The Issue of Confining Sex Workers to Isolated Areas

May 26, 2023

Explore the implications of confining sex workers to isolated areas in public spaces in Mumbai, India, and the issues surrounding their criminalization.

This week in Mumbai, India, a sex worker was released after the court ruled that engaging in sex work itself was not a crime, so long as it was not done in a public space. We’re glad to hear that this person can get back to her two children and will avoid criminalization (for now), but this news story brings up a lot of important issues. Let’s discuss.

Criminalizing sex work in public spaces might sound reasonable to some, because spaces like children’s playgrounds and schools exist. However, the only way to police sex work in public is to criminalize sex workers from being in those public areas entirely. This reinforces the idea that sex workers shouldn’t be seen by the public ever because we’re gross, immoral, and dangerous. Remember, sex workers are people who already exist in our communities.

The crucial concept here is criminalization, and laws that specifically criminalize sex workers are the problem. Nobody is allowed to have sex in public. There are already public decency laws to prohibit that behavior for all people. There don’t need to be extra or specific laws aimed at sex workers when it comes to prohibiting sex in public places. When there are policies about sex workers existing in public, it suddenly becomes illegal for “known sex workers” to simply be at the playground with their own kids!

Policies like the one in Mumbai that attempt to isolate sex workers in red light districts and brothels leads to independent sex workers going to great lengths, and often taking great risks, to avoid being caught, criminalized, and punished for working. Thinking something like, “Ugh, I guess wh*res are fine so long as I don’t have to see them,” is an incredibly harmful approach and not helpful for any of us at all.