National Network of Sex Workers [NNSW] Statement

challenging the ‘Last Girl First’: Second World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Women and Girls (January 29-31, 2017, New Delhi, India) organised by the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution International (CAP Intl)


Prostitution has symbolized oppression, victimization and the exploitation of women for abolitionists who view prostitution as the objectification of women’s bodies; violence against all women;  as a symbol of unequal power relations between the sexes and as the commercialization of the ‘intimate space’ of sex. Abolitionists also believe that no ‘real’ good [sic] woman would agree to do sex work. If she does, she is living under the illusion of ‘false consciousness’, prostitution is ‘sexual slavery’ and ‘sexual victimhood’ and because women in prostitution are conceptualized as ‘slaves’, the approach is to put a stop to prostitution in the literal sense – by abolishing it.

Abolitionists also posit prostitution as violence per se, a viewpoint that forecloses any discussion over whether women actively opt for sex work as a livelihood option. Accordingly, it is assumed that all female sex workers have been coerced into sex work. Violence against women (VAW) has focused on domestic violence, rape, sexual harassment, acid attacks among other issues, so when VAW is conflated with sex work, it becomes almost impossible for sex workers to voice their right to sex work. Research shows that most sex workers report that they experience violence and exploitation at the hands of police and petty thugs, rather than in sexual encounters with clients. [UNDP study][1]   Despite this evidence, violence that occurs within sex work is used to justify severe action against the sex work industry, such as closure of work places and ‘clean ups’.

The anti-trafficking discourse conflates prostitution, which is adults providing sexual services for money or kind [sex work] with bodies being unwillingly ‘sold’ and transported across borders [trafficking] and sexual violence. Trafficking is not viewed as an issue of poverty that causes many women to willingly enter into agreements with traffickers because they desperately seek livelihoods, escape from home-grown violence, poverty, conflict, or displacement – in short, a better life.

Without listening to the multiplicity of experiences, some sections of feminists have projected that women are trafficked into sex work because of their vulnerability as women. Women are posited as having absolutely no agency. The movement to stop trafficking, by some sections of feminist and other groups favouring abolition, is therefore framed as the necessity to stop prostitution.[2] This goes counter to contemporary global positions on the issue.

The UNDP Global Commission on HIV and Law, in July 2012, based on 680 global submissions, and depositions on over 700 people observed that “Sex work and sex trafficking are not the same. The difference is that the former is consensual whereas the latter coercive. Trafficking for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation involves adults or children providing sexual services against their will, either through force or deception. A denial of agency, trafficking violates their fundamental freedoms. Setting aside the question of whether people would choose sex work if they had better options, a point of view that casts “voluntary prostitution” as an oxymoron erases the dignity and autonomy of the sex worker in myriad ways. It turns self-directed actors into victims in need of rescue.” [3]

Only rights can stop the wrongs!


A key feature of the rights-based approach to sex work is that it distinguishes between consenting sex work and trafficking. It defines ‘women’ as persons being above 18 years of age and recognises the agency of consenting adults in sex work. Minors in sex work are viewed as victims of child sexual abuse and this approach demands that trafficking in the context of adults and children be clearly separated into two different laws to ensure that consenting adults are not infantilised and children are given justice.

State and non-state actors who use morality to stigmatise and discriminate against sex workers contribute to physical, mental, economic and emotional violence against sex workers. The violence of a judgemental attitude has contributed untold misery on sex workers encouraging lumpen elements to justify the violence meted out to sex workers. NNSW recognises that abolitionists contribute to making sex work unsafe exposing sex workers to violence and murder. 

NNSW believes that it is ludicrous in a country like India to demand the abolition of prostitution when the law of the land does not criminalise prostitution per se and the Supreme Court has recognised the dignity of women who choose to remain in prostitution[4].

NNSW demands that sex work be deemed `Decent work’ [ILO standard] and safe working conditions in order to root out violence against sex workers.


Collectives of Female, Male and Trans sex workers, children of sex workers

2049 signatories of women, men, trans people in sex work and children of sex workers
Beladingalu Raichur21 signatories
Spandana Haveri45 signatories
Mahila Kranti Uttara Kannada21 signatories
Rakshane Jilla Mahila Okkuta, Gadag55 signatories
Me and My World, Andhra Pradesh178 signatories
Sangamitra, Thrissur52 signatories
Snegidha, Kottayam15 signatories
VAMP – Sangli391 signatories
VAMP – Miraj163 signatories
VAMP – Karad136 signatories
VAMP – North Karnataka258 signatories
Muskan – Male and Trans sex workers collective (Sangli, Satara, Karad, Miraj)300 signatories
Mitra – Children of Sex workers (Sangli, Miraj, Satara, Karad)52 signatories
Saheli, Pune189 signatories
Karnataka Sex Workers Union35 signatories
Vadamalar (Nagercoil, Chennai), Tamil Nadu32 signatories
Nirangal, Tamil Nadu (Sivakumar, TD, Sankari G, Vikram Sundarraman)3 signatories
Srijan Collective – Jharkhand103 signatories





[2]UN Protocol To Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in persons, Especially Women and Children . The definition of trafficking in the Protocol is the first international definition of trafficking. ‘ Trafficking in persons’ shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation forced labour or services, slavery or
practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs;”

[3] Global Commission on HIV and the law: Risks, rights and health, July 2012, Page 32

[4] Budhadev Karmaskar versus Union of India, [2011] 10 SCR 577