Background The dominant anti-trafficking paradigm conflates trafficking and sex work, denying evidence that most sex workers choose their profession and justifying police actions that disrupt communities, drive sex workers underground and increase vulnerability.
Methods We review an alternative response to combating human trafficking and child prostitution in the sex trade, the self-regulatory board (SRB) developed by Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (DMSC, Sonagachi).
Results DMSC-led interventions to remove minors and unwilling women from sex work account for over 80% of successful ‘rescues’ reported in West Bengal. From 2009 through 2011, 2195 women and girls were screened by SRBs: 170 (7.7%) minors and 45 (2.1%) unwilling adult women were assisted and followed up. The remaining 90.2% received counselling, health care and the option to join savings schemes and other community programmes designed to reduce sex worker vulnerability. Between 1992 and 2011 the proportion of minors in sex work in Sonagachi declined from 25 to 2%.
Conclusions With its universal surveillance of sex workers entering the profession, attention to rapid and confidential intervention and case management, and primary prevention of trafficking—including microcredit and educational programmes for children of sex workers—the SRB approach stands as a new model of success in anti-trafficking work.