International Sex Workers’ Rights Day 2021

A pale blue background with a red umbrella on. The text reads "international sex workers' rights day"

Today, NUM joins the sex worker rights community in marking International Sex Workers’ Rights Day which began in 2001 after 25.000 sex workers in Calcutta took to the streets to fight for their human and labour rights. This year we associate ourselves with sex workers and sex worker-led organisations and draw attention to the discrimination workers face from banking and financial institutions. We co-signed a letter that outlines the harms associated with barring sex workers from opening bank accounts and savings, applying for loans, credit and other resources necessary to access government assistance and engage in responsible financial management. Access to banking improves safety, choice and  increases opportunities for sex workers to exercise control over their resources.

Over the past year, several members have contacted us dismayed by the fact that although sex work is legal, banks are refusing their applications. We are in a global pandemic, where payments are negotiated electronically and through use of bank cards and credit cards. The policies of institutions that exclude sex workers from equitable access to financial services must be evaluated against intended and unintended consequences. We cannot continue to disenfranchise, marginalise and discriminate against sex workers as a ‘safety strategy’ nor can policies such as these be implemented without the involvement of those most affected. Sex worker-led groups in the UK conducted a survey this week investigating experiences of discrimination from financial institutions. Sex workers have said that they are unable to open accounts and payments and transfers are being blocked. This is occurring without explanation to the applicants. One survey participant stated:

I’ve tried numerous times to open a business bank account and been declined. And now had 3 personal accounts closed as they believe fraudulent or illegal activities are taking place due to the amount of transactions. So have no idea where to go from there. Especially as I’m VAT registered etc.

Sex workers are experiencing undue hardship because of finance policies that view them as deviant or criminal. Those that may view sex workers as victims are even less justified in denying them access to the financial services they need to escape poverty and violence. In acknowledgment of Sex Workers’ Rights Day, we are calling on financial institutions to open dialogue with sex workers and to work with them to combat exploitation while extending services to members of this legal occupation. This day please join us in our fight to end all forms of violence against sex workers, including structural violence.