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International Union of Sex Workers


Our aim.


The International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) campaigns for the human, civil and labour rights of those who work in the sex industry.


All workers including sex workers have the right to:

  • full protection of all existing laws, regardless of the context and without discrimination. These include all laws relating to harassment, violence, threats, intimidation, health and safety and theft.
  • access the full range of employment, contract and property laws.
  • participate in and leave the sex industry without stigma
  • full and voluntary access to non-discriminatory health checks and medical advice

The current organisation of the sex industry presents many problems for workers and the communities within which the industry operates. Improving the legal framework and self-organisation of sex workers is to the benefit of all parties. Recognising both the rights and responsibilities of sex workers is the only sensible way forward.

IUSW condemns Women’s Equality Party’s harmful choice to seek criminalisation of commercial sex

October 20th, 2015

Today the Women’s Equality Party declared support for the “Swedish model” of criminalising people
who pay for sex.

It is unclear if the Women’s Equality Party is unaware of the growing body of evidence that the “Swedish model” endangers people who sell sex and impedes effective strategies against HIV and other public health risks or sees these as acceptable collateral damage in their crusade to “end demand for the sex trade”.

The Women’s Equality Party say they wish to see “safe routes out of the sex trade for all those currently selling sex” (emphasis ours) indicating they support enforced exit programmes and do not view people who sell sex as entitled to make our own decisions.

There are hundreds of sex worker led organisations worldwide and half a dozen in the UK that oppose criminalisation of clients and forced exiting. The Women’s Equality Party show no knowledge of or concern for the views of we who would be most harmed by their choice to promote criminalisation of our consent, we who see the day to day reality of the sex industry.

The IUSW knows of no attempt by the Women’s Equality Party to consult with any UK organisations led by current sex workers, nor with services that provide day to day support to people in the sex industry or bodies such as the UKNSWP and National Ugly Mugs that promote evidence based policy and actively tackle violence against sex workers.

Since paying for sex was made illegal, sex workers in Sweden report greater violence, rape and harassment by the police, being made homeless by threats to prosecute landlords for pimping if they accept rent money from by tenants who sell sex, discrimination and expressions of contempt by “support” services unless they present themselves as victims seeking rescue. Criminalisation of our consent has not even been successful on its own terms (seeking to eradicate commercial sex) with Swedish police recording substantial increases in the number of clients, massage parlours and estimations of trafficking. The Swedish government’s official evaluation could make no stronger statement than “… Internet prostitution has increased in Sweden, Denmark and Norway … there is nothing to indicate that a greater increase in prostitution over the Internet has occurred in Sweden… No overall increase in prostitution.”

In contrast, the New Zealand model of complete decriminalisation – campaigned for by people in the sex industry as most effective in tackling violence, exploitation, health risks, discrimination and abuse – has extensive statistical data, both immediately before decriminalisation and since, that shows no increase in the number of people selling sex or victims of trafficking. Since complete decriminalisation, sex workers in New Zealand have been protected by the courts against both sexual harassment by managers and condom removal by clients.

More dangerous than a choice to ignore the evidence on what works to challenge violence, exploitation and discrimination is the view of the Women’s Equality Party that equal rights do not apply to all women.

A fundamental principle of feminism is that a woman has the right to make decisions for herself – these decisions have always been most fiercely contested when women decide about our sexual and reproductive rights. Criminalising the consent of women who sell sex is simply an inversion of the old patriarchal trope “you can’t rape a whore”. But for all women, it counts when we say no, and it counts when we say yes. When any woman’s right to consent to sex is denied, all women are endangered.

Catherine Stephens of the IUSW comments “people in the sex industry, whether there by choice, circumstance or coercion, are entitled to equal human rights, non-discriminatory treatment and the full protection of the law as other citizens. The Women’s Equality Party has chosen to ignore, exclude and endanger women who sell sex. No woman is made safer by legislation that treats her consent to sex as unworthy of respect. Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide.”


The IUSW is an unfunded organisation of people currently working in the sex industry, together with allies who respect our equal entitlement to human rights and freedom from discrimination and supporters of policy based on evidence and in reality. All work is by volunteers. For more information email or call 07772 638748.


The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effect By Susanne Dodillet and

Petra Östergren

Jay Levy, University of Cambridge Impacts of the Swedish Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex on Service Provision for Sex Workers Presented at the Correlation Final Conference, Ljubljana, 14th December 2011

official Swedish government Evaluation English Summary Jul 2010

Report of the Prostitution Law Review Committee on the Operation of the Prostitution Reform Act
2003 May 2008

The Impact of the Prostitution Reform Act on the Health and Safety Practices of Sex Workers

We welcome Amnesty International’s Decision to Adopt Policy on the Human Rights of Sex Workers

August 11th, 2015

Press release from The International Union of Sex Workers on

Amnesty International’s Decision to Adopt Policy on the Human Rights of Sex Workers

12 August 2015


The IUSW is deeply grateful to Amnesty International for adopting policy to protect the human rights of sex workers. In doing so, Amnesty has listened to hundreds of sex workers’ organisations across the world who call for a rights-based approach to address problems associated with the sex industry[i]. Criminalisation creates systematic human rights abuses and turns people in the sex industry into easy targets for perpetrators of violence.


Catherine Stephens of the IUSW comments “People in the sex industry, whether there by choice, circumstance or coercion, are entitled to equal human rights and the full protection of the law as other citizens. It is vulnerability which creates victims, not sex work itself, and evidence shows criminalisation increases our vulnerability. Policies that solve problems are based in reality and on evidence and we welcome Amnesty’s commitment to evidence-based policy that respects and protects the rights of people in the sex industry.”


Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.


By criminalising us when we work together, UK law effectively discriminates against sex workers’ right to equal protection of the law.


Criminalising our consent to sex (the “Swedish model” of criminalising clients) means that if we contact the police to report a crime against us they may choose to seek easy arrest results by targeting our clients rather than those who have harmed us. Sex workers in Sweden report increased likelihood of rape due to having to accept clients who give no personal information who then act in the knowledge that identification of perpetrators is more difficult and many recount stories of police abuse and disrespect, including being harassed at home, being made homeless due to police threats to prosecute their landlords as living off proceeds of prostitution, being told by police that sex workers cannot be raped and being gang-raped by a group of police officers.7


Criminalisation of clients not only breaches Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it contravenes Article 6.


Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.


From this it follows:

  • Every individual has the right to autonomy and bodily integrity.
  • A woman’s consent to sex is her own to give.
  • The state is not entitled to diminish or disrespect the validity of her consent to sex.


Article 17.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
Article 20.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.


Brothel keeping legislation, in the UK and elsewhere, concerns premises and location, rather than coercion or exploitation. The effect of this is that people who have sex for money cannot own or share property together without risk of prosecution. In addition, UK legislation on “controlling for gain” (“pimping”) is entirely unconnected with trafficking or exploitation. It criminalises almost every way of working with or for a third party and explicitly includes people working of their own free will.[ii]  The only way to exchange sex for money indoors and be free of the risk of successful prosecution is to do so entirely in isolation, breaching not only our human rights but vastly increasing the dangers we face. Gangs target us – for sexual predation and financial profit – knowing they will find either the easy target of a lone individual or occupants of a shared premise, who are at risk of arrest if they contact the police.


Women connected with the IUSW have received criminal convictions as a result of sending two dozen text messages – over a period of two years – ensuring another woman would be present for her shift at a brothel and for working from a holiday flat, rented for a fortnight, with another woman on the basis that both were running the brothel created by the other’s presence.


Article 21.1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.


People in the sex industry are isolated and endangered by criminalisation and stigma. Exposure risks police investigation of ourselves or our workplaces, potential problems with child custody, possible loss of employment (even if our sex work experience is completely in the past) and chance of eviction if we work from home.[iii] [iv] [v] These vulnerabilities impede us from participating in the policy discussions that will affect our lives and livelihoods. Sex workers who speak out have little personally to gain and much to lose – the hazards of drawing attention are exacerbated by anti-sex workers rights’ campaigners who prefer to try to dismiss us as “pimps” rather than respond to our arguments.[vi] [vii] The more closely we can be identified, the more dangerous this is – to clear ourselves of such accusations of illegality, we would need to make clear we work in complete isolation, informing those who might wish to do us harm of our vulnerability to attack.[viii]


Article 21.2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.


The harmful effects of criminalisation on access to services are widely recognised. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon specifically notes the harms of discrimination against people in the sex industry: “In most countries, discrimination remains legal against women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users, and ethnic minorities. This must change.”[ix]


The UNAIDS Guidance Note on HIV and Sex Work describes problems caused by “laws, policies and practices [that] drive sex work underground” and increase stigma and discrimination against people in the sex industry. This view is endorsed by UNAIDS co-sponsors UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, ILO, WHO, the World Bank and the UNAIDS Secretariat.[x]



The IUSW is a an unfunded organisation (all work is by volunteers) of sex workers and allies who believe that

  • everybody in the sex industry, whether there by choice, circumstance or coercion, is entitled to the same human, civil and labour rights as others
  • protection of human rights and safety must be a priority
  • practice and policy on the sex industry should be created through meaningful inclusion of those most affected – people who currently sell sex, not ideologically-driven NGOs or campaigners


  • policies that solve problems are based in reality and on evidence, rather than on ideology, emotion, stereotypes, dramatic individual cases or cherry-picked data.




[ii] Massey Judgement, Court of Appeal 2007





[vii] An Unlikely Union Julie Bindel Gaze April 2013



[x] UNAIDS Guidance Note HIV and Sex Work April 2007

Dr Catherine Hakim researching for the Institute of Economic Affairs

August 7th, 2015

Stephen Jardine, Dr. Catherine Hakim & Jan McLeod  and Laura Lee talk about decriminalisation of the sex industry on the Stephen Jardine show.  Dr Catherine Hakim researching for the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) is calling for the total decriminalisation of the sex industry.

Laura Lee  a sex worker supporting decriminalisation for the  protection of sex workers battles against Jan McLeod (woman’s support project) who supports the Swedish model and criminalisation of purchase.

This interview came about because of the new research paper by Dr. Catherine Hakim and the increasing number of organisations across the world supporting decrimilization of sex work, most recently Amnesty International who are this week voting on the policy

Laura replies to the ‘planted text’ message right at the end with a good reply.



Full text of the report can be found on the IEA website here.  The research paper can be downloaded here DP_Supply and Desire_61_amended_web.


Have YOU told your prospective MP your views on prostitution.

April 7th, 2015

In parliament last November, some MPs tried to make it illegal to pay for sex. Campaigners for increased criminalisation have met with senior politicians and will keep up the pressure for increased repression. The Northern Ireland assembly passed a law making it illegal to purchase sex, this comes into affect in June 2015. These well-funded and well-organised crusaders promote the view that they speak for the majority, although approximately 70%+ of the population accept that people in the sex industry have a right to exist and to consent to sex (see below for references).

Just five minutes is all it takes to email your PPCs (Prospective Parliamentary Candidates) and the politicians who met pro-criminalisation lobbyists via is run by the IUSW, long term advocates for the rights and safety of people in the sex industry.

Take action to prevent criminalisation of consent to sex for money.

Please pass this information onto other sex workers, escorts and allies. We must gather momentum and inform our potential representatives what would make life safer for us.

Public opinion is in favour of tolerance

71% of The Big Questions (BBC1) audience said prostitution should be accepted
72% voted for complete decriminalisation of prostitution on ITV’s This Morning
73% of Independent readers said prostitution shouldn’t be illegal
85% of Daily Mirror readers when asked ‘Should buying sex be a crime?’ said ‘no’.