Intended for healthcare professionals


Protection of sex workers

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: (Published 11 January 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:52
  1. Michael D E Goodyear, assistant professor (,
  2. Linda Cusick, reader in substance use2
  1. 1Department of Medicine and Women's Centre, Dalhousie University, NS, Canada B3H 2Y9
  2. 2Institute for Applied Social and Health Research, University of Paisley, PA1 2BE UK

    Decriminalisation could restore public health priorities and human rights

    Between 2 and 12 December 2006, the bodies of five young women—Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell, and Annette Nicholls (aged 19-29)—were discovered near Ipswich.w1 Their involvement in street prostitution created a media controversy over whether labelling them as prostitutes was dehumanising, as well as raising questions about our duty to protect such women, and how this can be best achieved.w2 Sex workers and their families have spoken of abuse and violence, and they have added a human face to these women's lives. This has provoked an overdue debate, but the same stereotyping, prejudices, myths, and a failure to appreciate the complexity and diversity of sex work and its social contexts persist.1

    Sex workers around the world continue to be murdered, including about six each year in the United Kingdom.w3 Standardised mortality rates for sex workers are six times those seen in the general population (18 for murder), the highest for any group of women. Death and violence are but part of a spectrum of physical and emotional morbidity endured.2 w4-w7

    At issue are human rights and repressive legislation in the UK, thus inviting comparisons with how other countries protect sex workers. Governments and health and social services have a duty of care without discrimination.3 The UK government failed these women4 w2 w8 by ignoring their voices,w9 and those of researchers, service providers, …

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