AMWA's Physicians Against Trafficking of Humans
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Decreasing Human Trafficking through Sex Work Decriminalization: What's Your Take? 

Few would dispute the interrelationship between what some would call legitimate sex work its darker twin, sex trafficking. The question about whether any sex work can truly be consensual and non-violent has been debated among political, academic, and law-enforcement circles for decades. Now in 2017 Human Trafficking and specifically Sex Trafficking have begun to percolate through the media and into the general consciousness, and questions about the role of legislation and punitive measures against trafficking are as relevant and controversial as ever. In January the AMA Journal of Ethics published an opinion piece addressing the issue, which we review in this edition.


The article opens with a reference to the recent Amnesty International 2016 policy regarding the rights of sex workers, as defined only by those who engage in adult consensual exchanges. The complete publication can be found here. The authors assert overwhelming support for the policy from the sex work community, as well as several prominent human rights groups. However decriminalization remains a controversial position which they aim to provide research in support of. 

Reasons to Oppose Criminalization:

The authors propose four reasons to oppose Criminalization. 

1) Increased Violence: Albright and Adamo argue that criminalizing sex work drives the entire industry further underground and renders violence and abuse unreportable for fear of penalty. Furthermore, according to Decker et al (Lancet 2015) partial criminalization models - for example the Nordic Model - can create just as much harm by disrupting safety systems and forcing sex workers to practice further away from law enforcement and regulatory frameworks. 

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This is a monthly series in research and advocacy news summaries created by the PATH residents and medical students. Newsletters will feature brief breakdowns on recent scholarly publications and policy changes as well as highlighting PATH member efforts and upcoming events.

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2) Erosion of Trust: For similar reasons cited in the increased violence section they state that current penalization practices create an atmosphere of fear and judgement, citing a sex worker who never sought care after a rape for fear of repercussion. 

3) Increased vulnerability: Here they discuss the increased social vulnerability created by having an arrest record, such as difficulty obtaining employment and housing. Furthermore they paint a picture of the financial penalties associated with the penal system exacerbating poverty, which is in itself a risk factor for exploitation and abuse. 

4) Stigma: Finally they argue that the act of criminalizing any part of adult consensual sex exchanges reinforces a societal stigma surrounding sex work which contributes to the silencing of the voices of the workers most affected by these discussions, even and especially in law enforcement, healthcare, and advocacy spaces. 

What's your take?

The question of decriminalization has been grappled with by leaders in multiple spheres domestically and internationally for some time. As healthcare and future healthcare workers we will be called upon for our expertise, opinions, and advice. So what do you think? 

Responses and editorial comments can be submitted to before August 20th. Please submit 1-5 sentences and indicate either name/title or Anonymous if you would prefer anonymous publication. We will send you a confirmation email with the portion to be printed at which point the quote can be submitted or retracted before the next Newsletter publication. 

All takes are encouraged; in the interest of open discussion please know that AMWA-PATH is a safe space. 

Members Wanted

If you have experience with website development or event management, there are several opportunities with PATH. We are seeking students and residents interested in advocacy, education, and research on the intersection of healthcare and human trafficking. 

Whatever experience or training you might have, e-mail us to find out how you can become an active member of PATH.

PATH Spotlight: Florida Congressional Delegation Panel on Human Trafficking
The Florida Congressional Delegation hosted a panel on human trafficking on June 28 in Washington DC. The chairs of the hearing were Representatives Alcee Hastings and Vern Buchanan, and most of the delegation was in attendance (Mast, Frankel, Rutherford, Yoho, Wasserman-Shultz, Demings, Ros-Lehtinen, Diaz-Balart, Castor, Rooney, Dunn). Panelists included Dr. Suzanne Harrison (FSU College of Medicine, AMWA President), Elizabeth Fisher (Founder and Director of Selah Freedom), Special Agent Jose Ramirez (FDLE), Michelle Guelbard (director for private sector engagement for the anti-child sex trafficking nonprofit ECPAT-USA) and Bethany Gilot (Statewide human trafficking director for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice). The panel focused on the high burden of both sex and labor trafficking in the State of Florida, which ranks 3rd in the nation in number of cases. The panelists proposed additional funding to address victim recovery, extend services to rural locales and educate healthcare professionals.

By: Dr. Suzanne Harrison MD, FAAFP, FAMWA, AMWA President 
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