On August 11, Amnesty International made an egregious decision by voting to adopt a resolution that blatantly protects pimps and johns at the expense of millions of women and girls throughout the world who are prostituted, abused and trafficked in the sex industry.
By calling for the complete decriminalization of all aspects of the sex industry, Amnesty International has now essentially declared it a “human right” for men to buy women, for pimps to sell women, and for traffickers to profit off an unhindered demand for women’s bodies.
Although couched in deceptive language that appears to have the intention of protecting the rights of so-called “sex workers,” if one looks behind the thin facade, it is easy to see that this resolution and subsequent policy are attempts to further a specific “pro-sex work” agenda. If Amnesty International claims to protect human rights, this decision has clearly stated to the world that they don’t consider prostituted women to be human.
If Amnesty International claims to protect human rights, this decision has clearly stated to the world that they don’t consider prostituted women to be human.
In order to quickly debunk the myth of Amnesty’s resolution I will list each specific point of the resolution, verbatim, and provide rebuttals that will demonstrate the ludicrousy and hypocrisy of the statements:
The [Amnesty International] International Council requests the International Board to adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work…
First off, the notion of the “highest possible protection” of prostituted women is incompatible with the enabling of pimps and johns to use and abuse women’s bodies with impunity, as is called for in this promotion of a policy model of full decriminalisation.
[The policy will] take into account:
1. The starting point of preventing and redressing human rights violations against sex workers, and in particular the need for states to not only review and repeal laws that make sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations, but also refrain from enacting such laws.
The true starting point for preventing the abuse of those in prostitution is to recognize that the only way to fully protect them is to get them out of prostitution. Research has demonstrated that prostitution is inherently harmful whether legal, decriminalized or illegal.1 Research has also shown that legal/decriminalized prostitution increases the demand for commercial sex, and thus increases the number of women and girls who end up being coerced into the industry and vice versa.2
Legal/decriminalized prostitution increases the demand for commercial sex, and thus increases the number of women and girls who end up being coerced into the industry
Sex trafficking and the serious abuse of women and girls in the sex industry are certainly human rights violations, (which Amnesty is claiming to redress), and the cause is the uninhibited demand, which is a result of legal and decriminalized commercial sex policy models.
2. Amnesty International’s overarching commitment to advancing gender equality and women’s rights.
Supporting and protecting men’s entitlement to women’s bodies is incompatible with the purported commitment to the “advancement of gender equality and women’s rights.” Prostitution is a manifestation of gender inequality.
Prostitution is a manifestation of gender inequality.
If this were not so, then we would see women buying men for sex at the same rate that men are buying women—and we would see men selling sex at the same rate that women are selling sex. Anyone who has any knowledge of the sex industry knows that this is not the case. Men are overwhelmingly those who buy women’s bodies for sex, and the women and girls they buy are the marginalized, disadvantaged, abused, and impoverished. Even the relatively small amount of men who sell sex are feminized (often called “lady boys”), and men are the ones who buy these feminized men. These feminized men are abused and marginalized as well, due to their positions in society as disadvantaged females. This reality highlights the fact that prostitution is a highly gendered injustice, where men are in positions of power as buyers, and women (and feminized men) are the ones being subordinated and dehumanized as merchandise.
By Amnesty advocating for decriminalization of the sex industry, Amnesty is promoting and enabling an institution of gender inequality that works against women’s rights and hinders any meaningful progress toward gender equality.
3. The obligation of states to protect every individual in their jurisdiction from discriminatory policies, laws and practices, given that the status and experience of being discriminated against are often key factors in what leads people to engage in sex work, as well as in increasing vulnerability to human rights violations while engaged in sex work and in limiting options for voluntarily ceasing involvement in sex work.
Decriminalizing or legalizing the commercial sex industry does not remove the stigma of prostitution and the accompanying discrimination. For example, in Germany, where the sex trade is legal, the service union ver.di offered union membership to Germany’s prostituted population. Those in the industry would have been entitled to health care, legal aid, thirty paid holiday days a year, a five-day work week, and Christmas and holiday bonuses. Out of an estimated 400,000 in prostitution, only 100 joined the union. That’s .00025% of those engaging in prostitution. The same phenomenon (not joining prostitution unions) is true in the Netherlands. Legalization and decriminalization never erases the stigma of prostitution and could even make women more vulnerable if they must lose anonymity.3
4. The harm reduction principle.
The harm reduction principle is one that acquiesces to the idea that women in prostitution will always be subordinated, dehumanized, bought and sold—and aims at trying to minimize the inherent harms that come part and parcel with the buying and selling of people’s bodies for sexual use and abuse. The problem here is two-fold. First off, by decriminalizing pimps and johns, Amnesty International is actually seeking to reduce any harms for the male buyers and exploiters–not prostituted women.
Under this model, johns and pimps will be able to continue to buy and sell, profit and pleasure, without any consequence or harm to them.
On a public health level the harm reduction model seeks to protect johns from prostituted women’s diseases, not protect prostituted women from the diseases that the men transmit to them. Condom use is rarely, if ever, enforced and study after study has demonstrated that men will pay a higher price for sex without a condom—and pimps who are after a profit will coerce the prostituted women to comply with men’s demands. When STD testing is done to women in prostitution they are often given cards that they are able to show to men buyers to prove that they are STD free. Men are never required to be tested for diseases to prove to the prostituted women that they are free of deadly diseases, which they might actually give to the women they have unprotected sex with. This type of harm reduction public health policy is sexist to the core and not adopted in the best interest of those who truly need protection—the prostituted women. Harm reduction should never be the goal of policy, harm elimination should be—and that should be focused on the ones who are vulnerable, not on those in advantaged positions and the exploiters.
5. States have the obligation to prevent and combat trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and to protect the human rights of victims of trafficking.
You cannot separate prostitution from sex trafficking because they are inextricably linked. Trafficking flourishes where there is a demand for commercial sex and that demand increases when there are legal and decriminalized sex markets.4 Pimps and traffickers will always exploit women and girls when there is a profit to be made.
Pimps and traffickers will always exploit women and girls when there is a profit to be made.
Legalization and decriminalization of the sex industry increases the demand for prostituted women and thus increases the demand for victims of sex trafficking as well.5 The U.S. Department of State “Trafficking in Persons Report,” has stated: “Sex trafficking would not exist without the demand for commercial sex flourishing around the world. Prostitution and related activities—including pimping and patronizing or maintaining brothels—encourage the growth of modern-day slavery by providing a façade behind which traffickers for sexual exploitation operate. Where prostitution is tolerated, there is a greater demand for human trafficking victims and nearly always an increase in the number of women and children trafficked into commercial sex slavery.”6
The former director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Ambassador Mark Lagon, has said that “prostitution is inherently harmful and dehumanizing and fuels trafficking in persons. Turning people into dehumanized commodities creates an enabling environment for human trafficking. The United States Government opposes prostitution and any related activities, including pimping, pandering, or maintaining brothels as contributing to the phenomenon of trafficking in persons. These activities should not be regulated as a legitimate form of work for any human being.”7
6. States have an obligation to ensure that sex workers are protected from exploitation and can use criminal law to address acts of exploitation.
The truth is that when states adopt laws that decriminalize and legalize the sex industry as Amnesty is recommending that they do, not only do they abandon their obligation to protect prostituted women from exploitation,in fact, they increase the amount of exploitation that they face. An uninhibited demand for sex will produce an uninhibited supply of vulnerable prostituted women.
An uninhibited demand for sex will produce an uninhibited supply of vulnerable prostituted women.
Under the model of decriminalization, pimping is encouraged as there is no consequence for exploitation. Furthermore, exploitation via trafficking is encouraged as well, because an unhindered demand creates an attractive profit for those who seek to exploit vulnerable women in order to make significant amounts of money. Amnesty’s recommended policy seeks not to encourage states to protect the exploited but in fact Amnesty’s policy seeks to increase and encourage exploitation.
7. Any act related to the sexual exploitation of a child must be criminalized. Recognizing that a child involved in a commercial sex act is a victim of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law, and that states must take all appropriate measures to prevent sexual exploitation and abuse of children.
Anyone who has studied prostitution in depth knows that in many, if not most cases, females enter into the sex trade underage. Thus, according to the internationally accepted definition of human trafficking laid out in the United Nation’s Palermo Protocols, most in prostitution entered into the industry as victims of human trafficking. So at what point does Amnesty think that these human trafficking victims magically change into consenting adults? What happens during the moment between when a girl is seventeen (and a trafficking victim by definition) and when she is eighteen? Does she no longer deserve the protections afforded to child sex trafficking victims because she had a birthday? No, the reality is that these are the same people at different times in their lives who deserve the same protections and support. Women in prostitution must be seen in the appropriate light—as those who were exploited at young and vulnerable ages and who got stuck in a system of exploitation, and need help to get out.
Women in prostitution must be seen in the appropriate light—as those who were exploited at young and vulnerable ages and who got stuck in a system of exploitation, and need help to get out.
8. Evidence that sex workers often engage in sex work due to marginalisation and limited choices, and that therefore Amnesty International will urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will or is compelled to rely on it as their only means of survival, and to ensure that people are able to stop sex work if and when they choose.
This is one of Amnesty’s most ludicrous and contradictory statements regarding those who are being sold in the commercial sex industry. First off, they recognize that evidence demonstrates that most prostituted people enter into the sex industry because of marginalization and limited choices. If they were to simply and objectively look at the research and listen to those who are survivors of the industry (which they did not do and have yet to produce any evidence for their positions), they would easily know that if there were such a unicorn nation where total equality and justice in the economic, cultural, and social spheres was achieved for women, then prostitution would not exist at all. This statement is, in essence, Amnesty admitting that the only reason women enter the sex industry is because they lack equality, social status, and economic status and there are no other legitimate choices for them. A bad choice among worse choices is not a legitimate choice. In addition, exiting the industry once a person is in it is not something that the state can guarantee to any degree as long as pimps operate with impunity—as decriminalization would ensure.
9. Ensuring that the policy seeks to maximize protection of the full range of human rights – in addition to gender equality, women’s rights, and non-discrimination – related to sex work, in particular security of the person, the rights of children, access to justice, the right to health, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the right to a livelihood.
See points above.
10. Recognizing and respecting the agency of sex workers to articulate their own experiences and define the most appropriate solutions to ensure their own welfare and safety, while also complying with broader, relevant international human rights principles regarding participation in decision-making, such as the principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent with respect to Indigenous peoples.
If you listen to the outrage of survivors and reputable advocates of women’s rights8 to Amnesty’s decision it is clear that Amnesty did not listen to the experiences of those who survived the industry. They didn’t allow those who were abused in the industry to articulate their experiences, they ignored them, instead opting to listen to and protect the profiteers.
11. The evidence from Amnesty International’s and external research on the lived experiences of sex workers, and on the human rights impact of various criminal law and regulatory approaches to sex work.
Amnesty has yet to produce this so-called evidence. However, those opposed to Amnesty’s position have been able to produce large amounts of research and evidence from the “lived experiences” of those prostituted and the human rights impacts of various laws. (See points and citations above)
12. The policy will be fully consistent with Amnesty International’s positions with respect to consent to sexual activity, including in contexts that involve abuse of power or positions of authority.
The concept of consent here is moot when a woman is given no other legitimate choices. If someone holds a gun to your head and tells you to hand over your wallet, when you choose between losing your money and dying of a gunshot wound to the head, choosing to hand over the wallet can’t be seen as exercising true agency, consent, and choice—and doesn’t justify the actions of the one who is coercing the “consent.” If a woman has to choose, and thus consent to the abuse of selling her body, or choose to allow her child to go hungry, such a choice is not exercising agency nor true consent.
13. Amnesty International does not take a position on whether sex work should be formally recognized as work for the purposes of regulation. States can impose legitimate restrictions on the sale of sexual services, provided that such restrictions comply with international human rights law, in particular in that they must be for a legitimate purpose, provided by law, necessary for and proportionate to the legitimate aim sought to be achieved, and not discriminatory.
It is interesting that Amnesty has decided to present this final clause—to allow states to impose restriction on the sale of sex (basically giving the green light for states to require taxes, paid permits, etc.). BUT they did not even mention allowing for restrictions on the PURCHASE of sex. This final statement is a final nail in the coffin for Amnesty, as it proves they are only interested in protecting those who can profit or pleasure off the sale of women’s bodies (pimps, johns, traffickers and the state). Amnesty has no true interest in protecting those whose bodies are used to make that profit and produce that sick pleasure.
In conclusion, we call on those interested in the rights of women and girls to withdraw support for this sham of a human rights organization. Amnesty International has decided to side with the exploiters, traffickers, and profiteers at the expense of those they claim to protect.
#AmnestyInternational #Shamnesty #NoAmnesty4Pimps #ICM2015
- 1. Farley, Melissa et al. (2003). “Prostitution and Trafficking in Nine Countries: An Update on Violence and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” Journal of Trauma Practice, Vol. 2, No. 3/4: 33-74; and Farley, Melissa. ed. 2003. Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress. Haworth Press, New York.; Ramsay, R. et. al. 1993. “Psychiatric morbidity in survivors of organized state violence including torture.” British Journal of Psychiatry. 162:55-59.;Hunter, S. K. (1993). Prostitution is cruelty and abuse to women and children. Michigan Journal of Gender and Law, 1, 1-14.;J. Potterat, D. Brewer, S. Muth, R. Rothenberg, D. Woodhouse, J. Muth, H. Stite, and S. Brody, “Mortality in a Long-term Open Cohort of Prostitute Women,” American Journal of Epidemiology 159:778–785, (2004). Longitudinal study of prostitution in Colorado Springs – sample size: 1,969 people in prostitution from 1967-1999.;Jacobs, U., & Iacopino, V. (2001). “Torture and its consequences: A challenge to clinical neuropsychology.” Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 32, 458-464.;Vanwesenbeeck, I. (1994) Prostitutes’ Well-Being and Risk. VU University Press, Amsterdam.
- 2. Cho, Seo- Young, Axel Dreher, and Eric Neumayer. “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” World Development 41.1 (2013): 67-82. Social Science Research Network. Web. 12 July 2013. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1986065>.;Di Nicola, Andrea, Isabella Orfano, Andrea Cauduro, and Nicoletta Conci. Study on National Legislations on Prostitution and the Trafficking in Women and Children. Brussels: European Parliament, 2005. Transcrime. Web. 11 July 2013.; Jakobsson, Niklas, and Andreas Kotsadam. “The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation.” European Journal of Law and Economics 35.1 (2013): 87-107. Print.
- 3. Janice G. Raymond “Ten Reasons for Not Legalizing Prostitution And a Legal Response to the Demand for Prostitution” in Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress (M Farley (ed) 2003) Also available at http://action.web.ca/home/catw/readingroom.shtml?x=32972
- 4. Cho, Seo- Young, Axel Dreher, and Eric Neumayer. “Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking?” World Development 41.1 (2013): 67-82. Social Science Research Network. Web. 12 July 2013. <http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1986065>.;Di Nicola, Andrea, Isabella Orfano, Andrea Cauduro, and Nicoletta Conci. Study on National Legislations on Prostitution and the Trafficking in Women and Children. Brussels: European Parliament, 2005. Transcrime. Web. 11 July 2013.; Jakobsson, Niklas, and Andreas Kotsadam. “The Law and Economics of International Sex Slavery: Prostitution Laws and Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation.” European Journal of Law and Economics 35.1 (2013): 87-107. Print.
- 5. Ibid.
- 6. U.S. Department of State Trafficking In Persons Report 2007
- 7. Overlaps of Prostitution, Migration and Human Trafficking, Ambassador Mark P. Lagon, Director of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Berne, Switzerland (November 12, 2008) http://2001-2009.state.gov/g/tip/rls/rm/2008/111997.htm
- 8. See for example, Former President Jimmy Carter, CATW, SPACE, Rachel Moran, Meghan Murphy, Julie Bindel, Dr. Melissa Farley, Dr. Gail Dines, Elenor Geatan, and countless other organization and prostituted and formerly prostituted women who are voicing opposition on social media.