Sex Workers Rights are Human Rights

Sex Workers Rights are Human Rights

May 20, 2021

This week is on the topic of Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights: Our Youth Advocate Feline writes about her Thesis topic on sex workers situation during Corona.

Sex workers’ rights are human rights and that’s why we all should speak more openly about this.

At the beginning of 2020, COVID 19 erupted the world. People were only allowed to work from home, and if you were registered as an entrepreneur you would get financial help. Either TOZO or other support systems would help you through this crisis. Well organized, you would say. Except for sex workers. 


My research started at the Prostitution Information Centre (PIC) while I was finishing my studies and writing my thesis. PIC is an organization run by (mostly) sex workers, for sex workers. They are located at the Enge Kerksteeg 3 in the Red Light District and the place to be for all your questions about sex work and the sector. During my fieldwork, we were only at the beginning of this pandemic but we came across different issues related to unequal treatment of sex workers. To be fair, these weren’t new things to the community, the inequality just got more visible during this upcoming COVID crisis. One of the issues we dealt with was the fact that all contact professions were allowed to start working again, excluding sex workers. In collaboration with SexwerkExpertise we surveyed amongst 130 sex workers. 57% of the respondents (in Dutch) indicated they had applied for the TOZO, and 53% of these said the application has been rejected. This has mainly to do with the fact that a lot of sex workers are working within the so called “opting-in regel”. This rule makes it even harder to get financial support from the government. 

The results were used in letters to the Dutch House of Representatives to ensure sex workers were allowed to start working again just as other contact professions. 


As I mentioned above, it was most likely you would get financial support from the government when registered at KvK. Regardless, a lot of sex workers don’t register as “sex workers” at KvK, due to the stigma and criminalization of sex work. Being open about sex work isn’t that easy in our society. Many sex workers have lost their jobs during this pandemic or were forced to work in the illegal circuit. This risks their safety and access to healthcare. 

Meaningful participation 

Yet, this brings me to the point of writing this article during the theme week Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights. Sex workers shouldn’t be treated differently than other entrepreneurs only because in our society this sector is stigmatized and criminalized. This needs to be changed by making sure sex workers can participate in policy and decision-making. And not by practicing tokenism, of simply asking sex workers to participate just for the sake of saying they are involved. What we need is meaningful participation. Because CHOICE is expert when it comes to meaningful participation, this is a great moment to raise awareness for this issue. Political parties must genuinely listen to the community and their needs, and sit around the table with people who know best what they need and what won’t work.

I believe that the current perspective on bodily autonomy and sexual rights should change in order to decriminalize sex work. We all want to live a life that’s valuable for us, why decide for someone else what to do with their bodies and what not. So the outcome is clear: There is still a long way to go, but if we all stay dedicated to working against stigmatization of sex work, the future will be bright. Listen to the community, educate yourself and think of how we all can truly work to make the world safer and more equal for sex workers.