The Palermo Protocol: 20 Years Later

November 24, 2020

The conflation of consensual adult sex work and human trafficking remains a harmful paradigm that continues to be promoted by a number of organizations and individuals, especially those who seek to prohibit prostitution. Human trafficking is a horrible human rights violation and exists in many labor sectors. Trafficking in agriculture and the hospitality industry is much more common than trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, yet much of the world’s concern is focused on “sex trafficking.” Treating adults who freely engage in sex work as victims and over-relying on criminal justice to end trafficking have led to disastrous outcomes for sex workers.

The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children was one of three Palermo protocols adopted by the United Nations to supplement the 2000 Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (the Palermo Convention). Sex workers have been targeted under this protocol from its inception. With 20 years of data to consider, it is clear that the criminalization of sex work causes immeasurable harm and makes it more difficult to identify and assist actual victims of trafficking.

In “Missed opportunities and exclusion: sex workers reflect on two decades of anti-trafficking,” the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) writes: “Sex workers and their organisations continue to challenge punitive anti-trafficking policy frameworks that target their workplaces and clients, rather than traffickers. Over the last twenty years, sex workers have not only had to combat the criminalisation of sex work, but have also endured global crises such as the 2008 financial crisis and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They have also been faced with the erosion of human rights, shrinking civil society spaces, and volatile political environments.”

“Prostitution prohibitionists claim that trafficking increases in times of public crisis, but the reality is that poverty, precarity, and the need to cross borders to obtain a better life are the key factors leading people to sell sex,” the ICRSE says. “The post-COVID recession will be a crucial time to determine which approach is best suited to protect those most at risk in our society. Do we want a punitive approach that denies the root factors making people vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking? Or a community-led approach, where sex workers engage with policymakers and other marginalised communities to shape the decisions that will affect their lives?”

Artwork by Carys Boughton. All rights reserved. (Photo: Open Democracy)

DSW Newsletter #21 (December 2020)

Hero of the Month: Mataoe Aiden James Nevils

December 8, 2020 Seeking medical care can be scary and stressful for anyone. Now imagine that you know you need medical attention but also know that you’ll confront stigma and...
Read More
Hero of the Month: Mataoe Aiden James Nevils

The Palermo Protocol: 20 Years Later

November 24, 2020 The conflation of consensual adult sex work and human trafficking remains a harmful paradigm that continues to be promoted by a number of organizations and individuals, especially...
Read More
The Palermo Protocol: 20 Years Later

Transgender Day of Remembrance Summit

November 19, 2020 The New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) hosted a Transgender Day of Remembrance Virtual Summit on November 19 and 20. In addition to providing a space to...
Read More
Transgender Day of Remembrance Summit

G.L.I.T.S. Opens First Housing Complex of its Kind

November 18, 2020 G.L.I.T.S. (Gays and Lesbians Living in a Transgender Society) unveiled their brand new housing complex — the first housing program run by transgender individuals for transgender individuals in...
Read More
G.L.I.T.S. Opens First Housing Complex of its Kind

NYC Council Repeals ‘Walking While Trans’ Ban

December 10, 2020 In a historic vote, the NYC Council unanimously voted to repeal Resolution 0923: Loitering for the Purpose of Engaging in Prostitution (LPP), commonly known as the “Walking...
Read More
NYC Council Repeals ‘Walking While Trans’ Ban

Mark Your Calendars for December 17

December 17, 2020 – International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers We’ve gathered a small sampling of the events taking place around the world to mark the International Day...
Read More
Mark Your Calendars for December 17
Hero of the Month: Mataoe Aiden James NevilsHero of the Month: Mataoe Aiden...
The Palermo Protocol: 20 Years LaterThe Palermo Protocol: 20 Years Later
Transgender Day of Remembrance SummitTransgender Day of Remembrance Summit
G.L.I.T.S. Opens First Housing Complex of its KindG.L.I.T.S. Opens First Housing Complex of...
NYC Council Repeals ‘Walking While Trans’ BanNYC Council Repeals ‘Walking While Trans’...
Mark Your Calendars for December 17Mark Your Calendars for December 17

DSW Newsletter Archive