On 17 December 2023, ESWA chose to specifically highlight the police and institutional violence that sex workers in Europe - and almost everywhere else in the world - systematically face.
In 2023, sex workers have faced several attempts to reinforce the criminalisation of sex work by Members of the European Parliament. The constant effort to conflate sex work with human trafficking or gender-based violence is not only ignorant, but inherently violent. It is precisely this criminalisation that leads to the situations of abuse and defencelessness that sex workers experience. Sex work is not inherently violent. The violence we face is because of how society treats sex workers.
This year has seen an increase of violence and conflicts in our region and around the world. The ongoing aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine, which continues to sow death and destruction as well as global geopolitical and economic effects, has had a devastating impact on sex workers in Ukraine, whilst sex workers and LGBTIQ+ people in Russia have been further impacted by political repression.
On 7 October, we woke up to the news of the despicable terrorist attack by Hamas, which we strongly condemn. Several sex workers were killed in those attacks and we offer our deepest condolences to their families and community. As we know, that attack triggered a disproportionate response by the Israeli government that has claimed the lives of more than 18,000 Palestinians in just 10 weeks in Gaza. We do not know the total number of sex workers who have been killed, but we ourselves are painfully aware of sex workers and colleagues who have disappeared.
Following human rights based groups, including UN agencies, we continue to call for accountability for all acts of gender-based violence committed on and after 7 October, the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining hostages, and a humanitarian ceasefire. We stand by Palestinian people and their right to sovereignty and self-determination.
Earlier this year, we witnessed the murder of several sex workers in Peru, with horrifying videos of their deaths shared on social media.
There is no officially declared war in Latin America from Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. Yet, the entrenchment of dictatorial regimes in the region - in collusion with organised crime - has created conditions comparable to armed conflicts elsewhere. This situation clearly has consequences in Europe, where displaced people will seek for a safer place; however, in their attempt to flee from violence, they will be met with the violence of restrictive immigration laws and Europe's dwindling refugee and asylum guarantees. In countries like Sweden, France, Ireland, Iceland, Norway, Canada, and Israel, the restrictive migration laws are compounded by the end-demand model. In the case of Spain, where advertising our services was banned.
For almost a quarter of a century, the Swedish model has been shown to worsen the quality of life of sex workers as it continues to prevent access to regularisation of their migration status, access to housing, health and access to justice. In short, the current rise of far-right groups in Europe, whose policies are steeped in hatred, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism, will be responsible for sustaining and perpetrating violence against this particularly vulnerable group of people.
ESWA condemns all forms of institutional violence or racism suffered by all sex workers because sex workers too are cis and trans women, migrants, racialised/BIPOC, or part of the larger LGBTQI+ community, disabled, gender non-conforming, Roma, Muslim or Jewish. We call for international solidarity and an immediate ceasefire in all armed conflicts that threaten the human rights of sex workers and the general population.
We demand the decriminalisation of sex work as a significant first step to begin to end the structural violence against sex workers that results from the criminalisation of our work.