Across Europe, including Central and East Europe and Central Asia, repressive policies on migration, public order and morality impact on the vulnerability of sex workers, often with negative consequences for their health and safety. Anti-prostitution and anti-migration policies negatively affect the rights and health of sex workers, whereas increasing emphases on citizen security, law and order and closing borders have impeded the growth of rights movements in general.
For these reasons a group of Dutch sex workers and allies (SIGN) formed in 2002 and began talking about organising an international conference to challenge the growing neoconservative political debate on sex work and trafficking. It was decided that although there were a lot of similarities regarding the vulnerable position of sex workers all around the world, the differences and resources between regions were too complex to organise a global conference at that time; instead SIGN chose to focus on the European context.
The International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe (ICRSE) was established as the legal entity in the Netherlands in 2004 to create a European network of sex workers and allies and as the organisers of the 2005 European Conference on Sex Work, Human Rights, Labour and Migration in Brussels, Belgium.
The conference brought together 120 sex workers and 80 allies from 28 countries from within Europe and reflected the diversity among sex workers - across national and migrant sex workers - documented and not; across gender and sexual orientation; across diverse working situations and experiences; across diverse experience of drugs and HIV status. Participants at the conference laid the foundations for a strong network of sex workers rights advocates in Europe. The ICRSE Network includes sex workers and allies who are working in the fields of health, human, labour and migration rights who can challenge repressive policies around sex work, migration and trafficking, lobby for the rights of sex workers through cross-communication and information sharing about local, national, regional and global situations, provide a forum for future advocacy, support capacity building and policy development opportunities and promote advocacy tools, such as the Declaration of the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe and the Sex Workers in Europe Manifesto (both documents were elaborated and endorsed at the conference).
Since the conference the ICRSE Network has become an important regional network. Along with the translation and promotion of the ICRSE foundational documents, the Declaration and Manifesto, the ICRSE actively supports network members to collaborate on several political fronts, including, promoting positive images and news about our activism and advocacy achievements, supporting national campaigns to oppose policy proposals that threaten to undermine the rights of sex workers, fighting and highlighting human rights abuses that are the result of anti-trafficking policies, opposing policy proposals developed at all government levels through letter writing campaigns and petitions, drafting alternative documents and linking regional members to global action campaigns and events in solidarity with other regional networks. The ICRSE website www.sexworkeurope.org is a key tool in our network communications and it is an important resource for the public and other advocates.