HHHRC Statement on Sex Work
Hawai'i Health & Harm Reduction Center supports the decriminalization of sex work between consenting adults. Sex work can refer to a broad range of transactions but can be most closely defined as the commercial exchange of a sexual service for money or other benefits, including housing, transportation, or other survival needs.
Sex workers are not a uniform group and should not be treated as such. All genders, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds are involved in sex work. However, as a harm reduction agency whose mission is to focus our efforts on those disproportionately affected by social determinants of health, we recognize that the continued stigmatization of sex work unjustly affects the most marginalized members of our community who already face significant legal, social, and economic obstacles to their well-being. Sex workers include persons who use drugs, persons who are gay, bisexual, transgender or gender non-conforming, persons who are homeless or unstably housed, persons fleeing domestic violence and sexual abuse, and persons facing discrimination due to physical and intellectual disabilities.
The continued criminalization of sex work—including intensive surveillance, arrest, incarceration, and protracted periods of criminal justice supervision—further perpetuates systemic violence and inequalities experienced by members of these communities. A criminal record with misdemeanor or felony convictions can preclude a person’s ability to obtain needed employment, education, and housing opportunities, and forestall their full participation in civic life.
The decriminalization of sex work is an urgent public health and social justice matter and should be recognized as such. Incarcerating persons who engage in sex work is not beneficial to their physical or psychological health and well-being. Criminalization should not extend to those persons providing harm reduction services to sex workers.
Sex workers, like all humans, possess the right to self-determination and to define what their needs are. They should be treated with dignity and respect in every aspect of their lives. We support non-judgmental, non-coercive harm reduction-based models that advocate for the health and safety of sex workers and promote the inclusion of anyone in the community regardless of their circumstances.
Those engaged in sex work must have a voice in programs and policies that impact them. Absent active participation by sex workers, policy reform efforts risk augmenting pervasive stigma against those currently dehumanized and maltreated by dominant structures of economic, legal, political, and social power.
Sex trafficking differs from consensual sex work as it coercively violates the dignity and autonomy interests of another person. HHHRC is anti-trafficking and we support all movements against sexual exploitation. Unfortunately, current laws and community dialog conflate trafficking with consensual sex work, negating the autonomy of persons who choose to do sex work. We vehemently oppose sex trafficking while simultaneously supporting consensual sex workers’ rights to self-determination and collective association. These two ideals are not mutually exclusive, and in fact cannot be separated if we are to work towards the goal of liberation for all.