Anti-trafficking policies claim to support vulnerable women, while sex worker advocates, libertarians, and human rights groups are dubious about their true intent. This column from Open Democracy illustrates how their implementation leads to imprisonment and deportation of migrant sex workers in Europe.
In June 2019, two migrant sex workers, one of whom was pregnant, were jailed for nine months in Ireland. The two Romanian women were selling sexual services from a flat they shared for safety when they were raided by the police. Selling sex is legal in Ireland, which has implemented the so-called Swedish model of sex work regulation. But because there were two of them the police were able to charge both with brothel keeping, which isn’t legal.
This is just one example of complicated risks facing sex workers in Europe today. Those risks don’t disappear under Swedish model, a legal framework promoted as a win-win way for states to protect sex workers while punishing their clients, as has just been shown. Regardless of the model used, sex workers, especially undocumented migrant sex workers, remain at high risk of criminalisation in Europe and consequently of imprisonment and deportation.
Discriminatory policing, profiling, and surveillance by authorities affect many communities of sex workers in Europe. Sex workers who are migrants, homeless, gender non-conformist, or people of colour come into higher than average contact with the police. As a result they also face disproportionate levels of detention and imprisonment.