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Feature Public Health

Sex workers’ health: international evidence on the law’s impact

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l343 (Published 24 January 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l343

Linked feature

Better health for sex workers: which legal model causes least harm?

  1. Sally Howard, journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. sal{at}sallyhoward.net

The authors of a new systematic review say that criminalising sex workers is bad for their health and that full decriminalisation is the healthiest option. Others maintain that people buying sex should be prosecuted. Sally Howard reports

Criminalisation of sex work is linked to “extensive harms” among sex workers, concludes a systematic review of the evidence in 33 countries from 1990 to 2018. Its authors say that the review, published in PLOS Medicine,1 is the first to consider sex workers’ health and safety and their access to health and social services.

The research is timely because of global political interest in new legal models of full decriminalisation and of criminalising people who pay for sex, said coauthors Lucy Platt and Pippa Grenfell of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, launching the research in London in December. For example, Australia has seen calls for a nationwide rollout of the decriminalisation model introduced in New South Wales in 1995, and Spain’s prime minister has made criminalising sex buyers a flagship policy of his first term.

Full decriminalisation

As used in New Zealand since 2003 (box), full decriminalisation should be the preferred legal model everywhere, Platt argued, as it had led to sex workers being better able to refuse clients and to insist on condom use.

The researchers wrote, “Opponents of decriminalisation of sex …

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