NEW DELHI: In a significant step providing legal protection to sex workers and recognising sex work as a “profession”, the Supreme Court has directed police forces in all states and Union Territories not to initiate criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers.
The court said that sex workers have the right to live with dignity notwithstanding their “profession”.
“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. It need not be gainsaid that notwithstanding the profession, every individual in this country has the right to a dignified life under Article 21 of the Constitution,” said a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai and A S Bopanna.
Issuing a slew of directions, the bench said the constitutional protection that is given to all individuals in this country shall be kept in mind by the authorities who have a duty under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
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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 law, also stated the court.
The court further ordered that sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimized” during a raid in any brothel as “voluntary sex work is not illegal and only running the brothel is unlawful”.
“It has been noticed that the attitude of the police to sex workers is often brutal and violent. It is as if they are a class whose rights are not recognised.
The police and other law enforcement agencies should be sensitised to the rights of sex workers who also enjoy all basic human rights and other rights guaranteed in the Constitution to all citizens.
Police should treat all sex workers with dignity and should not abuse them, both verbally and physically, subject them to violence or coerce them into any sexual activity,” the bench said.
The apex court passed the directions on recommendations of a panel formed for the rehabilitation of sex workers. The apex court was hearing a plea that has raised the problems faced by sex workers due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
What court told print and electronic media
The apex court also said the Press Council of India (PCI) should be urged 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.
“Besides, the newly introduced Section 354C of IPC, which makes voyeurism a criminal offence, should be strictly enforced against electronic media, in order to prohibit telecasting photos of sex workers with their clients in the garb of capturing rescue,” the SC said.