United Nations: Listen to survivors – don’t jeopardize efforts to prevent sex trafficking

2 DECEMBER 2013 UPDATE: On 4 November 2013, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé sent an email to individuals and organizations who had signed our petition calling on the United Nations to listen to survivors and to clarify its position regarding pimping, brothel-keeping and buying sex. In this email, Mr. Sidibé stated that “UNAIDS is not advocating for the decriminalization of pimping or brothel ownership.” This is an important clarification, as recent UNAIDS-backed reports (see below) had called for the decriminalization of pimping and brothel-keeping. While this is a significant victory, Equality Now is continuing discussions with UNAIDS and other UN agencies to ensure that their policies on the commercial sex industry take into account the experiences and perspectives of survivors of sexual exploitation and that they are consistent with UN human rights standards. Please continue to call on UNAIDS, UNDP and UNFPA to listen to survivors and to ensure that efforts to prevent sex trafficking are effective by addressing the demand for commercial sex.


UN New York Headquarters
Equality Now and 97 anti-trafficking organizations worldwide, many of which are survivor-led, are gravely concerned about two reports released last year with the backing of the United Nations (UN) and which are being seen as official UN policy. These reports not only make recommendations in direct opposition to international human rights standards, but also largely ignore the experiences and views of survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking.

These two reports, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law’s report HIV and the Law: Risks, Rights and Health (2012), published by UNDP, and the UNDP, UNFPA and UNAIDS-backed report, Sex Work and the Law in Asia and the Pacific (2012), tell countries that in order to support efforts to reduce HIV/AIDS and to promote the human rights of people in prostitution, all aspects of the commercial sex industry should be decriminalized, including brothel-keeping, pimping and the purchase of sex. The reports also recommend revising and narrowing the definition found in the main international instrument addressing trafficking, the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (the “UN Trafficking Protocol”).

These recommendations largely ignore the experiences and views of many survivors of prostitution and sex trafficking, are in direct opposition to international human rights standards, and also go against mounting evidence that decriminalization and legalization do not protect the human rights of people in prostitution or improve their situation.

Promoting the human rights of people in prostitution – including their right to health, safety and freedom from violence and exploitation – and protecting them from HIV, are imperative. However, the UN reports’ recommendations are in direct opposition to efforts and policies that have been and are widely supported throughout the UN. They also jeopardize efforts to prevent and address sex trafficking and promote gender equality. These cannot be side effects of efforts to prevent HIV.

Equality Now and our partners are calling on UNAIDS, UNFPA and UNDP to:  

  • Clarify their position on the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers;
  • In all future development of policies and programs on issues that affect people in the commercial sex industry, consult, involve and reflect the views of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation as well as a wider and more diverse range of groups working on the issue of prostitution and sex trafficking.

Michel Sidibé

Executive Director, UNAIDS


Helen Clark

Administrator, UNDP


Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Executive Director, UNFPA


H.E. Ban Ki-moon

UN Secretary-General


Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Executive Director, UN Women


To learn more about the campaign & for a list of full contact information for the UN officials above, see:
http://www.equalitynow.org/take_action/sex_trafficking_action511