Intended for healthcare professionals


Commentary: Sex work is here to stay and decriminalisation improves safety and social justice

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: (Published 20 June 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k2687
  1. Gillian Abel, head of department
  1. Department of Population Health, University of Otago, Christchurch, New Zealand
  1. gillian.abel{at}

Public health focuses on ensuring the conditions in which people can be healthy. It is a societal approach to protecting and promoting the health of population groups. Our aim is to tackle societal conditions that create inequalities so that people can lead healthier lives. At the core of public health is the principle of social justice, and inequalities in health are seen as a human rights or social justice issue.

Social justice for sex workers did not exist in New Zealand until 2003, when they were decriminalised with the passing of the Prostitution Reform Act. Robust research has shown that when sex workers or their activities are criminalised their health and safety is severely compromised,12345678910111213 and this was …

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