Gains and Challenges in the Global Movement for Sex Workers’ Rights


Launch of Issue 12 of the Anti-Trafficking Review ‘Sex Work’

Guest Editor: Annalee Lepp

Editor: Borislav Gerasimov


Despite the growing body of academic and community-based literature on sex workers’ lives and work, the discourses, laws, and policies that impact sex workers are continually changing, and critical perspectives are constantly needed. Therefore, this Special Issue of the Anti-Trafficking Review examines some of the current achievements – and challenges – of the global sex worker rights movement.

Five articles – by Alex Tigchelaar; Amalia Cabezas; Sharmila Parmanand; Ntokozo Yingwana, Rebecca Walker, and Alex Etchart; and Elene Lam and Annalee Lepp – explore the power of collectivisation among sex workers. They show that, whether in Canada, Latin America, Philippines or South Africa, sex workers around the world are organising to tell their own stories, including through creative and artistic means, claim their human, social, and labour rights, resist stigma and punitive laws and policies, and provide mutual and peer-based support. Two articles – by Leo Bernardo Villar and Simanti Dasgupta – examine sex work through a labour perspective. Drawing on interviews with sex workers, government officials and service providers, Villar examines the working conditions in the sex and entertainment sector in Thailand. Dasgupta uses her ethnographic research with Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC) in India to show how anti-trafficking raids undermine DMSC’s labour organising. Three articles – by alexandra lutnick, Charlène Calderaro and Calogero Giametta, and Ben Chapman-Schmidt – focus on the introduction of recent laws and policies that directly affect sex workers in the United States and France. lutnick describes the process of developing the ‘Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers Policy’ in San Francisco, which allows sex workers to report violent crimes against them without fear of arrest and prosecution. For their part, Calderaro and Giametta analyse the debates leading to the introduction of the sex purchase ban in France in 2016, linking them to anxieties about public order, national security and border control. Chapman-Schmidt picks apart the term ‘sex trafficking’ as used in American legal discourse and FOSTA as a form of epistemic violence against sex workers and urges academics and activists to stop using the term.

In the short articles section, Meghan Peterson, Bella Robinson and Elena Shih describe the disastrous impact of FOSTA on sex workers in the United States, while Nadia van der Linde highlights the need for donors to invest more in the sex worker rights movement. Finally, Katrin Roots’ review of Julie Kaye’s book Responding to Human Trafficking shows how the anti-trafficking framework in Canada reproduces structures of domination that naturalise white settler colonialism.

Taken together, the articles in this Special Issue show that misguided anti-trafficking policies and initiatives are threatening sex workers’ safety, dignity, and rights. However, the sex worker rights movement is growing stronger and making itself heard. Given the diversity of sex workers it is imperative that organisations that advocate for the rights of women, LGBTI+ people, formal and informal workers, migrants, and trafficked persons, as well as movements that work for social, economic, and racial justice join in the struggle for sex workers’ rights and the decriminalisation of sex work.


View the new issue at 


See four short videos where authors speak about their articles on YouTube.