Worldwide, many governments and non-governmental organisations aim to help people leave sex work and do other work. This is often called “exiting”, but here we use the term “routes out of sex work”. These two terms often refer to choices that sex workers make to leave the sex industry. In contrast, “diversion” refers to programmes offered to sex workers or clients as an alternative to criminal penalties (for example, going to jail) and usually emphasise “rehabilitation” (helping people back into “normal” society).
Diversion programmes are often presented as fairer and less punishing than criminalisation. However, even though diversion programmes offer support services – including health and drug treatment services – and teach skills to sex workers, these programmes are often badly designed. When they involve force, they can cause more harm than good. This fact sheet describes present problems with these programmes and explains how they could be run more successfully through sex work decriminalisation.