Choosing between access and rights for sex workers in Portugal
Other organizations also change position depending on the context. This is the case of the Portuguese Association for Victim Assistance (Associação Portuguesa de Apoio in Vitima). Despite its participation in one of the main anti-trafficking networks supporting the movement for the rights of sex workers, the Global Alliance against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), this association does not publicly defend sex work in the world. National level. He avoids any participation in public debate on the rights of sex workers and declares a “neutral” position regarding the sale of sex. And, like the Family Planning Association, it also receives substantial government funding. In particular, she benefits financially as a subcontractor of “prevention” activities of trafficking and as the manager of a specialized shelter for women victims of trafficking.
Some neo-abolitionist organizations, including women’s organizations, also engage in similar maneuvers regarding the sale of sexual services. This is the case of the Women’s Democratic Movement (Movimento Democrático das Mulheres). By accepting the invitation to collaborate with the main institutional interlocutors in the fight against trafficking, the movement has set aside any struggle for new prostitution policies. In return, they can maintain a dialogue with the heavyweights in the field and access funding in this area – again, mainly linked to awareness-raising and training actions.
The Democratic Women’s Movement has a totally different stance on sex work than the Family Planning Association and the Victims Support Association, but the three organizations ended up taking a common stance – on “closure.” – because of their common link with the Portuguese Anti-Trafficking System. Institutional constraints prevail over ideological and moral commitments.
A chance to speak with “fence guards”?
There is an ongoing debate in Portugal on government policies regarding sex work, in which different opinions are expressed and different voices of civil society are recognized. Despite the challenges posed by stigma and the substantial lack of any kind of funding, a growing contribution to this debate comes from sex workers themselves, especially the Life Sharing Group (Grupo de Partilha D’a Vida) and the sex worker movement (Movimento dxs Trabalhadorxs do Sexo). However, there is much less room for debate when it comes to policies relating to human trafficking. The existing anti-trafficking system silences all related struggles, downsizes “sex trafficking” and prevents criticism of the existing security regime by positioning the fight against trafficking as part of the larger war on crime.
The NGOs integrated into this system struggle to be effective allies of sex workers, depriving migrant sex workers in particular of a vital source of protection from the problems they face in their professional lives. In addition, it raises barriers between sex workers and other political actors inside and outside the fight against trafficking. As a result, the fight against trafficking has lost much of its critical and transformative potential, and has instead strengthened the bureaucratic powers of the state over “victims” and other actors.
There is no easy way to persuade anti-trafficking NGOs to step out of the fence. And these days there seems to be a lack of opportunities to engage in critical debate. That said, one could imagine structural changes that could facilitate such persuasion. The emergence of new sources of funding, for example, could potentially lead to a greater diversity of actors in the fight against trafficking, a vigorous debate on trafficking and its ‘victims’, and, with it, the possibility of ‘to rule out certain organizations. Greater inclusion of migrant and workers’ rights organizations in the fight against Portuguese trafficking could also change the discussion, if they are allowed to speak freely without risking their funding. And, of course, greater support for the self-organization of migrant sex workers and their involvement in combating trafficking could potentially make sitting on the fence much less appealing. New research has also influenced some organizations to promote more strongly the rights of sex workers in Portugal, and therefore we cannot underestimate the desirability of strengthening critical research on trafficking and its dialogue with organizations in society. civil.