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Brief to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls

On January 31, 2024, SWAN Vancouver responded to a Call for Input from the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, for a report to the Human Rights Council on prostitution and violence against women and girls. 

SWAN expressed concern over the language and framing of the Call for Input, writing:

“There has been a move in recent years, even within the UN, to shift language away from terms like “prostitution”, “prostituted women and girls”, “victims and survivors of prostitution”, to “sex work” and “sex worker”. This has been the approach of many UN bodies, such as UNAIDS, WHO, UN Women, UNDP, UNFPA, who recognize the term “prostitution” denotes immorality, illegality, and other negative and stigmatizing connotations.”

SWAN is also alarmed by the premise that “international law has recognized that prostitution is incompatible with the dignity and the worth of the human person.” The idea that sex work is inherently exploitative has been highly contested by many human rights and sex work organizations, as well as sex workers themselves.

 The problematic conflation of sex work and trafficking is also troubling. SWAN has routinely seen this conflation manifest in ineffective and punitive anti-trafficking efforts that ultimately target sex workers and violate their human and labour rights. 

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