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Chapter 18: Sex Workers’ Rights and Human Trafficking

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Chapter 21, Sex Work and Human Trafficking: When Human Rights Movements Violate Human Rights


Cynthia L. Chapman, Joshua A. Morales, & Dominic R. Gehr


Chapter Summary:


This chapter contains interviews with three strong advocates in the Human rights movements for decriminilization of consensual sex work. Juliana Piccillo provides a look into her life as a sex worker. She educates the audience on a brief history of the white slave trade, and points out films portraying sex workers in a negative fashion. Tamika Spellman is active in organizing sex workers to create new policies and legislation to reduce harm to consensual sex workers. She is vocal about federal and local laws that do not keep people safe. Monica Jones highlights laws that harm and hinder sex workers, which don’t make a difference in human trafficking. All three point out the victim narrative in sex work and the greatest fear of law enforcement, as well as harm reduction and support groups. They mention ways of holding police accountable and changing the stigma around sex work. They speak about the importance of allies and the disproportionate hardships that sex workers of color, and specifically trans women of color, face. Read this as the first step to take action and raise awareness about the effects of anti-trafficking policies on consensual sex workers. 


Additional Resources:


Juliana Piccillo’s film “Whore’s on Film” 2019.


FBI information


(Spanish) “Preguntas y Respuestas: Trabajo Sexual Bajo Mi Experiencia.” (“Q&A: My Sex Work Experience.”) Kriss Altez. YouTube. 2021. 


“Sex Work.” Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. YouTube. Feb. 2022.


“Sex Trafficking vs. Sex Work” July. 2017. Sex Trafficking vs. Sex Work: What You Need to Know (


“What is the difference?” Mar. 2017. What’s the difference? Human trafficking v. sex trafficking |


Ways to get involved/Practices:



  • 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking

20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking – United States Department of State


Exercises/Assignment Ideas for students:


Scavenger Hunt Bingo


More Content:

  • Portrayal of Sex Work in Entertainment Media
  1. “Examining Perceptions on Women’s Issues Including Intersectionality of Class,  Misogyny, and Stereotypes of Mexican and Latin American Women within the Telenovela Reina del Sur.” Donna Garcia Sianez. University of Texas at El Paso. 2017. 


Sianez emphasizes how female sex workers are stereotyped and depicted in the popular Mexican telenovela La Reina Del Sur; and analyzes the cultural implications effected by this entertainment frame. Sianez argues, since telenovelas are such an integral aspect of Mexican culture, their depictions could contribute to oppression of women. La Reina del Sur’s frame on female sex workers portrays them as being submissive to violence, impoverished, scandalous in society; and involved in crime.


  1. “Why I’m Fed Up With of the Way TV Portrays Sex Workers.”  Audry Moore. Refinery29. 2016.


Sex worker and social media journalist Audry Moore remarks on the violent portrayal of sex workers in American entertainment. She argues popular media often frame sex workers as individuals who deserve violence and meet tragedy. Her argument, “These shows are all so clearly obsessed about the sex component of what we do, when in reality, that’s the least interesting part.”


  1. Telenovela: “En Otra Piel.” Hulu. Telemundo Studios. 2014.


This Latin telenovela raises awarenes on the conflation of sex work and human trafficking, and highlights misconceptions of sex work for entertainment value. “En Otra Piel” stages sex workers as poorly glamarous street prostitutes; depicts sex workers as deserving of violence due to their profession; affiliates sex workers directly to crime; and clearly depicts sex work as non-volitional. The telenovela also highlights abuse of power at the hands of judicial bodies, such as is typically heard of from border agents and police.

  • Current Efforts Against Sex Work Stigma
  1. “Resistance to Sex Work Stigma.” Ronald Weitzer. George Washington University. 2018. 

Weitzer acknowledges the harmful consequences of sex work criminalization, current efforts against sex work stigma, and the levels of stigma sex workers face based on the type of sex work. Weitzer suggests changing legislation, making use of media for outreach, and changing negative stereotypes of sex work in media- as possible solutions to the issue. Weitzer points out decriminalization of sex work is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for destigmatization.

  1. “Strategies of Stigma Resistance Among Canadian Gay-Identified Sex Workers.” Todd G. Morrison & Bruce W. Whitehead. Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality. 2005. 

Morrison and Whitehead examine methods gay-identified male sex workers may combat stigma through an interview-based study. Interview results were transformed into recommended attitudes for “resisting” gay male sex-work stigma, which include: excorting as volitional; escorting as a profession; escorts being in full control of sex exchanges; and escorts’ distinction from street prostitutes.

  1. “Is Sex Work Decriminalization the Answer? What the Research Tells Us.” American Civil Liberties Union. 2020. 

The report gives information on the most marginalized people when it comes to sex work and human trafficking, and lists LGBTQ individuals, people of color, and immigrants as the most prone to violence. The ACLU raises conversation on the conflation between sex work and human trafficking, and how legislations criminalizing sex work further increase abuse. It suggests decriminalization can result in improved work-conditions such as physical safety, health and financial well-being of workers. Furthermore, the ACLU reports a lack of knowledge and literature between the conflation of human trafficking and sex work; and notes the increase in immigrant sex worker abuse by law officials.

  • Border Agencies’ Data on Sex Workers and Human Trafficking


  1. Predatory porn, sex work and solidarity at borders” Ethnic and Racial Studies: Issue 9: Special Issue: The Sexual Politics of Border Control 


The essay looks at the exploitation of sex workers at the border of Greece in the porn industry. 




This site has information on the U.S. law Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, human trafficking definitions and statistics.


  1. “Sex Trafficking of Youth in the United States”

Sex Trafficking of Youth in the United States – Ballard Brief


It states in the article that usually kids within the ages of 4-17 are targets, and girls around 15 years old are most commonly targeted.

  • Today’s Porn Industry and its Relation to Social Media


  1. From Porn Performer to Porntropreneur: Online Entrepreneurship, Social Media Branding, and Selfhood in Contemporary Trans Pornography.” About Gender International Journal on Gender Studies. 2019.

This report gives information on transgender pornography performers navigating the changes to the industry including social media. It highlights the many changes that have occurred in the porn industry and entrepreneurship aspects surrounding niche pornography. 


  1. Where is Sex Trafficking most common?


  1. “Top 10 Most Recorded Countries With The Most Human Trafficking”

Top 10 Most Recorded Countries With The Most Human Trafficking |


This article walks through the Top 10 Countries with the most human trafficking. It shows how certain countries that lack wealth and a good social structure commonly have human trafficking. Many of these countries are poor and highly populated.


  1. “5 of the Worst Countries for Human Trafficking”

5 of the Worst Countries for Human Trafficking | Best Countries | US News


In this news snip-it the article shows the 5 worst human trafficking countries throughout the world. Many poor countries lead this category and it is because the community and people have grown up in this unfortunate environment and have gotten used to it. 


  1. Human Trafficking Statistics by State 2021

Human Trafficking Statistics by State 2021 | Ella Cruz | Top Censored Conservative News


California is consistently ranked number 1 in the United States. This is probably due to such high population numbers. Texas, Florida, and New York are ranked behind California all have high populations as well.


Chapter 18: Sex Workers’ Rights And Human Trafficking

William Paul Simmons

Professor, Gender and Women's Studies; Director, Human Rights Practice Program (University of Arizona)

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