It is a fact that the sex service industry remains a despised business. Even though many sex workers, like any other common workers, are working hard to strive for a better living every day, their human rights are often violated simply because they engaged in this particular trade. Numerous laws and social policies pay scant attention to the existence of sex workers, a condition which directly contributes to the hostile work environment that they have to endure day after day.
In cases like clients removing the condom during sexual intercourse, while sex workers can sue such clients for rape, the admission of legitimate evidence is very narrowly defined. If the client has not used a significant degree of force, or if the sex worker has not put up a vigorous struggle, the chance of securing a prosecution is slim. Sex workers also face considerable difficulty in acquiring legal assistance when dealing with clients who refuse to pay; sex service is, after all, regarded as an “immoral business”.
The abuse of power by police officers is another chronic threat that sex workers have to live with. When officers conduct undercover operations, they can enjoy not only massage, but also masturbation service or even sexual intercourse, all for free. Sex workers are often arrested by force; they may also be forced to sign statements. False accusations and strip searches have been reported; so are cases involving prohibiting arrested sex workers to make phone calls to contact lawyers. When sex workers request help from the police, they are treated with hostility, and officers may even try to persuade them to withdraw their reports. As sex workers occupy a marginal position in the society, there are criminals and law enforcement officers who, in effect, join forces to exploit these vulnerable women.
The International Human Rights Covenants guarantee the basic human rights of all of us, and protect us from being exploited or discriminated against. Sex workers are no exception. We need to persuade the members of general public to drop their prejudice, and to bring about necessary changes in the law and social policy, so that the rights of sex workers are truly protected. If sex workers cannot appeal to the law when they are being violated, human rights will simply be empty words.
We hope that this year’s International Human Rights Day can raise the public’s awareness of the plights of the sex workers, so that the society can treat them more fairly.