On this International Sex Worker Rights Day, we examine the criminalization of commercial sex trade and frameworks seeking to regulate it across the globe. Preventing the spread of disease, including sexually transmitted infections and HIV, are powerful levers for justifying the existence of such laws. This brief seeks to answer the question—what is the evidence that criminalization of sex work has positive effects on public health?
We find that the public health justification for criminalization and regulation is not supported by the weight of scientific evidence. Structural innovations to shift law and policy around the criminalization and regulation of sex trade merit further study, especially exploration of alternatives to subjecting individuals to criminal punishment. Evidence suggests that by removing criminal liability from the picture, approaches that seek to integrate sex workers into society can help advance both human rights and labor rights of communities made vulnerable by multiple systems of oppression.
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