Thursday, March 7, 2019

If Trump Wants to Reduce Human Trafficking He Should Decriminalize Sex Work

Two years ago the American Medical Association Journal of ethics released a report detailing the benefits of legalizing sex work and the unintended harm caused by continued prohibition, especially in regard to sex trafficking. Citing the findings Amnesty International, the World Health Organization, Human Rights Watch, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the report concludes that, contrary to popular wisdom, laws against the sex trade create the conditions for sexual exploitation and trafficking by discouraging sex workers from reporting it to the authorities for fear of criminal sanctions. Some sex workers engage in their trade voluntarily while others are coerced into; current laws, like the one Trump signed last year fails to make this nuanced distinction and marginalizes both cultivating an environment where they can be victimized with impunity not only because of a fear of criminal sanction but also an absence of trust in potential support systems, such as the health care sector. This discourages sex trafficking victims from seeking help and makes those voluntarily engaged in the trade more vulnerable to violent crime and victimization. Even partial criminalization schemes that only make procurement illegal fail to help sex workers.

According to a study published in the Lancet, partial criminalization “creates harms similar to those of full criminalisation by impeding sex workers’ ability to protect their health and safety, and creating an antagonistic relationship with law enforcement resulting in a climate of impunity.
Although such a strategy appears at first glance to be grounded in the well-being of sex workers, implementation often means policing of the areas where sex workers conduct business. This forces those working into more isolated conditions and locations, increasing their physical vulnerability.

Of course, this won't eliminate sex trafficking completely, but full decriminalization would remove the stigma associated with sex work and build trust between sex workers, law enforcement and health care professionals making it easier for trafficking victims and victimized sex workers to come forward and get the justice they deserve.


Albright, E., JD, & D’Adamo, K., MA. (2017). Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization. The AMA Journal of Ethic, 19(1), 122-126. doi:10.1001/journalofethics.2017.19.1.sect2-1701

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