The human rights organization, Amnesty International, has quietly been trying to pass a policy proposal calling for the decriminalization of the sex industry. It was only this month they announced their intentions but, while even the International Secretariat admitted the Amnesty International Council had made a mess of the consultation process, what really happened was that the organization ignored critical feedback and ensured many members were not even aware that there was a draft policy in the works.
Members were consequently offered three weeks —from April 2 – 21, 2014 — to provide feedback on the document, a small window made even smaller by the fact that most members did not even receive notification that this process was available to them. This was followed, a few months later, by an updated draft which doubled down on their rejection of the Nordic model and the criminalization of any aspects of the sex industry whatsoever. More generally, the document reeked of libertarian ideology, bravely supporting individuals’ “right to seek, buy, sell or solicit paid sex… protected from state interference.”
God forbid the state intervene in men’s right to paid blow jobs.
On July 7th, 2015, an updated draft was released to its members, intended to “inform discussion and debate during the International Council Meeting 2015 of a potential policy on respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of sex workers.” This sentence, in and of itself, conveys so much about the purpose of the document. No mention of the rights of women and girls not to have to provide sexual services to men. No mention of bodily autonomy outside of women’s role as sexualized bodies that men have the right to use and abuse at will. No mention of the myriad of factors that drive women and girls into the industry such as colonialism, poverty, sexual abuse, patriarchy, racism, imperialism, and coercion.
How can a policy on prostitution mention “gender equality” but fail to mention the entire foundation for a sex industry: gender inequality? Essentially, Amnesty International is advocating for our “equal rights,” as women, to prostitute ourselves, pretending as though this is a progressive move.
I mean, who wrote this, Dennis Hof?
In response to this policy proposal — which, in reality, supports those who wish to open and profit from legal brothels and earn the right to buy women, free of shame and stigma, not women’s rights (maybe Amnesty International should poll women and girls worldwide and find out how many of them think their liberation lies in their “right” to f**k strange men for money) — The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women (CATW) published an open letter signed by over 400 advocates and organizations was published on Thursday, calling for “Amnesty to stand on the side of stand on the side of justice and equality for all.”
Signatories include: Meryl Streep, Julie Bindel, Kate Winslet, Rachel Moran, Angela Bassett, Eve Ensler, Emily Blunt, Ruchira Gupta, Lena Dunham, Robin Morgan, Carey Mulligan, Lee Lakeman, Anne Hathaway, Janice Raymond, Sarah Jones, Kevin Kline, Lisa Kudrow, Kyra Sedgwick, Emma Thompson, and many, many more.
The letter points out that legalization has only resulted in “the explosive growth of legal brothels” and did not succeed in making the industry “safer” for women but rather resulted in an increase of trafficking in order to fill the demand. In Amsterdam, for example, up to 90 per cent of women in brothels “are Eastern European, African and Asian women who are being patronized by predominantly Caucasian men.” Germany has fared no better.
…The 2002 German deregulation law spawned countrywide brothel chains that offer “Friday night specials” for men who have license to purchase women for sexual acts that include acts of torture. This prompted mainstream news outlets to tag Germany the “Bordello of Europe.” Last year leading trauma experts in Germany petitioned their government to repeal the 2002 law, underlining the extensive psychological harm that serial, unwanted sexual invasion and violence, which are among the hallmarks of prostitution, inflicts on women. Harm reduction is not enough, they explain; governments and civil society must invest in harm elimination.
Amnesty’s proposed position is similar as that taken by the HIV/AIDS sector such as UNAIDS and, in Canada, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Canadian AIDS society. This position is primarily rooted in blind support for simplistic harm reduction policies that allow governments to do as little as possible to help their citizens (i.e. provide free needles, but not housing, mental health services, detox beds and provide condoms but not viable employment, affordable post-secondary education, universal daycare, or exiting services for women in prostitution).
The primary goals of UNAIDS and other agencies that support limited harm reduction policies in the sex industry seem far more concerned with the health of sex buyers than the lives of prostituted and sex trafficked women.
International laws and covenants recognize the abuse of power over acutely vulnerable populations — the poor, the incested, the transgendered, the homeless — as a tool for the purpose of exploitation. Disenfranchised women of color, including Aboriginal, Native, First Nations, African American and “Scheduled Castes” women, are overwhelmingly represented among the prostituted and the sex trafficked. Every day, we combat male access to women’s bodies through power and control, from female genital mutilation to forced marriage; from domestic violence to violation of reproductive rights. The exchange of money for such access does not eliminate the violence women face in the sex trade.
Amnesty International exists to uphold the human rights of everyone, globally. It is unconscionable that such an organization would offer anything less but opposition to the global objectification, abuse, rape, and enslavement of women and girls, worldwide.
With contributions from Simone Watson, a prostitution survivor and director of Nordic Model Australia Coalition (NorMAC).
Amnesty Cracks Champagne in Celebration of Johns’ Rights
Meghan Murphy August 11, 2015
Amnesty International has voted in favour of adopting a policy that supports the “full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.” That is to say, they will be developing a policy that supports the decriminalization of pimps, brothel-owners, and of men who buy sex, as well as the degendered “sex worker.”
For those unfamiliar with the debate, opponents of full decriminalization and of Amnesty’s position advocate for a model that decriminalizes those who sell sex (mainly women and girls) but that criminalizes those who exploit and otherwise harm prostituted women (i.e. pimps, johns, and brothel-owners).
A press release published today specifies: “The policy will also call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.” This sentence certainly sounds positive, in terms of Amnesty’s desire to end exploitation, but is naive at best. There is no way to ensure “legal protection” of those in prostitution when you legalize the very abuse and exploitation that the sex trade is based on. At its root, prostitution is about exploitation — that is, a scenario wherein a man pays a desperate and/or marginalized woman to provide him with sexual services because she has no other choice. The very idea of prostitution is one that says women are not fully human, that they are things that men have the right to use and abuse, that men’s sexual pleasure is more important than women’s humanity. The relationship between a john and a woman he buys is not one of equality — he is, in fact, paying for the right not to respect her.
It is not possible to legalize the purchase of sex while ensuring prostituted women are protected from exploitation, trafficking and violence. The industry requires exploitation and violence is inherent to the system of prostitution. The system is violent. It is exploitative. It is about male abuse of female bodies. Prostitution isharm.
What Amnesty has left out of their statement is women’s rights, as well as an analysis of how poverty and racism make poor women of colour particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
In fact, they didn’t mention women at all.
Amnesty’s repeated, insistent use of the term “sex worker” might sound neutral, but is far from it. The term is politicized as it intends to normalize and decontextualize prostitution. Its purpose is to erase the fact that the sex industry requires patriarchy, as well as capitalism, in order to maintain its existence. To erase the fact that, without inequality, prostitution would cease to exist. To erase the fact that, if human rights were a priority and reality in this world, there would be no such thing as prostitution. “Sex worker” erases systems of power, presenting women in prostitution as simple labourers, as though bodily penetration by strange men is comparable to working at General Motors. “Sex work” ensures men remain invisible and unaccountable in all of this, despite the fact that it is only men who drive the industry and only men who are responsible for the harm.
The press release reads, “Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse.” But saying that “sex workers” are marginalized, as a group, because they are “sex workers” erases the entire context surrounding the existence of a sex industry at all and the reasons why women and girls are prostituted in the first place.
Amnesty wholly accepts the existence of the system of prostitution and, in their statement and position, effectively denies that “sex workers” are marginalized becausethey are women in prostitution. That is to say, the only reason that women and girls end up in prostitution is because they are marginalized in the first place as females and that prostitution epitomizes that marginalization. That marginalization, though, starts long before entry into the industry.
“How do women end up in prostitution and why?” is a question Amnesty has intentionally avoided addressing, as is the question of why it is acceptable that this industry exists at all.
While their statement says, “Amnesty International considers human trafficking abhorrent in all of its forms, including sexual exploitation, and should be criminalized as a matter of international law,” they have not acknowledged that trafficking exists only because women do not want to be in prostitution. It exists becauseprostitution exists. It exists to feed demand. If the sex industry were something freely chosen by women and girls, there would be no need to traffic them. Amnesty’s efforts to draw a clear line between “sex work” and trafficking only shows how deeply ignorant they are, in terms of the realities of the industry. Or, alternatively, that they simply don’t care.
“This is a historic day for Amnesty International,” the statement reads. And indeed, here are some Amnesty staff members cracking a bottle of champagne over the objectified, exploited, abused, and dead bodies of women and girls everywhere. Now that we’ve moved a step closer to further entrenching men’s rights to access the commodified bodies of women, free of guilt, accountability, or any barriers whatsoever, it’s time for a glass of bubbly, amirite? I assume Amnesty will be sending over a few crates to our sisters on the Downtown Eastside?
— Azmina (@SnazzyAzzy) August 11, 2015
In refusing to acknowledge gender, race, or class as key factors, Amnesty has abandoned women and girls, globally, and has shown they cannot be trusted in their position as advocates for human rights. Despite this, feminists everywhere will continue to insist on women’s humanity. We won’t be abandoning this fight, Amnesty International can be sure of that.