Criminalising our clients does not stop trafficking

The European Parliament has voted in December for the principle of criminalising clients of services provided by victims of trafficking.[1] In many EU countries, we now expect similar laws like the clause 14 of the recent UK Policing and Crime Act 2009 which risk enormously affecting the sex industry.

In the UK the new provisions of the law have been enforced since the 1st April 2010. However, it is hard to see any improvement for the victims of trafficking. Indeed, if some men have been arrested last April, the law is too difficult to implement because the police can’t easily identify as victims of trafficking the sex workers who provide the services.

With none or little condemnation of clients, and without really knowing if the sex workers are real victims of trafficking, we can’t really say that this measure is efficient. We won’t be able to know if the number of victims of trafficking has decreased as a result of the law because we don’t know how many they are, and we rely only on estimations.

We don’t know if the enforcement of the law has increased the number of rescued victims either. Unfortunately, if we know that the Poppy Project has a 30 beds capacity, we don’t know how many of the women they help are victims of domestic abuse, or victims of trafficking, and in which economic sector they were trafficked in. But the efficiency of the law doesn’t matter much given that its real aim was not to combat human trafficking. The real motive of the law is to send the message to men that buying sex is very bad.[2]

One more useless law would not be such a big deal if it wasn’t causing harm. The problem is that when the police raids a brothel or arrests people on the streets, they target as much if not more the sex workers than the clients. If most clients are released because no evidence is found against them, it’s much easier to charge sex workers for working in indoor premises or for soliciting.

The conflation often made between sex work and trafficking is a way to stigmatise and scare all clients who are now more afraid to buy sex. Migrant sex workers in particular who are the most confused with victims of trafficking are more likely to lose incomes when their clients think it is safer to buy a sexual service from a national sex worker.

Our clients were the last persons who could report suspicion of trafficking to the police without fear of arrest. Their criminalisation will not encourage them to continue. Also the analysis justifying their criminalisation is wrong. The cause of human trafficking is not the demand for sex, but anti-migration laws and the criminalisation of sex work.

Human trafficking exists in industries which are the least valued and that operate in a semi legal system or out of legality. The exploitation of undocumented workers is not due to the nature of their work, but the illegality of their status. Sex work as such is therefore not intended to be exercised under duress or assimilated by essence to “human trafficking”.

Last November, X-Talk, an organisation providing English classes for migrant sex workers launched a report on anti-trafficking laws and their terrible impact in terms of human rights violations for migrant sex workers and victims of trafficking themselves.[3]

Feminists who thought they were helping sex workers by campaigning for the Policing and Crime Act were actually lured. The law targets in fact very few clients, but harms further sex workers. Clause 14 is almost not used but the clauses on premises orders, forced rehabilitation and persistent soliciting which target sex workers are.


About Thierry Schaffauser

Queer, sex worker, drugs user, student in Gender History, GMB trade unionist, migrant, wants to change the world, etc
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