Guest blog by Daisy Nakato, sex worker and c-founder of Wonetha, the largest human rights organisation of sex workers in Uganda.

It is sad to see how the worldwide discussion about sex work and sex trafficking is blurred by prejudices and moralistic mists. Human trafficking and sex slavery is horrific. But it’s inaccurate and disrespectful to assume that all sex workers are victims who need to be rescued. Rescue operations and police-raids, often do more harm than good. In many countries, they provide police more opportunities to invade our privacy, abuse and detain us, for example in so called “rehabilitation” centers that function more like prisons. Such rescue operations make sex workers even more afraid of police, and for health care facilities.

Making sex work a moral issue is not helpful

The moralistic approach to sex work that recommends abolishing it is in many countries at the core of State strategies to crack down on sex work. These activities reinforce and legitimize the abuse by the police. Police in many developing countries like Uganda, believe they can get away with bribing, beating and raping sex workers with impunity. This belief is deeply rooted in their view of sex work as an immoral, criminal activity. Sex work is criminalized in 110 countries, but this also happens in countries where sex work is legal.

Sex work and sex trafficking are simply not the same thing. Sex workers and their allies are against all forms of forced labour and sexual violence. We work hard within our environment to identify traffickers and those who have been trafficked.  We stand up for the rights of all people in our communities. We are often in the unique position that we can identify victims of human trafficking and help them. In India sex workers developed a monitoring system. They work together with the police and help victims to address their vulnerability.

Working Together

Do not underestimate us. We are organized and side with health-, labour- and human rights activists. Working together, we can create changes for sex workers, victims and their families. Our worldwide successes stem from initiatives from sex workers themselves: from dramatically reducing the spread of HIV, addressing abuse by the police, working with local authorities for fair and equal treatment of sex workers, to offering economic empowerment programs for sex workers looking for alternative income so they can chose to work less or stop with sex work.

We are not helped with sweeping statements of well-meaning people who want to abolishing prostitution. We are not all victims and the best way to help those who are is not by shutting down the ‘evil’ sex industry.  That simply undermines our efforts to ensure that the human rights of sex workers are acknowledged and upheld by authorities and society. In a country like Uganda, this is definitely not useful. The new anti-homosexuality bill, the anti-pornography bill and the upcoming bill that criminalizes HIV transmission are threatening our work for the human right to health for all.

This week Aidsfonds invited sex workers from across the globe to discuss to share our experience and learn from each other’s successes. Thanks to the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs we were able to do this here safely and freely. I call upon anyone who really wants to help to listen to us, so that we can all be allies and not enemies to address the human rights violations for sex workers and victims of trafficking and abuse.

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