Why does restrictive migration laws or laws against ‘prostitution’ harm sex workers?

Police surveillance, as well as gender and racial profiling, are daily realities for many sex workers, especially for migrant, trans, and street-based sex workers as well as sex workers of colour. As highlighted in the research by the European Sex Workers’ Rights Alliance (ESWA) ‘Undeserving Victims? A community report on migrant sex worker victims of crime in Europe’, sex workers mostly interact with police during identity checks and residency checks indicating high levels of surveillance and profiling impacting the community.

The targeting of sex workers occurs within and outside their workplaces. As a result, many migrant sex workers are afraid to leave their homes and workplaces. Such police harassment usually leads to a complete loss of trust towards law enforcement. It is still a reality for many sex workers in Europe to experience instances of sexist, transphobic and racist verbal abuse, the confiscation of condoms necessary for safety at work, and, in some cases, sexual violence from the police.

Police raids, in the context of anti-trafficking measures, often result in sex workers being evicted from their homes or workplaces onto the streets where their exposure to violence may be even greater. Non-sex work laws, such as traffic regulations, regulations related to public morality and public order, or petty offenses are also evidenced to be routinely used against sex workers.