What is decriminalization?

Decriminalization means the removal of laws that criminalize or penalize sex work.  It does not mean the removal of laws that criminalize trafficking or exploitation of sex workers: sex work and trafficking are not the same thing. Decriminalization is different from legalization: legalization tends to mean more regulation of sex work, while decriminalization means the removal of laws that criminalize sex work.  MASWAN believes that decriminalization offers the best path to protecting sex workers from violence and exploitative conditions and improving their access to health and other social services.  For example, researchers have shown that decriminalization of sex work in New Zealand improved sex workers’ safety and access to health and social services.

further resources on decriminalization

Quick Guides

Articles and Reports

Academic Papers and Books

Feminism and Sex Work

MASWAN sees the fight to decriminalize sex work as a feminist movement. Below are some further resources on the sex worker movement and feminism.




what is trafficking?

MASWAN defines trafficking as the forcible movement of people from one place to another, for the purposes of forcing them into labor, for one’s own financial gain.  Because policy frameworks often conflate trafficking with consensual sex work, they unduly criminalize consensual workers, while making it harder for traffickers to be identified and stopped.

The UN’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (2000), which has been ratified by 189 countries, including the United States.  It defines trafficking as the following: “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

The National Human Trafficking hotline, funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services, defines trafficking as: “a form of modern-day slavery. This crime occurs when a trafficker uses force, fraud or coercion to control another person for the purpose of engaging in commercial sex acts or soliciting labor or services against his/her will.”

facts on trafficking

  • Existing trafficking laws in the United States (and in Massachusetts) rarely achieve results.
    • In 2015, across the country, the Department of Justice reported that 264 sex trafficking investigations resulted in 419 arrests, 108 indictments, and 90 convictions.  For cases involving minors, the DoJ opened 538 investigations resulting in 2,253 arrests, 316 indictments, and 363 convictions.
    • In Massachusetts, between the passage of 2011’s human trafficking laws and May 2017, there have been 32 human trafficking convictions. Of those convictions, the Boston Herald found that 21 of the defendants served less than the minimum sentence of five years, and three of those only served probation.
  • Not all trafficking is sex trafficking.  The International Labor Organization’s most recent estimates in 2017, for example, suggest that of nearly 25 million people forced into labor worldwide, 4.8 million (or about 19%) are forced into the sex industry.  That means three quarters of trafficked people are not in the sex trade.  Conflating sex work with trafficking not only promotes the misguided criminalization of sex workers–it also draws attention away from the forced domestic, construction, manufacturing, and agricultural workers who need justice.
  • A significant proportion of trafficking occurs across international borders–nearly three-quarters of those trafficked into the sex industry were living outside their country of origin in 2017.

further resources on trafficking

Support Services

National Human Trafficking Resource Center

SMS: 233733 (Text “HELP” or “INFO”)

Hotline: 1 (888) 373-7888

Hours: 24 hours, 7 days a week

Languages: English, Spanish and 200 more languages



Academic Papers and Books

Public Policy and Deterrents

What is demand-side prohibition?

Policies to “end demand” for sex work, also called the “Swedish model” or the “Nordic model,” aim to criminalize clients of sex workers and pimps, but not sex workers themselves.  Such policies can include “John Schools,” “rehabilitation” programs that aim to teach clients not to pay for sex.

Why does MASWAN oppose demand-side prohibition?

Demand-side prohibition may sound like it helps sex workers, but in fact it can create more unsafe working conditions.  As sex work gets pushed underground, sex workers are less likely to access health and social services or report cases of trafficking.  A study of the effects of demand-side prohibition in Sweden in 2004 found that the number of sex workers in Stockholm remained “stable” (p. 10) between 1999, right after the law was passed, and 2003.  The study also suggested that sex work may simply have been driven underground, and that sex workers were more vulnerable to exploitation by clients and police.  Efforts to “end demand” also divert resources away from services sex workers desperately need, like health and social services, toward expanded surveillance and policing.  Ultimately, they further stigma against sex work and fail to address the needs of the most marginalized sex workers.

Further resources on public policy and deterrents

Quick Guides

Articles and Reports

Academic Papers