International Day of the Sex Worker: Legalization, abolitionism or regulation?

On the International Day of the Sex Worker we analyze the positions that exist against this work around the world: legalization, abolitionism or regulation .

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The Woman Post | July Vanesa López Romero

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Leer en español: Día Internacional de la Trabajadora Sexual: ¿Legalización, abolicionismo o regulación?

The debate around sex work is nothing new, and it is nowhere near over. Different sectors of society have divided opinions and positions regarding whether or not prostitution should be considered as a job within the legal framework and whether practicing it means violating human rights. Broadly speaking, the best-known positions are those of abolitionism and regulation. But also, it is necessary to take into account that of legalization, prohibitionism and, the one that sex workers defend the most, the creation of rights.

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Today, on the International Day of the Sex Worker, we analyze these positions and what is around them. This commemoration has been taking place since 1975 , the year in which more than 100 prostitutes protested at the Church of Saint-Nizier in Lyon, France to demand the destigmatization they received from the civil community and the state.

Abolitionism and prohibitionism

The difference between abolitionism and prohibition is that the former sees prostitution as an violation of human rights, such as slavery. In fact, this position usually relates both practices. Likewise, abolitionism sees sex workers as victims, considers that it is on pimps and clients that the weight of the law must fall, and does not differentiate prostitution from human trafficking.

On the other hand, prohibitionism does not see sex workers as victims, but rather puts them on the same level as clients and pimps , so they are all prosecuted and punishable when carrying out an activity that is considered incorrect.

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Focusing on abolitionism, which is the most recognized of these two and part of a radical feminist discourse, prostitution is considered to be extreme gender violence. For this position, the activity is seen as a tool used by men to objectify and sexually exploit women, as well as an exercise of power and submission over women. Consequently, women are dehumanized and become an object of consumption . To this, we must add that this position ensures that the vast majority of women engage in prostitution under pressure and coercion.

On the other hand, the legalization or regulation of prostitution is not seen as viable because the states would be responding to patterns of exploitation. Likewise, this position highlights how problematic it is that sex work is a viable option to overcome economic problems , since it would be directly associated with poverty, that is, with the vulnerability of the less privileged social classes.

Legalization and regulation

Legalization sees prostitution as a job that can be considered a market and opens the way for commerce, as long as it differentiates between forced and non-forced activity. In this sense, it is sought that there are rights (especially with regard to safety and health control) and labor duties for those who carry out the activity voluntarily and help those who do not.

The regulation, for its part, understands prostitution as "an unavoidable evil" and its purpose is to set rules to limit the activity. In this sense, it is proposed that the workers be tested for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and that their trade be prohibited in certain areas.

For both regulation and legalization, it is important to review the cases of countries that have already opted for abolition or prohibition, such as Sweden, Norway, Ireland and France. In the case of the latter, the results of the ruling that abolished the activity delivered by the Ministry of the Interior in 2021 showed that the figures for the use of sexual services grew. Although the activity in the streets and public roads decreased, the activity moved to the Internet, which increased the precariousness of the workers in the streets and caused the growth of white slavery due to the facilities offered by digital platforms to make international contacts. no regulations. In this sense, legalization and regulation ensure that it is not possible to abolish and prohibit prostitution so that it simply disappears, or without there being consequences for those who practice it.

The need to think about rights and the panorama in Latin America

According to the Network of Sex Workers of Latin America and the Caribbean (ReTraSex), sex workers initially demand that there be rights before there is regulation. If you think about legalization, this is the path that best suits what they are looking for. However, when looking at the panorama of Latin America, we find that an optimal model is far from being reached.

ReTraSex's regional mapping shows that sex workers are organized in eleven countries and that they are legally unionized in Colombia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Peru. Likewise, in Brazil, Colombia and Uruguay the activity is legal. Only in Puerto Rico, it is considered a crime. The problem in the region and in which it is legalized, is that the wording of the laws is ambiguous and combines free-choice sex work with human trafficking and sexual exploitation. This implies that the sexual markets in these countries are complex and are associated with an imaginary that gives free rein to stigmatization and social punishment.

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