How to Humanize the Sex Worker

When a man, desperate for work, finds himself in a factory or on a fishing boat or in a field, working, toiling, for little or no pay, and beaten if he tries to escape — that is slavery.  When a woman is locked in a sweatshop, or trapped in a home as a domestic servant, alone and abused and incapable of leaving — that’s slavery.  When a little boy is kidnapped, turned into a child soldier, forced to kill or be killed — that’s slavery.  When a little girl is sold by her impoverished family — girls my daughters’ age — runs away from home, or is lured by the false promises of a better life, and then imprisoned in a brothel and tortured if she resists — that’s slavery.  It is barbaric, and it is evil, and it has no place in a civilized world.”-Barack Obama

On September 25, 2012, Barack Obama delivered a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, a global and community outreach program founded by President Bill and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the subject of Slavery and trafficking around the world and in the United States.  He spoke on his plans to prepare a new assessment of human trafficking in the United States and abroad, like “giving countries incentives to meet their responsibilities and calling them out when they don’t.  In addition, he talked about “strengthening training, so investigators and law enforcement are even better equipped to take action — and treat victims as victims, not as criminals.”  Also, developing technologies to track traffickers who utilize the internet to lure and manipulate, “increasing access to services to help survivors become self-sufficient.” (Obama)     President Obama’s vision was to find a way to end all versions of slavery, through awareness, outreach and strict laws for those who traffic human bodies, all while having compassion and understanding the plight of those trafficked.  But does all of that really solve the problem?  There were a number of solutions mentioned, and are all great ideas, but none of them included the idea of decriminalization.

            Fast forward ten years later and sex trafficking crimes are still very much alive and on the rise around the world, and especially here in the United States.  Of course there’s no real way to know the actual numbers of human trafficking victims, for it’s an underground operation, but according to a 2020 National Hotline Annual Report by the National Human Trafficking Hotline, a federally funded and trusted organization that receives anonymous tips and provides resources for victims of sex trafficking, have “received a total of 51,667 substantive phone calls, text, webchats, emails, or online tip reports nationwide.” (NHTH)   It’s true that, more public awareness and programs that provide aid and recovery option for victims of trafficking has developed over the years, like efforts made by the Clinton Global Initiative and other partnering programs, including faith based groups and local county programs.  In Columbus, Ohio at the Franklin County Court, which has “spearheaded a new program which helps victims of sex trafficking get back on the road to recovery” (Jung 19:34), uses a more hands on approach through intervention.  It’s a great program that empowers sex trafficking victims that have been jailed for prostitution or crimes committed for their traffickers, by providing safe havens and housing at halfway homes, skill building programs, support groups, and alike. 

If more programs like these existed around the country, perhaps the well-being of trafficking victims can be improved.  But what about restoring their humanity?  With all the non-profit, governmental programs and services that exist in the United States today, nothing has been constructed in a way to completely humanize the trafficked.  Only to heal the sex worker post trafficking.

             In order to completely rid the world of sex trafficking and all related crimes, governments must make an effort to give sex workers a chance to fully be a part of society, giving them every opportunity available in this country, just as it is for any American law abiding citizen.  They must help build trust in the legal system, especially in law enforcement so that they’re comfortable enough to stand up for themselves and report sex worker/trafficking related crimes, without fear of being charged with a crime they may have participated in at the direction of their trafficker, abuse of power by the police officers and holding them accountable, and/or punishment by their traffickers, is to decriminalize sex worker crimes, and clear the records of convicted sex workers for good and free them from the slavery of trafficking.

Of course, not everyone is going to agree with this theory.  In a CQ Researcher article, Norma Ramos, Executive Director for The Coalition against Trafficking in Woman in New York City, stated, “The way to address oppression is to end it — not to legalize it, regulate it or make it more tolerable. Legalizing prostitution is not only a betrayal of the promise of equality for women and girls, it creates the legal and social conditions that encourage human trafficking and inevitably leads to an exponential expansion of sex trafficking.” (Ramos)  But that’s just too narrow of an opinion.  Not to take away from the subject of slavery and oppression by traffickers and how people get involved with them and the trade of sex in the first place, but prostitution in a whole isn’t all oppressed people forced into it, for there are many that choose sex work and even enjoy it. That includes women and men.  And secondly, criminalizing or even legalizing sex work doesn’t uplift, but stagnates.  Your criminal record will still remain forever.  Employment, housing and other opportunities aren’t afforded to you, because in pursuit of such things, background searches are conducted, which leads to judgment and rejection.  All versions of plights and circumstances should be considered.   

Here’s the deal. Since Ancient Times “slavery has been legal and flourishing as a way of life.” (Kiener)  And, as the saying goes, “prostitution is the oldest profession in the world.”  And so, it’s been around since the beginning of time including human and sex trafficking to date, and can be found in almost every continent on this earth.  The fact of the matter is, unless something is done about protecting sex workers in some sort of way, sex trafficking and abuse will live on longer than the practice existed.  Cari Mitchell, a spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes in London, England believes that criminalizing prostitution can only make trafficking stronger and more lucrative, because of the fear it invokes in the sex worker.  Mitchell notes, “prostitution has been pushed further underground and sex workers left more vulnerable to abuse and violence, exploitative working conditions, police illegality, rape and trafficking.” (Mitchell)  In London where all aspects of sex work is illegal, the ineffectiveness is clear as “three quarters of sex workers in London have suffered rape and other violence. Has this prompted soul-searching by government, police and the authorities? No. Instead, raids, arrests, convictions and even imprisonment of sex workers have risen.” (Mitchell)  It just doesn’t work.

But there is hope for the sex workers in this country, though a very slow going process.  Right now Nevada is the only State in the U.S. that has decided to make a change in laws regarding sex work by legalizing prostitution, but with restrictions.  “For example, age restrictions, regular STD checks, condom use, brothel zone designations, etc.  Only if the trade is taken outside of counties does prostitution become illegal.  And, because prostitution can only be conducted in brothels, if it is found that a person is soliciting sex through an escorting service, which is supposed to be solely for company, they can be charged with a crime.  Not following regulatory protocols and soliciting sex on your own is also crime.” (DPBH).  Still, this doesn’t address the issue of humanization and restoration of the soul.  You can still gain a record and your life can be altered by the stain of having a record.  But New York is trying to lead the way towards another direction, and that’s to decriminalize sex work in the state for good.      

April of last year, “Manhattan’s District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s announced that his office will no longer prosecute prostitution and unlicensed massage under a new policy that’s believed to be the first of its kind.” (Treisman)  And, just two weeks ago, he took a more sympathetic approach and moved to clear sex trafficking victims’ criminal records.  A huge victory for those that seek human rights for sex workers.  “The push comes after New Yorker’s passage of the Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act in November.  The bill allows trafficking victims to petition the courts to vacate their convictions.” (Crane-Newman)

So, in conclusion, decriminalizing sex work would be the salvation that sex workers are looking for, need and require.  Whether they want to maintain their sex work, or make an exit for other types of work, they too can get an equal shot as any American citizen.  Because once sex work is decriminalized, sex workers will gain the confidence and bravery to make whatever choices they desire, without the worry of their trafficker’s retaliation and/or punishment.  No longer will they have to fear the police, for they too can feel protected and served. Human trafficking is a form of slavery.  It oppresses and minimizes people into nothing but bodies and objects.  And like any form of slavery, the only way to fix the problem is to free the slave, abolish slavery and hold those that attempt to enslave accountable.  It’s the only way to eradicate the stronghold of sex trafficking.  Decriminalize to Humanize!


  1. Obama, Barack.  “Remarks by the President to the Clinton Global Initiative”, The White House – President Barack Obama, September 25, 2012,
  2. National Human Trafficking Hotline (NHTH).  2020 National Hotline Annual Report. January 1, 2020 – December 31, 2020,
  3. Jung, Elaine. “Surviving Sex Trafficking [Full Documentary] – BBC News.”  YouTube, Uploaded by BBC News, 7 December 2019,
  4. Ramos, Norma, Esq. “Would Decriminalizing Prostitution Reduce Sex Trafficking-CON.”  CQ Researcher, October 2012,
  5. Kiener, Robert.  “Human Trafficking and Slavery – Are Governments Doing Enough to Eradicate the Illicit Trade? – Chronology.”  CQ Researcher, 16 October 2012, pp. 473-96,
  6. Mitchell, Cari.  “Would Decriminalizing Prostitution Reduce Sex Trafficking – PRO.”  CQ Researcher, October 2012,
  7. Department of Health and Human Services.  “Regulations – Prostitution.”  Department of Health and Human Services – Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral health (DPBH)
  8. Treisman, Rachel.  “A ‘Relic’ and ‘Burden’:  Manhattan District Attorney to Stop Prosecuting Prostitution.”  NPR-WNYC, 21 April 2021,
  9. Crane-Newman, Molly.  “Manhattan DA moves to Clear Sex Trafficking Victims’ Criminal Records.”  Daily News, 2 May 2022,

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