Reports and research

A selection of key reports and research documents that relate to sex worker’s rights. If you have suggestions for inclusion here then get in touch via facebook, or twitter, or send us an email.

(If accessing this site by mobile phone, be aware some of these are large pdf documents.)

Moving Toward Decent Sex Work (Empower Foundation, 2016)

front cover of report from Empower Foundation Empower Foundation conducted sex worker community research into the working conditions of sex workers in Thailand. This report examines the ILO’s concept of “decent work” as well as other concepts such as forced labour and trafficking. It emphasises the wide range of working experiences between decent work and forced labour; and it calls for the application of a labour rights framework to address all mistreatment of sex workers – not just the extreme of exploitation that meets the trafficking definition.


The Condom Quandary: A Survey of the Impact of Law Enforcement Practices on Effective HIV Prevention among Male, Female, and Transgender Sex Workers in China (Asia Catalyst, 2016)

a sex worker holds a wrapped condom up to the camera concealing her faceAsia Catalyst worked with four community-based organisations in China and the UNFPA China office to conduct the research. Sex workers actively participated in defining the research topic, planning the research and interviewing over 500 female, male and transgender sex workers in three Chinese cities. The research found that laws, policies and police practice severely impact the implementation of China’s HIV response. Specifically, the use of condoms as evidence of sex work, and police crackdowns on the sex sector, contradict government health policy and put sex workers at risk.


Papua New Guinea: Outlawed and abused: Criminalizing sex work in Papua New Guinea (Amnesty International, 2016)

thumbnail of front cover of reportAmnesty International’s report on the human rights of sex workers in Papua New Guinea. This report documents violence against sex workers committed by police officers, clients, and members of sex workers’ families and communities. These crimes are rarely reported or investigated. Sex workers also experience high levels of stigma  and discrimination, especially in accessing health care. Gender inequality is a significant factor contributing to violence.


China: Harmfully isolated: Criminalizing sex work in Hong Kong (Amnesty International, 2016)

thumbnail image of front cover of Amnesty reportAmnesty International’s report on the human rights of sex workers in Hong Kong, PRC, documents a range of rights violations. Police engage in questionable tactics to arrest sex workers. Transgender sex workers report degrading and humiliating treatment in custody. Laws prohibit sex workers working with others for safety, forcing them to work in isolation. And immigration laws prohibit migrants and people from mainland China engaging in sex work, and making them vulnerable to arrest and deportation.


Migrant sex workers in Australia (Australian Institute of Criminology / Scarlet Alliance, 2015)

Australian Government - Australian Institute of Criminology - Migrant sex workers in Australia - Lauren Renshaw, Jules Kim, Janelle Fawkes, Elena Jeffreys - AIC Reports - Research and Public Policy Series 131The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), in partnership with Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, initiated a project to explore the demographics, work conditions, migration experiences and access to services of migrant sex workers in Australia. Most previous research in this area focused on sexual health or violence. Among the 592 sex workers interviewed, the majority were satisfied with their work conditions. The research also identified difficulties they faced such as accessing services and English language barriers.


The Right(s) Evidence – Sex work, violence and HIV in Asia  (UNDP, UNFPA, APNSW, SANGRAM, 2015)

Thumbnail of the front cover of the report titled Six groups of sex workers in four countries collaborated with UN Agencies and civil society groups to conduct peer-led research into violence against sex workers. The study took place in Indonesia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal, and is published as a full report, and as a summary (both pdf).

The main findings of the qualitative research were:

  • Sex workers in all study sites experienced physical, sexual, emotional and economic violence which has lifelong and life-threatening consequences for their physical, mental and sexual health.
  • Sex workers experienced specific types of violence because of their work, such as sexual extortion and harassment by the police for carrying condoms.
  • Police personnel and clients were the most commonly cited people who used violence against sex workers, across study sites and gender categories.
  • Police violence fuelled impunity and increased sex workers’ vulnerability to client violence.
  • Criminalization of various aspects of sex work and male-to-male sex as well as law enforcement practices increased the incidence of violence by promoting impunity, pushing sex work underground, reducing sex workers’ ability to negotiate safe work practices and by increasing stigma and discrimination.
  • Sex workers experienced specific forms of violence even outside their work setting because of their work, such as violence and harassment by neighbours and the general public and discrimination and abuse in health settings.
  • Safe workplaces, including those with more well-defined workplace safety frameworks, decent work conditions, responsible and responsive establishment owners or managers and supportive employers and co-workers reduced the risk of violence and HIV.
  • Collectivization, strong sex worker-led networks and individual access to knowledge and skills to conduct sex work more safely.


The Right(s) Process (UNDP, UNFPA, APNSW, SANGRAM, 2015)

Thumbnail of front cover of the report titled The innovative collaborative approach between UN Agencies, civil society and community organisations in the The Right(s) Evidence research (above) was itself documented in a separate document: The Rights(s) Process.

Partners in the project were UNFPA Asia and Pacific Regional Office, UNDP Asia–Pacific Regional Centre, Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers (APNSW) through their partner the Center for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalization (CASAM), UNAIDS Regional Support Team for Asia and the Pacific, and Partners for Prevention (P4P) conducted the study with UN country offices and sex worker-led organizations working together at the local level.

The  community organisations who took part were:

  • Organisasi  Perubahan Sosial Indonesia (OPSI), the national network of sex workers in Indonesia; TOP – NGO supporting HIV prevention for female sex workers and men who have sex with men in Myanmar;
  • Sex  Workers in Myanmar (SWIM) – Network of sex workers in Myanmar;
  • Community Strength Development Foundation (CSDF) – organisation working with sex workers in Colombo, Sri Lanka;
  • Heart to Heart – a community organisation working with gay, transgender, bisexual men in Sri Lanka;
  • Jagriti Mahila Maha Sangh (JMMS), a federation of female sex workers in Nepal; and
  • Blue Diamond Society (BDS) – an organisation that advocates for the rights of Nepal’s marginalised, gay, transgender and other sexual minority communities, including sex workers.


SWIT – Sex Workers Implementation Tool (WHO, UNFPA, UNAIDS, NSWP, World Bank, UNDP, 2013)

Thumbnail of the front cover of the booklet with short title "SWIT" (Sex work implementation tool.) Known by sex workers as “SWIT”, the full title is “Implementing  Comprehensive HIV/STI Programmes with Sex Workers – Practical Approaches From Collaborative Interventions.” This 196 page book offers practical advice on implementing HIV and STI programmes for and with sex workers. This is part of a series of guides produced by UN bodies in partnership with communities. (See also the “Smart Guide to SWIT” in the Smart Guides section of this site.)


Sexual health, human rights and the law (WHO, HRP, 2015)

Thumbnail of front cover of the WHO report titled: Sexual Health, human rights and the law.This report demonstrates the relationship between sexual health, human rights and the law. Drawing from a review of public health evidence and extensive research into human rights law at international, regional and national levels, the report shows how states in different parts of the world can and do support sexual health through legal and other mechanisms that are consistent with human rights standards and their own human rights obligations.


Consolidated Guidelines on HIV Prevention, Diagnosis, Treatment and Care for Key Populations (WHO, HRP, 2014)

Thumbnail of front cover of Consolidate Guidelines reportWorld Health Organization brings together all existing guidance relevant to key populations, and updates selected guidance and recommendation, in this 184 page document on HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care for key populations. (See also, the 8  page briefing note in the Policy Briefs section of this website.)


Survey of the Living Conditions of Transgender Female Sex Workers in Beijing and Shangha (Asia Catalyst, Zuoyou, SCMC, 2015)

Thumbnail of front cover of Asia Catalyst research with transgender sex workers in China.Based on research in Beijing and Shanghai this report focuses on the daily life, working conditions, access to services, and legal frameworks for transgender female sex workers in China. The research was conducted in partnership with Beijing Zuoyou Center and Shanghai CSW & MSM Center (SCMC). It found transgender sex workers faced a broad array of discrimination in social and policy frameworks, that prevented access to a wide spectrum of services and legal protections.


HIV and Sex Workers (The Lancet, 2014)

thumbnail of The Lancet website

This special edition of the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet, consists of a series of seven papers investigating the complex issues faced by sex workers worldwide. It calls for the decriminalisation of sex work, in the global effort to tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic.thumbnail of the infographic from the Lancet titled "Facts about Sex Workers and the myths that help spread HIV"

The papers outline how stigma, discrimination and criminalisation in societies cause substantial barriers for sex workers in accessing prevention, treatment and care services. They examine how these social, legal, and economic injustices contribute to sex workers high risk of acquiring HIV, including the need to work “underground” (avoiding contact with authorities) and facing directs risks of violence and abuse.

An infographic accompanying the series addresses some of the myths about sex work and the spread of HIV.


Sex Workers Demonstrate Economic and Social Empowerment – Regional Report Asia and the Pacific (NSWP, 2014)

Thumbnail of report front cover

A series of case studies that document positive examples of sex worker-led economic empowerment projects, and the negative impacts of forced rehabilitation programmes on the lives of sex workers. This report covers the USHA Cooperative financial services for sex workers in India, and how this model inspired a similar project led by AMA in Myanmar. It looks at the informal education and legal aid work of WNU in Cambodia. It documents strategies to reduce violence and increase earnings by VAMP in India. It compares the work of OPSI and YKP in Indonesia, and looks at two projects from Thailand: the “Can do” Bar by Empower Foundation, and the work of SWING.

Report of the Eviction of Tangail Brothel (APNSW, July 2013)

Thumbnail of front cover of the report on the eviction of Tangail brothel - "Mayor did it!"

The Tangail brothel complex in Bangladesh is over 200 years old. The property originally belonged to a wealthy zamindar (landowner), but over time was sold to the sex workers who lived there. In July 2014, a violent mob attacked the area and forcibly displaced the residents, most of whom were sex workers, and looted their property. After a long struggle and investigation by sex workers rights groups including APNSW, the property was finally restored to the rightful owners. No brothel evictions have taken place in Bangladesh since. (Report is available via issuu, or through this large pdf file (20MB).)

 Global Commission on HIV and the Law: Rights, Risks and Health (2012)  Thumbnail of front cover of Executive Summary of the Global Commission on HIV and the LAW - Risks, Rights and Health

The Global Commission on HIV and the LAW was an independent body convened by UNDP, on behalf of UNAIDS. Fourteen commissioners undertook extensive research, consultation, analysis and deliberation over a period of 2 years to examine links between legal environments and HIV responses. The final report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law presents a coherent and compelling evidence base on human rights and legal issues relating to HIV.  (See also, fact sheet, press release)

Criminalising Condoms: how policing practices put sex workers and HIV services at risk in Kenya, Namibia, Russia, South Africa, the United States and Zimbabwe (OSF, 2012)

Thumbnail of front cover of OSF report "Criminalizing Condoms", with drawing of handcuffs hanging on a green belt beside a canister (of pepper spray).This multi-country study observed the practice of police actively stopping and searching sex workers for condoms, either to destroy, confiscate or to use them as evidence to arrest sex workers. The report also reveals that in most cases police went onto harass, physically assault and sexually abuse sex workers who carried condoms on them. Police used the threat of arrest on the grounds of condom possession to extort and exploit sex workers. The report concludes that criminalising sex work and the use of condoms as evidence leaves sex workers particularly vulnerable to sexual infections and police abuse.

The HIV and Sex Work Collection: Innovative Responses in Asia and the Pacific (UNFPA, UNAIDS, APNSW, 2012)

The HIV and Sex Work Collection - Innovative Responses in Asia and the PacificA collection of case studies highlighting the work undertaken by sex worker-led community based organisations and networks in undertaking HIV related advocacy efforts. The collection was a result of collaboration between UNFPA, UNAIDS and APNSW. It specifically focuses on eleven APNSW member organisations from across a diverse range of countries within the Asia and Pacific region.


Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific:  Laws, HIV and human
rights in the context of sex work
(UNDP, 2012)

sexWorkLawAsiaPacificThis 226 page report was the result of a thorough collaborative and consultative process with contributions from many stakeholders including technical experts, community sex worker organizations and individuals, and UN agencies. The study examined the diversity of laws that affect HIV responses in the context of sex work in the Asia Pacific region; assessed the  impact of laws, legal policies and law enforcement practices; and made recommendations for actions required to create enabling legal and policy environments for HIV responses in the context of sex work.

Findings on laws, policies and practices that are harmful to HIV responses:

  1. Criminalization of sex work
  2. Punitive law enforcement practices
  3. Confiscation of condoms
  4. Criminalization of clients
  5. Licensing or registration
  6. Mandatory, compulsory or coerced testing
  7. Lack of labour rights and social security rights
  8. Denial of identity documents and citizenship rights
  9. Compulsory detention centres
  10. Anti-trafficking laws, policies and practices
  11. 100% Condom Use Programmes (CUPs)


  • Legal empowerment of sex worker communities underpins effective HIV responses
  • Positive public health and human rights outcomes have been achieved in
    jurisdictions that have decriminalized sex work
  •  Licensing and registration models have not been effective


Hit and Run: True Stories of Raids and Rescues (EMPOWER Foundation, 2011)

thumbnail of report cover Landmark research by sex workers from Empower Foundation looking at the impact of anti trafficking policy and practice on sex worker’s human rights. “We have been spied on, arrested, cut off from our families, had our savings confiscated, interrogated, imprisoned and placed into the hands of the men with guns, in order for them to send us home… all in the name of “protection against trafficking”. It’s rubbing salt into the wound that this is called helping us. We are grateful for those who are genuinely concerned with our welfare … but we ask you to listen to us and think in new ways.


Sex Workers and HIV Prevention in Fiji – after the Fiji Crimes Decree 2009 (University of New South Wales, 2011)

front cover of the report featuring close up of a piece of barbed wireThis research investigates the impact of the Fiji Crimes Decree law, passed by the military government in 2009. The law created a wider range of offences related to sex work, including criminalisation of clients.  A key finding of the research was the unexpected and unpredicted role played by military personnel in the policing of sex work, including harassment and violence, after the law was passed. The research also found sex workers had to be more covert and carry fewer condoms, and newer sex workers were reluctant to be associated with more experienced workers who share advice on health and safety. Other consequences included fewer clients, lower prices, and increased competition between sex workers, leading to increases in client negotiating power and increased client preferences for younger, less visibly identifiable sex workers. NGOs and organisations that had previously supported sex workers stopped distributing condoms as a result of police and military raids on the streets. Sex worker groups were also affected, making their work more dangerous and difficult.

Risky Business: Sex Work and HIV Prevention in Fiji (University of New South Wales, 2010)

front cover of report - purple flower with bank notesThis report is the result of in-depth interviews with 40 female and transgender sex workers in Fiji, representing a broad range of local sex workers and their circumstances. It concludes that an enabling environment for HIV prevention interventions is essential to an effective response to the threat of HIV, including the important role of sex workers and sex worker support organisations. The report warns that as the law and police crack-downs are used to attempt to eradicate sex work, this will drive sex work underground, and will be detrimental to efforts to reduce HIV transmission risk.

Risky Business Kiribati: HIV prevention amongst women who board foreign fishing vessels to sell sex (University of New South Wales, 2010)

riskybusinesskiribatiThis report documents the findings of qualitative research with women who engage in sex work on board foreign boats in Kiribati. The purpose of the research was to inform HIV prevention strategies and programs for this group. The report recommends peer outreach programs, and identifies the need to address stigma and marginalisation as well as wider issues of poverty, gendered economic inequality, domestic violence and violence against women within Kiribati society.


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health (Report to 14th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, 2010)

thumbnail of front page of special rapporteur's report

This report was submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in 2010 and examines the relationship between the right to health and the criminalisation of three forms of private, adult consensual behaviour: same-sex conduct and sexual orientation, sex work, and HIV transmission.  The report recommends States immediately decriminalize consensual same-sex conduct; repeal discriminatory laws relating to sexual orientation and gender identity;  repeal all laws criminalizing sex work and practices around it; repeal laws criminalising unintentional transmission of or exposure to HIV; introduce monitoring and accountability mechanisms to ensure the right to health; and provide human rights education for health professionals.

Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003 (Government of New Zealand, 2008)

Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act 2003This is the report of the New Zealand government committee tasked with reviewing the impact of the decriminalisation of sex work in New Zealand. The report is the result of five years of work and reviews the significant quantitative and qualitative research exercises conducted during this time in collaboration with academics and universities in New Zealand. It concludes that the new law: “safeguards … the right of those under 18 not to be used in sex work; the right of adults not to be forced to engage in sex work, including the right to refuse a particular client or sexual  practice; and the right not to be subject to exploitative, degrading employment practices.

(The report is normally available via the Government of New Zealand website, but is temporarily offline due to restructuring of that site.)

Collateral Damage: the Impact of Anti-Trafficking Measures on Human Rights around the World (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women, 2006)

thumbnail of the Collateral Damage report coverThree countries in the Asia Pacific feature in this global research by GAATW (Australia, India, and Thailand). The research looks at the human rights impact of anti-trafficking policies on people living and work in these countries, or migrating in or out. It concludes that the available evidence suggests marginalised communities have suffered unacceptably negative consequences as a result of anti-trafficking efforts, and that enforcing law is not the same as upholding human rights.


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