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Sex work is a profession, Supreme court advises cops to treat sex workers with dignity

Sex work is a profession, Supreme court advises cops to treat sex workers with dignity

Recognising sex work as a “profession” whose practitioners are entitled to dignity and equal protection under law, the Supreme Court has directed in a significant order that police should neither interfere nor take criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers.

“It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has a right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution,” the court observed.

“Sex workers are entitled to equal protection of the law. Criminal law must apply equally in all cases, on the basis of ‘age’ and ‘consent’. When it is clear that the sex worker is an adult and is participating with consent, the police must refrain from interfering or taking any criminal action,” a three-judge Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao directed in an order which was passed after invoking special powers under Article 142 of the Constitution.

The Bench ordered that sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised” whenever there is a raid on any brothel, “since voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful”.

Further, if a minor is found living in a brothel or with sex workers, it should not be presumed that the child was trafficked.

“In case the sex worker claims that he/she is her son/daughter, tests can be done to determine if the claim is correct and if so, the minor should not be forcibly separated,” the court ordered.

It further said that 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 the March 2014 health ministry “Guidelines and Protocols: Medico-legal care for survivor/victims of sexual violence”.

Protecting the identities of sex workers from media exposure, the court has asked the Press Council of India 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”.

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