On December 17th, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers, the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers [APNSW] released a video series highlighting the issue of violence in their region. In the videos, leading Asia-Pacific sex worker advocates talking about issues sex workers in their country face and what's working to combat violence and human rights abuses.
"Violence by police is a major issue for many sex workers in the Asia-Pacific region," the APNSW secretariat wrote. "From Nepal to Papua, New Guinea to Fiji - problems with police, including arbitrary arrest, condoms as evidence, and physical and sexual violence, are major problems. In Myanmar and Malaysia, police often fail to respond appropriately when sex workers report crimes against them, but relations with police are dramatically different where sex work is decriminalised, such as in New Zealand."
Below are transcribed excerpts from the video campaign, offering insight into the diverse sources of violence against people engaged in sex work in the Asia-Pacific region, what's working and what's needed, and barriers to anti-violence advocacy and ensuring sex workers can live violence-free lives.
Sex workers are subject to violence daily, and that's not just physical violence. we're subject to violence by the laws that are used against us, harassed and entrapped by the police and we don't have access to the laws that are trying to protect us. We experience violence from the whorophobic media that vilifies us and furthers damaging stereotypes that are in turn used to justify further criminalization of our work, our lives, and everyone around us. The best way to end violence against sex work is to decriminalize sex work. We don't need any special laws to protect us or rescue us, we just need our rights.
-Jules Kim, Scarlet Alliance
Because sex work is illegal, we as sex workers do not feel comfortable to go and report these matters to the police, because sometimes it is the police themselves who are violating our human rights and provoking violence.
In the last 2 years, SAN Fiji has conducted training with police...across the country, sensitizing them, making them understand the law around sex work, the law around anti-discrimination, the law around human rights. In this training we actually ask sex workers to come and share their experiences of how their human rights have been violated...Because of this training, we have built a relationship with the police officers. The police are coming to the street and treating sex workers with respect. But due to lack of funding, these programs are not sustained. There are new police officers coming in who have no idea how to speak to sex workers, how to treat sex workers. My organization needs support...to run these programs and sustain them.
-Rani Ravudi, Survival Advocacy Network
Currently we have a situation where sex workers face problems of stigma and violence, but when we report violence to the police we do not get equal protection like other citizens, because we are sex workers. What we want to see change is that sex workers are recognized as human and get equal opportunities with other citizens.
-Thazin, Aye Myanmar Association
Sex workers face stigma and discrimination from everywhere, among that, maybe from their clients, maybe from the police, maybe from the state institutions. It could be from their own families.
Two years ago, we had organized a...program with police administration. Both high and low-level police...We told them about the discrimination faced by sex workers. They gave us their contact numbers. Later, when one of the women was arrested from the street, we called them on that number. After that phone call we got the number of the inspector and with that name we went to the police station, and we were able to get our sisters released.
-Bijaya Dhakal, Jagriti Mahila Maha Sangh
Papau, New Guinea
There are quite a lot a lot of forms of violence against sex workers. There's physical violence, sexual violence, the most common one is stigma and discrimination. I would recommend that there should be a lot of legal trainings going on for people to understand basic human rights for sex workers, that it is our right to health services, to protection of the law. And also, with regards to law, is decriminalizing sex work. When the law is there [but sex work is criminalized], it's not even helping the situation.
-Parker Hou, Friends Frangipani
Sometimes...when they were being abused by the PS or anybody on the street and they...went to the police for [help]- sometimes [the police] would ask them if they could have sex with them before they can assist them. As we are doing sensitization activities from time to time, they are starting to work in cooperation with us now...we need to have more outreach tto police stations and clinicians and faith based organisations and do more sensitisation activities with them: monthly, daily, advocate for our rights and make them understand who we are, and they are starting to accept and they continue to understand who we are and will work more closely with us.
-Cathy Katapa, Friends Frangipani
Some sex workers get beaten up by brothel managers, drivers and agents and have to divide earnings up and share with others.For now, sex work is still not recognized as a job in Vietnam. But luckily we suceeded in getting rid of the Decree 05 which led to the imprisonment of sex workers, and now we only face administrative penalties.
But there are still no rights for sex workers yet, so sex workers like us still suffer from sexual violence...and that is why we are calling on the Vietnamese community to open up an entertainment street so we can work openly, so we can access regular health healthcare, so we can pay taxes and not divide our earnings with others. If we can work in such an area, our lives will be better and we will be protected.
In New Zealand in particular sex workers would like to see is...anti-violence campaigns that are inclusive of sex workers. We still tend to be working by ourselves, alone, a lone voice out there, but it's really important that we keep those gateways open and strengthen those allies.
It's dramatically different through decriminalization, sex workers can report violence to police...police have really really excellent relationship-working relationship with the NZ prostitutes collectives. And in other cases, we've just had individual sex workers go and access the police without our support.