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Criminalisation of Sex Work in the United States: Damage to Health and Rights of Sex Workers

Sex work is a topic of increasing interest within the public health sphere. Sex work involves performing and/or distributing sexual acts for pay. Such acts include, but are not limited to, prostitution, escort services, and stripping. Given the nature of it, sex work has been long stigmatized by society and many do not view it as ‘real work’. As a result, sex workers are often discriminated against, harassed, and even prosecuted in locations where sex work is criminalized. In the United States, for example, sex work is considered a misdemeanour. This leaves sex workers to be singled out by the police, who often target and assault sex workers or those that they believe to be sex workers. This also creates an imbalance of power, as many sex workers do not report such encounters out of fear of being arrested. This is just one issue with the current criminalization of sex work, however. Sex workers also find themselves at an increased risk of violence from their clients, who often take advantage of this criminalized environment of sex work. Clients may abuse sex workers and get away with it, since sex workers do not have the same work protection as other occupations. Likewise, there is a large possibility of sex workers performing in unsafe manners and environments. Yet, many sex workers cannot even attain medical care out of fear of being arrested or being treated in an insufficient manner by medical professionals. Moreover, since sex work is not considered real work in a legal sense, most sex workers do not have health insurance, leaving many unable to afford care. In short, the criminalisation of sex work does more harm than good to sex workers.

Our forthcoming paper presents the ways in which current US laws criminalizing sex work harm the rights and health of sex workers. Accordingly, this paper will also offer recommendations to policymakers on how to support sex workers and aid in the effort to decriminalize sex work nationally.

This blog post was prepared by members of the Polygeia New York Branch.

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