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Legalization of Prostitution - Sindhana


“Prostitution is degrading. No one would ever choose to do it. It’s dangerous for the sex workers, their clients, and society as a whole. There should be a law against it” You might have thought about these and they may sound reasonable to you. If so, you are not alone. Prostitution, a business between men with money and women without money, is taboo across the globe.


There’s a pandemic right before us. Imagine you don’t receive any of the government supports since the job you are doing is not even recognized as an occupation. That is the situation of sex workers at various places of the world. The stigma around this job just blocked access to supports available to other workers. That hit us hard. And the hardships are endless. Their rights and plights are hidden under the one statement “She is a prostitute. What do you expect?”

Following this rope, I confronted various such organizations throughout the world and had opportunities to come to know about the actual lives of the sex workers. Their stories were all same nightmares in different shades.

I have reconsidered the ideas I once had about prostitution. She had to sell what was her only final possession, her body. She has various reasons for entering into this hell. But, what I was thinking recently is how to make it less hell-like. That is the heart of this blog post.

The most depressing thing is that even the Lady of Justice has failed to defend her. The following parts of the article take you through the key legal approaches that are applied worldwide to sex workers and explain why they do not succeed.


The first approach is full criminalization. In this approach, everyone involved, the seller, buyer, and third parties are criminalized. It works on the basis that sex workers will stop selling sex because of the fear of getting arrested.

It’s a history lesson. When you forbid people from what they need to do, be it drinking alcohol, crossing borders, having abortions, or selling sex, you create more issues than you solve. They’re doing it anyway.

Criminalization is a trap.[1]She cannot get another job since she has a criminal record in hand. Unlike what should be the intent, the law makes the sex workers continue selling sex. The state also takes advantage of her criminal records and she is often faced with mistreatment. For example, sex workers have been subjected to assaults at gunpoint, beatings, electric shocks, rape, and denial of food says records of police and prison guards in Cambodia[2]

Another worrying thing: If you are caught having condoms in your bag, you will be arrested. Condoms serve as evidence to say you are a sex worker in Kenya and South Africa.[3] This increases HIV risk. They are forced to make tough choices, between risking arrest and having risky sex. Since the law and society treat sex workers are criminals, violence and abuse get normalized in their work.


The second approach is partial criminalization, followed in India, where it is legitimate to buy and sell sex, but crimes include activities such as maintaining brothels or soliciting on the street. Brothel Keeping refers to a number of sex workers who work together. By doing that, illegal, the state is telling “Hey you can sell sex, but make sure it’s done all alone”, making her vulnerable to attacks.[4]

If you’re found selling sex outside, you’re going to pay a fine. How are you going to pay the fine, without going back to the streets? It was the cash requirement that saw you in the streets in any case. The fines add up, and you’re stuck in a never-ending cycle of selling sex to cover the fine you received for selling sex.


Criminalizing the sex workers seems not righteous for them; let’s just criminalize the people who buy sex. This is the third approach, the Swedish or Nordic model.[5] This is so funny. This is like, selling chocolates is fine, but eating them is wrong. This end demand approach did not work because the sex workers do not have other sources of income and the only effect that a drop in business is going to have is force them to offer more risky sexual services and lower their prices.

She also has to protect her clients from the police, which means getting into the car faster, lesser negotiations, less time to decide if he is dangerous, working in isolated dangerous locations.

The job has been made difficult now. She cannot find clients. Now, she needs a pimp. On the whole, this approach encourages pimping. A sex worker told them the entire money goes to her pimp and she gets something very little out of it.


We might have heard “Prostitution sounds fine when legalized and regulated”. That is our last approach to see, where the law allows sex work to happen hassle-free, but only in specific legally designated areas, and sex workers have to register and do forced health checkups. This legal approach sounds amazing on paper, but politicians deliberately make sex industry guidelines expensive and difficult to follow. Rich brothel owners can do well with the laws, but for a refugee or someone fleeing domestic abuse and needing money tonight, they cannot arrange a proper place and license that takes a lot of time and money. Legalization is therefore backdoor criminalization.

So, it’s evident that all the sex work laws exacerbate every abuse that sex laborers fall prey to. These sex work laws undermine the health and dignity of sex workers and expose them to violence and abuse.


New Zealand decided to ask the sex workers themselves when they sat to draft laws to protect them.[6] They decriminalized sex work after consulting the sex work organizations of the country.

Decriminalization is not a legalization synonym. It is the abolition of laws that mainly prey’s sex work. It is the removal of sex work criminal penalties. It advocates treating sex work as any other job and, with labor laws, protecting the sex worker like any other worker. The abolition of criminal action will create a safer and healthier atmosphere for sex workers, which allows them to live with less stigma and social isolation.

A sex worker in New Zealand said, “It changed the whole street, it’s changed everything.” They were more able to refuse clients and insist on condom use, while relationships with police were better and health services increased[7]. A sex worker in Nevada said, “Decriminalization gives us the most freedom”[8]

“Decriminalizing sex work is a clear way forward. South African sex workers deserve to live in dignity and provide for their families without fear and shame,” said Nosipho Vidima, human rights officer at Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Taskforce.[9]


We might have heard this, “Will you allow your daughter or sister to do this job?” Well. I invite you to imagine that your daughter or your sister is doing this job and think “Is she safe at work tonight?”This June 2nd, we celebrated International Sex Workers Day. But the sex workers themselves were in the streets holding banners and protesting for their right to life and safety rather than enjoying the day with wine and cake. Africa

Their job, experiences, societal responses, and their whole life may be complicated. But their demand is simple ‘Decriminalizing their job.’

Author(s) Name: Sindhanaa Andavan (School of Excellence in Law, TNDALU,




[1]Krüsi A, Pacey K, Bird L, et al, Criminalization of clients: reproducing vulnerabilities for violence and poor health among street-based sex workers in Canada—a qualitative study, 4 BMJ Open 005191(2014) [Google scholar]

[2]Decker, M.R., Crago, A.L., Chu, S.K., Sherman, S.G., Seshu, M.S., Buthelezi, K., Dhaliwal, M. and Beyrer. C, Human rights violations against sex workers: burden and effect on HIV, 385 The Lancet, 186-199 (2015)[Google scholar]

[3]Anderson, S., Shannon, K., Li, J., Lee, Y., Chettiar, J., Goldenberg, S. and Krüsi, A, Condoms and sexual health education as evidence: impact of criminalization of in-call venues and managers on migrant sex workers access to HIV/STI prevention in a Canadian setting, 16 BMC International Health and Human Rights 30 (2016) [Google Scholar]

[4] Pitcher J, Wijers M, The impact of different regulatory models on the labour conditions, safety and welfare of indoor-based sex workers, 14 Criminol Crim Justice, 549–64 (2014) [Google scholar]

[5]Press release, European parliament, Punish the client, not the prostitute, (26 February 2014) [Google scholar]

[6]Agata D, Stevenson L, Nothing about us without us!Ten years of sex workers’ rights activism and advocacy in Europe (2015) [Google scholar]

[7]Abel G, Sex workers’ utilization of health services in a decriminalized environment, 127 The New Zealand Medical J., 30-37 (2014) [Google scholar]

[8]Abel, G.M, A decade of decriminalization: Sex work ‘down under’ but not underground. 14 Criminology & Criminal Justice, 580-592 (2014) [Google scholar]

[9]South Africa: Decriminalise Sex Work (Aug. 7, 2019), Human Rights Watch,