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Interactive sex law map launched

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sex law map launched by ODIMajor project shows the different ways countries criminalise sex work and prostitution.

A map aiming to provide a global perspective on female sex work by displaying a detailed summary of the laws, regulations and policies in over 75 countries was launched recently.

The ‘Sex Work Law Map’ was developed by the Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme at the UK’s Institute of Development Studies (IDS).

It is hoped that more accurate and comprehensive accounts of the laws governing sex work nationally and internationally will help inform public policy, advocacy strategies and law reform to achieve positive change and realise equal human rights for sex workers.

It is an interactive map that reveals trends and information that should benefit sexuality activists, human rights defenders, those with an interest in sustainable development and public health, journalists, legal practitioners, policy analysts and academics.

For example, it shows that in many countries sex work is criminalised, not by laws that mention prostitution, but by less defined laws against public disorder, vagrancy and loitering.

This kind of information has important implications for those working to develop feasible reforms that will reduce the risks and challenges faced by sex workers and prostituted women and girls.

Given the complex and changeable nature of the legal environment, users of the map are encouraged to submit additional information and corrections as they find it, to ensure the resource is as useful and accurate as possible.

This means that even after the launch, the map will be added to – and no doubt improved – over time.

Many organisations have attempted to generate information about legal approaches to sex work by developing various models involving taxonomies and categories of sex work law. However the complex frameworks of law and regulation associated with sex work make it difficult to press into a formulaic model.

And models that simply categorise sex work law fail to illuminate the outcomes of law enforcement which depend on the broader legal, political, economic and social settings.

So here, for each country, the map provides an account of criminal law that directly addresses sex work.

Where possible, information is also included about regulations and policies intended to prevent public nuisance or limit exploitation and disease.

Enforcement practices are mentioned in most entries because they play a key part both in how sex workers experience the criminal justice system and in determining how and where sex work operates.

The map can also be searched for particular regulatory frameworks that shape the sex industry and influence sex workers’ lived experience and for groups of countries with similar legal approaches.

The Map does not yet include all countries in the world, or each jurisdiction in the many federal systems in the world.

Users of the map are invited to contribute entries for countries not currently covered by the map. To ensure consistency new entries should be similar in size, format and language to existing entries.

Cheryl Overs, from the Institute of Development Studies, led the map’s development – with support from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID).

Explaining its importance, she said: “Because law and regulation play such an important role in determining sex worker’s quality of life it is crucial that reliable information about sex work law can be accessed by the researchers, policymakers and professionals involved in planning and delivering health and welfare services to sex workers and their families.

“It is also crucial for sex workers themselves, especially the activists campaigning for law reform.”

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