Luca Stevenson is a sex worker, activist for sex workers’ rights and coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe. The network advocates for sex workers’ rights from an intersectional and social justice perspective. Luca has engaged in many types of sex work over the past 20 years and has been privileged to work with sex worker communities in many European countries. This is his story...
“Sex workers are among the strongest people I know and are mobilizing globally, often in very difficult contexts of violence, stigma and isolation.”
Sex workers are among the strongest people I know and are mobilizing globally, often in very difficult contexts of violence, stigma and isolation. I am truly inspired by sex worker activists and allies who work in solidarity with other social groups and call for social change beyond legal reform. When I feel defeated, I get re-inspired by seeing new sex worker activists speaking up and fighting for their rights.
This year, I was privileged to join the first protest for sex workers’ rights in Bucharest, Romania, co-organized by the first sex worker-led organization in the country, SexWorkCall. The work it is doing without funding is impressive. It inspires and energizes me to keep fighting. Their work allowed me to reflect on how sex work cannot be seen in isolation. Sex workers face repressive migration laws, which are problematic considering that the vast majority of sex workers in France and other European countries are migrants.
“I believe community-led initiatives are crucial to protecting sex workers and ensuring HIV-related care and support. Judgmental attitudes and openly discriminatory practices can create serious obstacles to sex workers’ access to HIV services.”
Another powerful moment for me was when I attended the biggest global LGBTI conference, which was organized in Aotearoa, New Zealand by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA). The ILGA members took a stand against violence, criminalization and human rights violations against LGBTI and sex workers. When members voted for a resolution that opposes criminalization and legal oppression of sex work, sex workers and their allies cheered, hugged and embraced each other. It might seem like a small victory, but for us, this was the culmination of many years of pushing for greater recognition of issues faced by sex workers. We also remembered members of our communities who were murdered or fell victim to violence, and we reflected on the difficult challenges that remain to be overcome before all sex workers are safe. I believe community-led initiatives are crucial to protecting sex workers and ensuring HIV-related care and support. Judgmental attitudes and openly discriminatory practices can create serious obstacles to sex workers’ access to HIV services.
Community-led initiatives empower sex workers to better understand their right to health and to be treated as respectfully and compassionately as other patients. I am confident that sex workers will increasingly be involved in all decisions that concern them. And I hope that the HIV movement will not forget the structural determinants of HIV vulnerability, including discrimination, marginalization, poverty, human rights violations and criminalization.
Decriminalization of sex work is a first and necessary step to address some of the key injustices faced by sex workers. Without it, we remain at high risk of attack and violence, unable to access justice. Police can continue to confiscate our condoms, clients can continue to demand unprotected sex, and aggressors can continue to attack us, rob us and rape us in a climate of impunity. Decriminalization will not solve all the issues related to sex work and sex workers, but it will allow us to start being treated like other citizens and empower us to access our rights.