This leaked Amnesty International proposal advocating for the full decriminalization of all aspects of prostitution violates the basic human rights and dignities of prostituted individuals. Not only does Amnesty International deny the inextricable link between prostitution and exploitation, violence, and trafficking, they seek to legalize men’s right to purchase sex with impunity – a goal diametrically in opposition to protecting “sex workers” from the gendered exploitation and violence endemic in prostitution.
The very use of commodities language in their proposal (i.e., “sex work”, “sex workers”) reveals AI’s commitment to the maximal capitalization of the “imperfect context” they themselves admit is the reason why so many individuals enter prostitution and become entrenched within its cycle of exploitation and abuse. The term “sex worker” is not only Orwellian, but an already positioned stance – one which sides with the pro-prostitution lobby, with its long documented history of silencing and abuse against persons speaking out against the horrors of this physically, sexually, emotionally, and economically exploitative “industry” that is the sex trade.
All “sex-workers” (both current and former) are survivors of this brutal system.
Not all survive.
This is why we must listen to survivors.
With this proposal, Amnesty International is moving away from human rights advocacy, into a human rights non-profit industrial model: prioritizing “international membership” and “those on the human rights front line” above those who they claim to help – those who are in fact suffering from or vulnerable to the very human rights abuses Amnesty International purport to fight.
The gendered nature of the phenomena of prostitution is categorically denied in this leaked proposal, stating women are not the only ones who engage in prostitution. Regardless of that fact, women do make up the vast majority of the prostituted class. To deny that this is a gendered issue (requiring an analysis of inequality along the axis of gender) is to deny that women’s rights are human rights. And while this proposal clearly maintains that “states must take all appropriate measures to prevent violence and exploitation of children”, it makes no such commitments for women whatsoever.
We are here to say that women’s rights are human rights. Survivor rights are “sex worker” rights. The use of the terms “sex work” and “sex workers” offends those of us who know that money does not equal consent, that no matter what laws may be legislated through neoliberal agendas, no one has a “right” to purchase a person for sexual gratification. Because of these reasons we demand an apology for the abuse of trust Amnesty International exercised in proposing a lobbied stance while working as a human rights organization.
We also demand that any global consultation process Amnesty International undertakes regarding the issue of prostitution must involve Survivor Organizations that are made up of and represent those in the sex trade who can speak to their experiences of violence, exploitation and trafficking. The voices of those who have truly been marginalized within the group of prostituted persons must be heard before any global proposal or agenda is pushed through.
Sign now and listen to survivors!
We, the members of SPACE International, object in the strongest possible terms to the position of Amnesty International (AI) on the issue of prostitution. Their recently released policy document*, which contends that the exploitation of prostitution is a matter of autonomy and choice, is deserving of nothing less than our public condemnation as a betrayal of women’s rights. Further, it is a policy position that can only be taken if one is willing to ignore the realities of how women and girls end up in prostitution in the first place. Prostitution is a trade that thrives on the distinct lack of autonomy and choice and for Amnesty International to refer to it as ‘freely chosen gainful work’ is to explicitly ignore that nothing about commercial sexual exploitation is freely chosen.
We object in every way to the message and tone of this document, beginning with its title which, by framing prostitution as ‘Sex Work’, obscures the very nature of prostitution itself. Prostitution is abusive and exploitative sexual violence against humans, most often women and girls, carried out by other humans, usually grown men, who are in positions of relative social, racial and financial privilege to the human beings whom they buy for sexual use and abuse.
For arguments sake, a small minority of the worlds prostituted population might be said to be choosing it; however the vast majority of those in prostitution are there as a function of lack of choice. Public policy is made to respond to what is happening to the vast majority, not a minute minority. Everywhere on earth those who endure prostitution are found, in staggering numbers, to be the economically disenfranchised, the educationally disadvantaged, the emotionally vulnerable, the sexually abused, the racially marginalised and the socially dispossessed. In the face of this globally recognised fact, Amnesty International has clearly taken a position that contradicts their own mission as a charity concerned with human rights.
AI’s position directly contravenes long established human rights conventions. It is at odds with several key UN instruments including the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Prostitution of Others, which holds that prostitution is ‘incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human being’. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 6 articulates a similar position. The 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons similarly views prostitution as trafficking when it occurs under certain circumstances. This Protocol also discourages the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.
AI’s position supporting ‘the world’s oldest oppression’ ¹ places the long-standing human rights organization in alignment with some of the most brutal and violent forces known, organised criminal networks that carry out the hugely profitable business of selling human beings for sex, rather than with their victims, whose human rights are being ignored and denied. AI’s position in fact not only condones but compounds the injustice of prostitution by championing punters ‘right to buy sex’ in this bizarre and inverted document. We would advise the membership of Amnesty International to take a hard look at the pro-prostitution stance currently besmirching the reputation of Amnesty International and all those associated with it.
* ‘Decriminalisation of Sex Work: Policy Background Document’
¹ Norma Ramos, Addressing Domestic Human Trafficking, 6 U. St. Thomas 2008
Public Statement from STSU
(Sex Trafficking Survivors United)
Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) is a survivor-led and survivor-founded international organization. Our 177 members include sex trafficked women and men who have escaped their traffickers, often with no assistance, and who have banded together to raise awareness and assist commercial sexually exploited victims. As survivors we know that commercial sexual exploitation includes force, fraud and coercion the same as sex trafficking. It is simply not credible to suggest prostitution can exist independently of sex trafficking, racism and brutal abuse. We know that men’s demand to buy sex hurts people in prostitution. Indigenous peoples and people of color are disproportionately victimized by the violence of commercial sexual exploitation, as a result of racism and colonialism.
We have been disturbed and disappointed to see Amnesty International’s suggest full decriminalization of pimps and brothel keepers. The general public understands (and as survivors we know) that commercial sexual exploitation is controlled by organized crime. Amnesty’s proposal will only strengthen organized crime’s hold on the exploited and vulnerable communities worldwide.
It was shocking for us to see Amnesty’s suggestion that it is a “human right” for well off, powerful (mostly white) men to purchase the bodies of the younger, poorer and more vulnerable. We found it especially cruel that Amnesty says prostitution is a choice. As all survivors know, people end up in prostitution because they have no other choices, and are the victims of coercion, fraud, abuse and violence. The untruth that “prostitution is a choice” only serves to stigmatize and further trap most sexually exploited victims. This empowers their traffickers and abusers, while serving as a justification to arrest the exploited rather than recognizing the truth that they are crime victims. It also cuts them off from much-needed social supports.
STSU’s members include executive directors of survivor-led organizations providing direct services to minor and adult victims, medical doctors and other health professionals, social workers and family therapists, crime victim advocates and college professors. Not only have we experienced and escaped the complex world of sex trafficking and healed, many of us have earned college degrees, founded small businesses, established nonprofit victim services organizations, and earned other professional credentials.
As survivors we are directly affected by Amnesty International’s prostitution proposal. We intend to hold Amnesty International accountable. We insist that Amnesty proceed with complete transparency on this issue, involve the worldwide survivor community as stakeholders, and operate with the high ethical standards and due diligence demanded of important human rights issues. It is imperative that those who sexually exploit others not be allowed to speak for the exploited. Unfortunately this is a common phenomenon.
Stand in Solidarity:
Support and share this petition started by survivor Simone here –https://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/amnesty-international-demand-that-the-nordic-model-be-implemented-for-the-protection-of-prostituted-and-trafficked-human-beings
Be sure to join the Virtual Protest against Amnesty’s Proposal, here –https://www.facebook.com/events/276227092528043/276505949166824/?notif_t=plan_mall_activity
If you are on Twitter, join @invisiblechoice in using the hashtag #QuestionsForAmnesty to give them something to think about when they start work tomorrow morning. Many thanks to Nia Thomas for starting the hashtag, and to Julie Bindel, for writing about this leaked proposal.
High resolution flyers for an Amnesty International re-brand here:http://protest-resources.tumblr.com/ Feel free to download and distribute. Thank you to Twitter’s @FrenchFem for suggesting the logo design.
“There can be no middle ground for the prostituted – either it is known that there no safe place or safe aspect of prostitution whilst men have the entitlement to buy sexual good, or we may as well just be honest and say we don’t care what happens to the prostituted class for they are not human enough to have basic rights.” -Rebecca Mott (http://rmott62.wordpress.com/)
“By the time I was 17, my dad concluded he had failed to humiliate, beat and torture me out of being gay. So he kicked me out of the house. Within two hours of leaving home, I had been targeted by a pimp and was being raped by his customers.” – Nicholas Al-Khadra (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nikolaos-alkhadra/notes-from-a-chicago-escort_b_4426222.html)
“A statement signed by 177 verified sex trafficking survivors from Sex Trafficking Survivors United (STSU) suggests that: ‘Without the buyers of commercial sex, sex trafficking would not exist. If we start penalising and stigmatising the buyers, we could end sex trafficking in our lifetime … prostitution is not a victimless crime; it is a brutal form of sexual violence.'” – Lauren Hash (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/dec/12/europe-prostitution-sex-trafficking-nordic-model)
“The majority of prostituted women in the UK are foreign. They are overwhelmingly from poorer countries and in many cases trafficked. Rather than continuing to pretend that buying sex is something that happens between consenting equals, we need to look at the coercive and often exploitative realities of the global sex trade.” – Mary Honeyball (http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/european-parliament-vote-nordic-model-prostitution-that-fines-clients-1433466)
“The same forces that are causing native women and girls to go missing and be murdered are the same forces that are causing native women and girls to enter into prostitution in the first place and be stuck there. Those forces are men,” said Smiley. “The solution isn’t to hand over women and girls on a silver platter and say: ‘Have at them.’ The solution is to say: ‘Change your behaviour.’” – Cherry Smiley (http://www.megaphonemagazine.com/articles/422/aboriginal-women-are-overrepresented-in-the-sex-trade-is-there-a-way-out)
“The tricky part of prostitution is this: it’s institutionalized as a job but at the same time, when she’s paid, she’s going to do her best to pretend that she’s there because she loves it… She’s doing her best to make him forget that he’s paying her. So sure, make it a job like any other but then we get to just lie there. Let all the women lie there and do nothing and just look at their watches and see how much the men like it. Prostitution is a lie. It’s overly simplistic to say it’s just a job.” – Kajsa Ekis Ekman (http://feministcurrent.com/8514/being-and-being-bought-an-interview-with-kajsa-ekis-ekman/)
The Invisible Men Project shows you words used by men to review their experiences with women in prostitution. Without seeking to prove, disprove or debate choice on the part of the women described, we invite you to consider: What do you think about HIS choice? Most quotes sourced from Punternet UK, an online community where punters can review the service they receive. The price tag indicates the price he paid for this service. Warning: Graphic Content (http://the-invisible-men.tumblr.com/)
How legalizing prostitution in Germany has failed. “Alina says that she and the other women were required to pay the pimps €800 a week. She shared a bed in a sleeping room with three other women. There was no other furniture. All she saw of Germany was the Esso gas station around the corner, where she was allowed to go to buy cigarettes and snacks, but only in the company of a guard. The rest of the time, says Alina, she was kept locked up in the club.” (http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/human-trafficking-persists-despite-legality-of-prostitution-in-germany-a-902533.html)
Asian women exploited in Australian brothels; “According to a 2010 CSIRO-published report, over 54 per cent of women in prostitution in Western Sydney were born overseas. A study done in Western Australia in the same year found 29 per cent of women in prostitution were from non-English speaking countries. In Sydney’s brothels, 53 per cent of women are from Asia. A Victorian report from 2009 records the stories of adversity that lie behind the grim statistics.” – Melinda Tankard Reist (http://melindatankardreist.com/2011/07/asian-women-going-cheap-in-australian-brothels/)
You can find free images for protesting Amnesty International here – http://protest-resources.tumblr.com/