could this have happened?
There are many people and institutions who claim to be advancing work that would give people who sell and trade sex the same rights to protection under the law as any other worker, as any other person has the right to live free from violence, free from sexual assault, free from coercion at the hands of employers and police and state bodies. However, with alarming frequency, those efforts do not include the voices of those most impacted by them, those loudest calling for change: sex workers themselves.
Sex workers are far from silent on these issues. In Cambodia, at the time this video was made, sex workers had already been successfully raising public attention about police brutality and rights’ violations. The release of this video, made in partnership with WITNESS, brought international attention to the disastrous consequences of Cambodia’s anti-prostitution law. One of the two detention centers described in the video has been closed. The sex workers who made this video have been honored with an award from Human Rights Watch and have gone on to make many more videos about what life really looks like for sex workers in the Asia Pacific, proving that "only rights can stop the wrongs."