Research-to-Action

Criminalizing Sex Work Clients: the Hot New Anti-Prostitution Strategy That Works About as Well as the Old Strategy

Reason.com
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

...A study pubilshed this week by medical journal BMJ explores how the criminalization of sex buyers affects the safety and working conditions of sex workers. Researchers from the University of British Columbia and the Gender and Sexual Health Initiative interviewed 31 street-based sex workers in Vancouver, Canada, where policies that criminalize clients were adopted by local law enforcement in January 2013.

While police "sustained a high level of visibility," they eased charging or arresting sex workers and showed increased concern for their safety, according to the interviews.

However, participants' accounts and police statistics indicated continued police enforcement of clients. This profoundly impacted the safety strategies sex workers employed. Sex workers continued to mistrust police, had to rush screening clients and were displaced to outlying areas with increased risks of violence, including being forced to engage in unprotected sex.

Whether cops are arresting sex buyers or sellers makes little difference - it still drives the practice underground and makes it more dangerous for those engaged. Researchers concluded that "criminalization and policing strategies that target clients reproduce the harms created by the criminalization of sex work, in particular, vulnerability to violence and HIV/STIs."