Increasing access to justice

Increasing access to justice

The criminalisation of sex work can result in an environment in which discrimination, stigmatisation and abuse on the part of law enforcement, clients and healthcare providers is tolerated. Sex workers face violations of their human rights but often have no place to go for justice. By establishing paralegal support systems, strengthening referral pathways to legal services and documenting human rights violations for strategic litigation Aidsfonds and in-country partners ensured that sex workers gained access to justice in spite of stigma and discrimination around their work. Here you can read lessons and best practices on increasing access to justice.

Best practice: legal aid for sex workers

Aidsfonds supported the efforts of Sisonke, the sex worker-led network, and the Sex Worker Education and Advocacy Taskforce (SWEAT), an advocacy organisation, to ensure that sex workers receive justice in spite of stigma and discrimination around their work. Through innovative structures such as the paralegal support, human rights defenders and the Legal Defence Centre, access to legal services increased on a day-to-day basis. Read here about how the conviction of an acclaimed artists contributed to significant progress in terms of accessing justice for sex workers in South Africa.

comic increasing justice for sex workers

Strategic litigation for social change

Strategic litigation ensures that rights violations that have not been adequately addressed in law or politics are highlighted and changed. It is one of the final measures taken by partners in the Hands Off countries. Strategic litigation in South Africa and Zimbabwe has helped sex workers to access their rights. It also set precedents that will allow sex workers more freedom in the future, such as the right to march in Zimbabwe, and intervention to reduce abuse by a community policing forum in South Africa.

Sex workers claim their rights
Sex workers in Zimbabwe can march for freedom after winning a case
Sex workers in Zimbabwe can march for freedom after winning a case

Documenting human rights violations

Monitoring and documenting human rights violations against sex workers is the heart of human rights work. Hands Off partners use the evidence to advocate at a legal or political level and educate stakeholders. How data helped partners claiming their rights? In Mozambique human rights violations are reported directly to the police, which has resulted in direct action from the police. In South Africa data on human rights violations has been used by the media to generate support for decriminalisation. In Zimbabwe partners used reports of human rights violations  for strategic litigation. This resulted in an end of unlawful arrests of sex workers. 

human rights documentation

Data documentation in the field

Peer educators, legal officers and paralegals use Ona software to document human rights violations. Ona is an web and mobile survey-based application that can be used to fill in case management forms, referral forms and collect data on violations. Outreach workers can easily use their mobile phone to upload information in the field. The information feeds directly into the partner's database, where all data is safely stored, and can be used for follow- up and analysis. Partners additionally use their data to report on collective indicators that Aidsfonds will use for its regional and global lobby for sex workers rights. 

online data documentation

What we've learned

Establishing dedicated legal support for sex workers enables illegal arrests to be stopped, fines to be revoked, working conditions for sex workers to be addressed and perpetrators to face consequences for violence. In ensuring that sex workers have access to justice, we learned the following:

  1. To achieve structural impact it is not only important to increase access to services for sex workers,  but also to empower sex workers to claim their rights
  2. Peer educators and paralegals are key in increasing access to justice for sex workers and can liaise between sex workers and police. Read here tips from our partners on working with paralegals 
  3. Lawyers are essential allies to assist sex workers to claim their rights. Sensitising these allies will help sex workers to gain redress for justice and to hold perpetrators to account
  4. Strategic litigation can generate a backlash. It can for example harm relations with important stakeholders, increase violence, or cause reputational damage for complainants and the community. Strategic litigation should therefore be carefully considered as a strategy. Sex workers who are the 'face' for such cases should be supported and protected

16 Days of Activism 2021

This year, during the 16 Days of Activism, we call out to once and for all decriminalise sex work. For 16 days, we will share impactful stories and successful approaches. Join us to #DecrimSexWork now! uses cookies to offer the best website experience possible and to anonymously analyze website behaviour. More information.