Sex Workers not to be abused by police, rescued without their consent, and Press Council to regulate imagery around sex work, directs Honourable Supreme Court of India

25/05/2022

The National Network of Sex Workers (NNSW) Welcomes the Directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India on the rights of sex workers.

The directives provided by the Supreme Court of India are a matter of celebration for each and everyone of us-sex workers, sex work allies, and the feminist movement in India and around the world that has participated in the struggle for the rights of sex workers in the country; specially the sex workers and activists who worked tirelessely with the panel and represented the sex workers’ cause in court. It is a great victory for all of us.

“We are very happy with the Supreme Court directives, we welcome the directives. It is very important for us to know that we can access help if there are instances of sexual assault, and that medical services are available to us. We believe this will go very far for the protection of people in sex work. Specially, the directive that women won’t be forced into rescue homes makes us very happy and we are thankful”- Kiran, President, NNSW

We celebrate how progressive these directives are, noted below for our allies and members to read and share.

“(i)The State Governments/ UTs are directed to act in strict compliance of the recommendations made in paras 2,4,5,6,7,9, in addition to the implementation of the recommendations made by the panel as mentioned above, the competent authorities under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956 are directed to comply with the provisions of the Act.

ii) Any sex worker who is a victim of sexual assault should be provided with all facilities available to a survivor of sexual assault, including immediate medical assistance, in accordance with Section 357C of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 read with “Guidelines and Protocols: Medico-legal care for survivor/victims of sexual violence”, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (March, 2014).

iii) The State Governments may be directed to do a survey of all ITPA Protective Homes so that cases of adult women, who are detained against their will can be reviewed and processed for release in a time-bound manner.

iv) It has been noticed that the attitude 11 of the police to sex workers is often brutal and violent. It is as if they are a class whose rights are not recognised. The police and other law enforcement agencies should be sensitised to the rights of sex workers who also enjoy all basic human rights and other rights guaranteed in the Constitution to all citizens. Police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, both verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coe4rce them into any sexual activity.

v) The Press Council of India should be urged to issue appropriate guidelines for the media to take utmost care not to reveal the identities of sex workers, during arrest, raid and rescue operations, whether as victims or accused and not to publish or telecast any photos that would result in disclosure of such identities. Besides, the newly introduced Section 354C, IPC which makes voyeurism a criminal offence, should be strictly enforced against electronic media, in order to prohibit telecasting photos of sex workers with their clients in the garb of capturing the rescue operation.

vi) Measures that sex workers employ for their health and safety (e.g., use of condoms, etc.)must neither be construed as offences nor seen as evidence of commission of an offence.

vii) The Central Government and the State Governments, through National Legal Services

Authority, State Legal Services Authority and District Legal Services Authority, should carry out workshops for educating the sex workers abut their rights vis-a-vis the legality of sex work, rights and obligations of the police and what is permitted/prohibited under the law. Sex workers can also be informed as to how they can get access to the judicial system to enforce their rights and prevent unnecessary harassment at the hands of traffickers or police.”

Budhadev Karmaskar Versus Union of India, Supreme Court of India, 25 May 2022

We look forward to the positive changes this ruling will bring in the movement towards the rights of sex workers in India, and our neighbouring nations. This is a step towards decriminalising sex work and workers and in adequately recognising their labour as informal workers in the country.

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National Network of Sex Workers India

NNSW is a national network of sex worker-led organisations and allies committed to promoting the rights of sex workers in India.