Update from Sex Worker advocates at UN in Geneva this week

Tomorrow, November 5, 2010, the United States will be reviewed as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process at the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. The session can be viewed online as a webcast.

The UPR is a relatively new way to address human rights in UN member nations. During the review session, other countries will ask questions about the overall human rights record in the U.S. and propose recommendations that the government will need to respond to over the next three months. This review is a historic occasion because the U.S. has agreed to submit itself to assessment by other countries in the UN setting – something this country rarely does.

In preparation for the upcoming review, advocates for the rights of sex workers consulted with networks and organizations working with sex workers, people in the sex trade and people who are affected by anti-prostitution policies in the United States more generally. Drawing on these perspectives, the Best Practices Policy Project, in collaboration with Desiree Alliance and the Sexual Rights Initiative, drafted a comprehensive national statement http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/downloads/FinalUPRBPPP_Formatted.pdf that describes the ways in which stigmatization and criminalization of sex workers in the United States result in widespread violations of civil and human rights. These abuses are rampant in working class, majority African-American and Latino, and urban communities. Arrests for sex work can lead to a cycle of continued exclusion from housing, marginalization from formal employment, and re-imprisonment. Furthermore, law enforcement officers frequently commit physical and sexual violence against sex workers, while simultaneously failing to recognize that sex workers can be victims of crime, denying justice or support to sex workers who seek their help.

Two representatives from the Best Practices Policy Project are currently in Geneva presenting summary recommendations to diplomatic delegations and encouraging countries to ask the United States questions about its human rights record with respect to sex workers and other communities affected by the policing of sexual exchange. While few countries are prepared to be outspoken in defense of sex worker rights, the activists on the ground report some encouraging conversations with country delegations, and remain hopeful that this will be the first time sex worker concerns are raised within the UPR milieu.

Summary recommendations being shared with country delegates are that the United States should:

Implement comprehensive criminal justice reform that includes measures to stop human rights abuses committed in the name of anti-sex trade laws. This would include repealing laws, including laws against prostitution-related offenses, and eliminate policies, such as “prostitution free zones”, that erode legal protections barring law enforcement from detaining individuals on the basis of how they are perceived or the way they are dressed (ie racial and gender profiling). The application of felony-level charges against sex workers and people living with HIV should be halted as should sex offender registration requirements of those arrested for engaging in prostitution. Criminal justice reform must also address the frequency of abuse of sex workers, or those perceived as such, by law enforcement and other state actors. Similarly, reform must ensure that people involved in the sex trade or profiled as such receive appropriate responses from authorities when they are targeted for violence and other crimes.

Ensure health care access for those engaged, or perceived to be engaged, in sex work and the sex trade. In many jurisdictions in the United States condoms are used as evidence of criminal activity in the enforcement of anti-prostitution laws. Individuals involved in street economies face tremendous stigmatization in health care settings. Sex workers urgently need access to health care services including harm reduction oriented programs, which often are prohibited from receiving federal funding.

Reorient national anti-trafficking policy to a rights-based framework and repeal the US governments “anti-prostitution pledge” requirement on foreign aid. Migrants involved in the sex trade who experience exploitation require services and legal support, but the response to human trafficking in the U.S. currently focuses on law enforcement approaches that alienate and traumatize victims. U.S. anti-trafficking policies and practices undermine the health and rights of sex workers domestically and internationally, including requiring recipients of HIV and anti-trafficking funding to adopt a stance condemning sex work. These requirements should be repealed.

 

 

2 Responses

  1. [...] Bound, not Gagged: Update from Sex Worker advocates at UN in Geneva this week “Tomorrow, November 5, 2010, the United States will be reviewed as part of the Universal [...]

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