Sex Work vs. Trafficking

“It is imperative to understand the difference between sex work – transactional sex between adults who have consented – and sex trafficking, which is an abhorrent abuse of human rights. Failure to make this distinction will increase societal ignorance that ultimately filters through to legislation, law enforcement and social justice work and thereby exacerbate the risks and dangers faced by sex workers.”

(Hoffmeester, 2018)

“Sex work includes all types of consensual sex work, such as pornography, escorting services, professional BDSM(ii), exotic dancers, phone sex operators, etc. The list includes those workers who do it because they enjoy their job, as well as those who choose to do it because it is a more favourable preference for survival. The sex work profession, much like others, is a choice that is frequently directed by economic vulnerability, and/or social pressure to be a productive and, by extension, worthy member of society. Sex work is, at its core, a class issue and cannot be discussed or debated outside the capitalist paradigm. Sex work exists within market capitalism, and the market’s demand for bodies means that sex workers are able to participate in wage labour as a way to survive.”

(Hoffmeester, 2018)

“Sex trafficking is defined as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability for the purpose of (sexual) exploitation.””

(Hoffmeester, 2018)

Sex Workers’ Action Program recognizes the difference between willing sex workers and human trafficking victims. We were created as a program for willing sex workers, but recognize that we will also come in contact with human trafficking victims, who will receive all the assistance that can be provided.

We strongly suggest education on both issues, and avoiding conflating the two. These issues are highly intertwined, particularly because lawmakers like to use prevention of human trafficking as the reasoning behind abolishing sex work. However, we recognize that criminalization directly negatively impacts human trafficking, by pushing it further underground, and keeping it profitable for those who imprison others.

It is also important to remember that both sex workers and victims of human trafficking may not look like, or have experiences, that match the stereotypes in our minds. Not all sex workers work for survival, nor do all sex workers live a glamorous, rich lifestyle. Not all human trafficking victims are kidnapped and held in chains; often the barriers for leaving are psychological.

Both scenarios crossover with other issues: homelessness, addiction, sexual assault, domestic abuse. Our resource list strives to include resources for all these issues.

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