Who Stole The Tarts? Sex Work and Human Rights

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Who Stole the Tarts?
Sex work and Human Rights
By Sandhya Rao & Cath Sluggett

From CASAM: The Centre for Advocacy on Stigma and Marginalisation (SANGRAM)

Question:  What happens when advocacy and legislation in defense of human rights assimilates and perpetuates human rights abuses in the form of societal negative judgments of sex workers? 

The answer:  Sex workers often end up no better off than they were before and now they can add human rights advocates and human rights laws to the list of people and institutions working against them.


The title of this monograph and all the chapter headings are drawn from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Besides the allusion to tarts, the pejorative term for sex workers, the farcical fantasy of Alice’s adventures in the mythical Wonderland seems an apt reference to the unfamiliarity of the terrain, and Alice’s experiences echo much of our experiences in writing this paper.  Coming as we do from decades of work using the human rights framework, it is indeed difficult for us to critique it.  But we see the need to revisit this framework and do a reality check as to where it has succeeded and where it has failed.  The successes are well documented and therefore we choose to dwell on areas where it has not delivered as promised.  We claim that the human rights framework is a necessary but not a sufficient condition to address the problems faced by some populations, in particular the sex workers. We do not claim that it has failed entirely here either. However, there is a need to take into account the issues highlighted in this monograph.

In addition the title reflects some of the absurd ways human rights are constructed and applied to sex workers.  The attitudes of morality that surround sex work are mirrored in much of the tale.  From ground experience, the human rights framework, in the context of sex work seems to be as farcical as the trial in Alice in Wonderland. Human rights, their violations, and lack of access to the universal justice that it purports to offer, and indeed the framework itself, is the focus of this paper.  How does it work with sex workers?  Through a literature survey and by talking to sex workers in unstructured interviews, this paper critically engages with the dilemma that human rights presents to those in sex work.  The paper attempts to inspire a lively discussion on this topic rather than provide answers.

(Introduction from "Who Stole The Tarts?")

Please download and read the full document here: Who Stole The Tarts (.pdf)

If you want more information or have some resources to offer in assistance, you can contact SANGRAM by email at sangram.vamp@gmail.com


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