Amnesty International UK meeting in Edinburgh – Call for action now!

Abolish Prostitution Now gives special recognition here to radical feminists Kat Pinder for her astute feminist political strategizing and Ruth Greenberg for her determined quiet courage in carrying out the campaign they both developed to respond to Amnesty International UK’s proposal and policy for decriminalizing both the sellers, pimps, and the  purchasers of women to use for sex. Despite efforts to block their effective feminist organizing, Kat and Ruth have persisted and kept their focus on Amnesty which is headed toward a global campaigns to insure women are prostituted into perpetuity.  With Rad Fem UK, Ruth Greenberg honored the missing and murdered prostituted women on International  Women’s Day with a demonstration followed by a candlelight vigil at the Amnesty Offices in London. Then, when no one else was available to go to the Amnesty UK AGM in Scotland a week ago, Ruth, undaunted, went alone. Here is her report where you will see that when she was faced with the sex industry driven motions, Ruth put forward our motions in opposition and spoke on the Nordic Model. Despite the proprostitution atmosphere, Ruth made it a point of talking to a number of Amnesty members found some surprises, but the most surprising for all of us is the vote. Thank you Ruth and Kat for living your feminism.

 

Ruth Greenberg reports:

To protest their policy and proposal for decriminalizing pimps and customers, I went alone to the Amnesty UK AGM in Edinburgh, Scotland on April 12th and 13th as an Amnesty member and an abolitionist to address and protest their motion on “sex work” in which they propose decriminalizing pimps, punters and those bought in prostitution.  In response to considerable feminist protests over the last several months, they added two other motions, one they misleadingly referred to as the “Swedish Model” which would decriminalise those who sell “sex” and criminalise those who buy “sex” aka punters or johns. It left out key elements of this model which includes criminalising pimps and providing support and practical help to those women who wish to leave the sex industry. Before going to the AGM in Scotland, Kat Pinder, an AI member and abolitionist, and I wrote an amendment to make this option truly the Swedish Model.

While Amnesty has ignored the testimony of prostitution survivors in Abolish Prostitution Now, among  the organisations who were officially consulted on the decriminalization proposal was the pimp led International Union of Sex Workers, which in spite of its grand sounding name, has 10 members.

At the AGM, Amnesty staff ran a workshop, attended by nearly 40 Amnesty members, on why members should vote for total decriminalisation of those prostituted, pimps and punters, and why members should not vote for any other alternatives, including the Swedish model. Staff presenting in the workshop, claimed that brothel keeping laws criminalised those who support “sex workers” such as maids and drivers. It was claimed that third party offences, pimps, brothel keepers, etc,  need to be repealed as they were antiquated laws focusing on morality and not coercion, and that other existing laws could be used to tackle coercion.  These AI members argued that there was no evidence that criminalising buyers works and that it places the burden on “sex workers” to protect their clients by for example “working” in more secluded spaces.

Sex Workers Open University, English Collective of Prostitutes and the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe were there. They argued that “sex workers” experienced violence because of criminalisation, and with their many examples implied that the police were the main source of violence they experienced. What was absent from their accounts was the men who believe they have the right to buy a woman to use for their sexual pleasure and who believe they have a right to hurt, beat or torture her because they have paid her.

I was the only person in the workshop who challenged this narrative and the fact that Amnesty had consulted with pimp led organization. This was a heavy proprostitution environment fostered both by Amnesty and the prostitution organizations.

I found that I had to really stuff my reactions to the overwhelming environment that supports “sex work” in a proprostitution atmosphere.

Sunday before the vote, one AI member spoke in support of the Swedish Model and some who argued that full decriminalisation was not the right model for all countries. The “sex worker” organisations alleged wrongly that “sex worker” organisations have very few financial resources, while abolitionists have lots. They also argued against looking to Germany and the Netherlands as examples as what they had was legalisation, and they wanted full decriminalisation.

A few Amnesty members clearly and articulately spoke against decriminalisation of pimps and punters, and talked about prostitution as violence against women. I spoke 3 times as I had the opportunity to propose the amendment again to the Swedish Model, which was rejected but this time there was some support from members, and I spoke against the decriminalisation proposal. As part of this, I got the opportunity to read out a statement written by Kat Pinder and another by Kathleen Barry.

Members voted clearly to reject a motion that proposed “sex workers” should be decriminalised, and that those who buy sex, should be criminalized and voted to decriminalise those being prostituted, pimps and punters. Unfortunately it was clearly carried.

Then a motion was presented that Amnesty should have no policy position in relation to the issue of “sex work” and that motion was narrowly carried.

In fact the members voted for two contradictory motions which follows from the violations of Amnesty’s democratic process throughout the consultation period and in the AGM.  But it is also a sign of the obvious confusion amongst members in relation to this issue. During the debate a number of members in fact had spoken favour of the no policy motion, saying that they were confused and felt there should be more research.

So what happens now? A meeting will be held with senior personnel all Amnesty sections, where the final policy will be decided.

If Amnesty adopts this policy, they will be actively lobbying the state governments globally to decriminalise pimps and punters. This would result in a human rights organisation actively lobbying against the human rights of women.

By the end of the meeting, I had spoken to a number of Amnesty members and found that many  were horrified that decriminalization could become the official position of Amnesty. One of them made the point that only 1% of Amnesty UK members had voted. That motivated me to set up this facebook page so that other Amnesty members can make their views known.

https://www.facebook.com/amnestynotodecriminalisation

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There are currently two open petitions on Change.org demanding that Amnesty International listen to survivors and adopt the Nordic Model.

Abolish Prostitution Now encourages everybody to support them:

http://www.change.org/en-AU/petitions/amnesty-international-demand-that-the-nordic-model-be-implemented-for-the-protection-of-prostituted-and-trafficked-human-beings

http://www.change.org/petitions/amnesty-international-listen-to-survivors-reject-the-proposal-to-decriminalize-all-aspects-of-prostitution

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