Amnesty International, a leader in the global human rights movement, is meeting in Dublin this week. On the agenda is to decide on their official policy on prostitution. Several hundred Amnesty members from 80+ countries will vote on whether they want to formally support the decriminalization of prostitution, which would eliminate all penalties surrounding the business, including the selling of sex, the purchase of sex, pimping, and brothel owning.
This decision will shape how Amnesty lobbies on the issue around the world.
The argument is that criminalizing any aspect of prostitution makes it more dangerous for those involved, and that lifting criminality would reduce stigma and make it a “job like any other.”
Many women’s groups, trafficking survivors, former sex workers, celebrities, academics, and NGOs have expressed concern that making this a formal policy will not benefit efforts to curb sexual exploitation, including human trafficking.
Instead, they highlight Sweden’s approach, which decriminalizes those selling sex (as they are often in a place of vulnerability or inequality and should not be charged), while criminalizing only those who purchase sex. As Nicholas Kristof points out:
“Nothing works all that well in curbing sex trafficking, but [Sweden’s] model has succeeded better than other approaches.”
Read the full articles:
- Amnesty International Considers Pushing for Decriminalization of Prostitution (The New York Times)
- Here’s What Amnesty International’s Sex Work Proposal Really Means (The World Post)
- Amid Controversy, Amnesty Int’l Could Soon Push for Sex Work to Be Decriminalized (VICE News)
- Listen to the sex workers – but which ones? (The Guardian)
- While proponents of decriminalization claim that it’s possible to fight sex trafficking while permitting an adult, consensual prostitution to flourish, the predatory nature of the sex industry creates too many grey areas.
- Even by the most conservative estimates, over half of those in prostitution started as children. A disproportionate number have child abuse in their background. This makes it very easy to pimps to take advantage of this vulnerability, especially in a context where sex buyers have no fear of arrest. The magical age of 18 (or 21) does not mean sudden empowerment for those selling sex.
- While some women would no doubt make plenty of money by running escort services or choosing a few well-paying clients, the majority of those in prostitution do not have that kind of relative bargaining power, even in decriminalized environments.
- As pornography gets more and more violent, so do the demands of the clients who pay for sex. While not all sex buyers are violent, the levels of physical, sexual, and verbal abuse experienced by people selling sex are significant (not to mention the abuse trafficking victims experience). Violence from johns occurs in every legal context.
- Reducing stigma through decriminalization or legalization has not worked so far. People seeking to purchase sex are, for the most part, focused on their own fantasy, not the human rights of the person they purchase from.
- People on both sides of this argument realize that this is a very complex issue, and there are no solutions that will eliminate all exploitation. Amnesty does excellent work, and we believe their motives on this matter are no different – they want to protect the rights of people. However, doing nothing about demand for paid sex will only result in more exploitation in the long run.
- Amnesty’s decision will have huge ramifications, and, after making Red Light Green Light, we believe decriminalization is not the best stance. Sweden’s approach, where purchasers are criminalized while those selling their bodies are not, does more to protect the most vulnerable.
***If you’d like to sign a petition urging Amnesty to say “no” to making this their formal position, you can do so here.
UPDATE: On August 11, Amnesty voted in favour of decriminalization. Read more here.