The Truth about Human Trafficking Laws Research on Sex Trafficking


Bureau for Development Policy,

304 East 45th Street, New York, NY 10017


Tel: (212) 906 6590 Fax: (212) 906 5023

Copyright © UNDP 2012

Sex Trafficking of Children: What are the Numbers?
By Brenda Zurita


Sex work (prostitution) and sex trafficking are not the same.

The difference is that the former is consensual
whereas the latter coercive. Sex worker organisations
understand sex work as a contractual
arrangement where sexual services are
negotiated between consenting adults. Sex work
is not always a desperate or irrational act; it is a
realistic choice to sell sex—in order to support a
family, an education or maybe a drug habit. It is
an act of agency.172
By contrast, traffi cking in persons, as defi ned by
international and local treaties, is “the recruitment,
transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of
persons, by means of the 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 or of the giving or receiving of
payments or benefi ts to achieve the consent of a
person having control over another person, for the
purpose of exploitation”.173 Such exploitation can
include many forms of forced labour or slavery—
in factories, fi elds, homes or brothels. Traffi cking
for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation
involves adults or children providing sexual
services against their will, either through force or
deception. A denial of agency, traffi cking violates
their fundamental freedoms.174
Setting aside the question of whether people
would choose sex work if they had better options,
a point of view that casts “voluntary prostitution”
as an oxymoron erases the dignity and autonomy
of the sex worker in myriad ways. It turns selfdirected
actors into victims in need of rescue.
And yet some governments deploy
anti-human trafficking laws so broadly as to conflate consensual

adult sex work with the exploitative, coerced
trafficking of people (primarily women and girls)
for the purposes of sex.175 Indeed, negotiations in
the writing of United Nations Protocol to Prevent,
Suppress and Punish Traffi cking in Persons,
Especially Women And Children (2000) were
riven by disputes over these defi nitions. Some
states and NGOs argued for the language to be
amended to limit the law’s purview to people
engaged in the international sex trade by force or
coercion.176 This amendment was defeated on the
grounds that no victim should have to prove that
she did not consent, but the language now also
implies that any person selling sex is so vulnerable
that she is by defi nition unable to consent. The
defi nition now explicitly states that the consent of
the “victim” is irrelevant to the prosecution of the
traffi cker.177
In part as a result of this overly broad defi nition,
governments have cracked down, often
violently, on sex workers or compelled them to
undergo the same kinds of brutal “rehabilitation”
in detention to which drug users are subjected.

Forced to work clandestinely, sex workers
cannot muster the collective power to improve
their wages or working conditions, enjoy the
40 I HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights & Health
protection of labour law or join together in trade
unions or another organisation, whose benefi ts
include access to public health care or the
empowerment to establish health services run
by sex workers themselves.179

International anti-human-traffi cking campaigns
often promote the prohibition, either intentional
or eff ective, of proven best practices in HIV
prevention. For instance, crusaders in the United
States have used the infl uence of PEPFAR—the
President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the
primary vehicle of United States fi nancial support
to AIDS-combating organisations around the
world—to compel other governments to accept
the confl ation of human traffi cking with sex
work by conditioning the receipt of funds on the
signing of its Anti-Prostitution Pledge.180 Maurice
Middleberg, Vice-President of the Global Health
Council, calls the pledge proof that the antihuman-
traffi cking agenda is an anti-prostitution
agenda. He points both to the pledge’s
language—which calls prostitution “harmful
and dehumanising” and links prostitution with
human traffi cking—and the way the pledge has
been put into practice.181

Although the pledge has been legally challenged
in its application within the United
States and was supposed to be reviewed by the
Obama administration in early 2009, it remains
in full force for organisations receiving funds
under PEPFAR beyond the borders of the United

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has
recommended that sex work be recognised
as an occupation so that it can be regulated in
ways that protect workers and customers.183 Sex
workers in such a framework could exercise both
individual and collective initiative in aff ecting
their economic and social conditions. The ILO’s
labour standard on HIV/AIDS, adopted in 2010,
includes non-discriminatory access to health
services and occupational safety for sex workers,
including empowerment to insist on safe and
protected paid sex in their workplaces.184
Decriminalisation is the fi rst step toward better
working conditions—and with them, less HIV
risk—and some jurisdictions have removed
some penal provisions related to sex work.
New Zealand’s Prostitution Reform Act (2003)
decriminalised prostitution, opening the way for
sex workers to operate in public and in safety.185
The New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective, brothel
operators and the Labour Inspectorate have
collaborated to develop workplace health and
safety standards for sex work. Sex workers can
bring employment discrimination complaints
to the Human Rights Commission, and the
Mediation Service on Employment adjudicates
disputes.186 The police support sex workers in
All organisations outside of the US receiving money under PEPFAR must sign the pledge. It reads, in part:
“The U.S. Government is opposed to prostitution and related activities, which are inherently harmful and dehumanizing, and
contribute to the phenomenon of traffi cking in persons. None of the funds made available under this agreement may be
used to promote or advocate the legalisation or practice of prostitution or sex traffi cking.”178
The pledge puts grantees in an impossible bind. If they don’t sign, they are denied the funds they need to control
and combat HIV. If they sign, recipient organisations are barred from supporting sex workers in taking control of their
own lives—which is to say, their own health and that of their families and clients, including taking steps to avoid HIV
and prevent its spread.


Bureau for Development Policy,
304 East 45th Street, New York, NY 10017
Tel: (212) 906 6590 Fax: (212) 906 5023
Copyright © UNDP 2012

This entry was posted in Colorado, Denver, Human Trafficking, Law, Prostitution, research, research paper, sex, Sex Slavery, Sex Tourism, Sex Trafficking, Sex Workers, THE TRUTH ABOUT SEX TRAFFICKING, SEX SLAVERY, PROSTITUTION, SEX WORKERS, HUMAN TRAFFICKING, FORCED PAID SEX, SEX SLAVES, HOOKERS, PIMPS, PIMPING, BROTHELS, JOHNS, SEX FOR MONEY, CALL GIRLS, SEX WORK,, united states of America and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Truth about Human Trafficking Laws Research on Sex Trafficking

  1. Pingback: [link] Erasing Criminal Convictions for Survivors of Trafficking: One Step in the Right Direction « slendermeans

  2. Pingback: Erasing Criminal Convictions for Survivors of Trafficking: One Step in the Right Direction

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