KUALA LUMPUR, May 30 – The Supreme Court of India has directed police forces in all states and union territories not to initiate criminal action against adult and consenting sex workers in a landmark judgment that recognises sex work as a profession, reports the Express News Service.
The court said that sex workers have the right to live with dignity, notwithstanding their profession, and that authorities have a duty to protect them under the Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956.
“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,” said a three-judge bench led by justice L. Nageswara Rao in an order that was passed after invoking special powers under Article 142 of the Constitution.
The court ordered the police not to discriminate against sex workers who made criminal complaints, particularly against offences of a sexual nature.
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, stated the court.
The court further ordered that sex workers should not be “arrested or penalised or harassed or victimised” 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,” said the court, adding that the police and other law enforcement agencies should be sensitised to the rights of sex worker.
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 court also brought attention to the predicament of sex workers with children. “The child of a sex worker should not be taken away from her mother on the basis that she is in the sex trade,” the court ruled. “Basic protection of human decency and dignity extends to sex workers and their children.”
Additionally, the media was also instructed by the court to maintain the dignity of sex workers by taking “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.”
The newly introduced Section 354C, IPC (Indian Penal Code) 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 operation, maintained the court.