APNSW Statement on International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers

17 December 2016

Sex workers across Asia and the Pacific continued to face multiple forms of violence in 2016. Even as we see progress in some areas, there are steps backward in others.

Condoms continue to be used as evidence of sex work. Sex workers were arrested and fined or imprisoned, and migrant sex workers were deported. Governments and policy-makers continued to focus on immigration and trafficking rather than sex workers rights, including the right to health.

Sex work venues were raided, and in some cases demolished. Police extorted money and violated positions of authority – as well as assisting in bringing other perpetrators to justice. Physical and sexual violence by clients, third parties and members of the community in many countries in the region were compounded with the impunity that criminalization of sex work brings.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, a backlash against LGBTQ people and sexual rights resulted in increases in hate crimes. Raids, arrests, and deportations of migrant sex workers continued unabated in Malaysia, where transgender people are also targeted whether they are sex workers or not. In Indonesia sex work venues have been demolished and sex workers forcibly displaced. Talk of sex workers’ rights remains difficult in both countries.

In several countries across the region raids and brothel closures demonstrated that “collateral damage” in the multi-million dollar anti-trafficking industry is as present as ever.

In India, there were steps forward as the Supreme Court recognised sex worker’s rights. But steps backwards as drafts of a new anti-trafficking law continued to conflate sex work and trafficking, put power over sex workers lives into the hands of local committees unaccountable to sex workers, and distract attention away from labour exploitation in other sectors across the country.

In Hong Kong, the high profile conviction of the perpetrator of two horrifying murders of Indonesian women highlighted the need for safe, healthy and fair working conditions for both domestic workers and sex workers. In mainland China, police continued to use condoms as evidence and crack down on sex work – in violation of government policy and endangering the health and lives of sex workers.

In a setback for sex workers rights in South Korea, the Constitutional Court upheld the country’s full-criminalisation laws after a constitutional challenge by a sex worker. Police crackdowns have continued on a wide scale.

At the United Nations, the High-Level Meeting on Ending Aids saw attempts to exclude key populations from the Asia Pacific region and as well as efforts to roll back even the language of sex worker rights; mirroring similar issues at UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs earlier in the year.

The campaign of violence against people who use drugs in the Philippines, where a growing HIV epidemic urgently needs a rights-based response, is of concern to sex workers in the country among many others.

The shrinking space for civil society across the region is a major cause for concern to sex workers and all who care about human rights. And a global tendency towards “post-truth” in the media, combined with increasingly scarce resources for those committed to real, ethical and accountable journalism, make communicating with mass audiences an ongoing challenge.

The need for solidarity between movements is greater than ever in Asia and the Pacific.

Sex workers stand in solidarity with all who struggle for women’s rights, LGBTAIQ+ rights, migrant rights, labour rights, rights of domestic workers, rights of people who use drugs, rights of PLHIV, people living with disabilities, indigenous people and more.

Please also stand in solidarity with us.