This is a statement and response developed for the attention of Amnesty International leadership and grass roots membership, by a group of prostitution survivors and people who are or have been harmed in the sex trade. We are involved in a growing global movement of people who have become politicised, expert and knowledgable about the way the sex trade operates, starting from our own experiences.
Although we have all experienced harm in the sex trade and therefore have an abolitionist perspective of the trade, we also have extensive knowledge from all perspectives, having researched throughly the impacts of different legal systems around the world from an objective point of view. Some of us are active Amnesty International members and we are concerned about the organisation and it’s reputation as a human rights defender, especially since the organisation has done good work historically against sexual exploitation and the expansion of harm.
We understand that Amnesty are looking to push through a sex trade decriminalisation policy and that in August the Amnesty International Council (one of the international decision making forums of the organisation) are planning to put a resolution, which if passed, will give power to the international board (another section of Amnesty International) to develop a policy for full decriminalisation (including of sex trade buyers and/or pimps) or a policy that implies this sort of decriminalisation, within 7 principles.
We understand that some of these principles are well intended, however we are deeply concerned that the organisation is going to pass something that will have unintended consequences of expanding the size and impact of the sex trade and therefore expanding the harm caused to many people (mainly women and children) who get caught up in it. We are also concerned about the messages this will send to men and how it will influence the choices they make towards and power relations to women.
It is no secret that we (the survivor movement) do not support the decriminalisation of buyers and pimps, we instead support a legal model that enables women to be able to hold both buyers and pimps accountable for harm that they cause as a direct result of prostituting and pimping. No other laws legislate for the protection of a person who wants to report, for example, a buyer who through his actions of making a choice to buy sex has caused trauma, even though 67 percent of women who have been prostituted develop PTSD (Farley, Prostitution Research). With stats like this, why would we not put provisions in place to enable the buyer to be accountable? Without buyers, this harm would not exist, neither would trafficking, and we advocate for a system where women in the sex trade are decriminalised and can report their buyers and where the buyers are held to account. Given that buyers are causing this extensive harm, we consider it a human rights violation to enable them to have rights to legally pay to use another person for sex and for those harmed as a consequence to not be able to report these men.
We recognise that there is no consensus within the Amnesty movement around whether or not buyers or pimps should be criminalised and we therefore encourage Amnesty International to develop our/their policy based on human rights principles where the rights of survivors do not get violated and in which the movement has a broad consensus. Although we ideally want to see human rights orgs advocating for the Nordic model, the survivor movement would welcome a compromise where a set of policy is developed on a set of principles that does not enable the decriminalisation of buyers and pimps, but this could be that a position is not taken on the legalities of these men, and instead a unity is build on decriminalising those who are in prostitution and protecting the rights of the most vulnerable from a human rights perspective. We also would like to see neutral and inclusive language to be used, that does not alienate people in prostitution who do not identify as ‘sex workers’. This was passed in an Australian resolution at the 2015 NAGM.
Please see below our comments about the current principles and suggestions for strengthening them in line with a true human rights approach.
Policy calling for the decriminalization of sex work The International Council REQUESTS the International Board to adopt a policy calling for the decriminalization of sex work, taking into account –
- The harm reduction principle.
Many harm reduction principles are old school thinking that harm and oppression is inevitable and can be made ‘nicer’. For example, through providing condoms for trafficking and prostitution victims, rather than stopping their abuse. We believe this needs to be a stronger position for an approach to work towards the true reduction and ultimately in the long term near elimination of harm, by raising the consciousness of men around the risks of harm each time a man pays for sex.
- That states can impose legitimate restrictions on sex work, 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.
There is no ‘human rights law’ that awards sex buyers rights. Pimps and buyers do not need to have rights to pay for sex. It should, however, be a human right to be able to hold men to account and to be able to report men who purchase or pimp women for sex, if they cause harm (including PTSD). It is also a human right for all girls and women to be in a society free from sexual exploitation and that is not possible for any women and girls whilst the sex trade is so big and getting bigger through increased societal legitimisation and laws that enable the industry to expand.
- Amnesty International’s longstanding position that trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be criminalized as a matter of international law.
Trafficking is just one of many means of males with power getting women and girls into the sex trade, there are many more ways and ultimately we know that the majority of adult women in the sex trade, who are there by any means, not just trafficking, develop PTSD as a result of being prostituted. This could be strengthened by including something that protects all women, including, but not limited to those trafficked, from harm.
- That any 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.
Prostitution does not become less harmful on someone’s 18th birthday. All women/people in the sex trade need rights to be able to report men who prostitute them,whatever age they are. This could be strengthened, within the boundaries of retaining broad consensus, by a principle that enables a policy recognising that often children in prostitution become adults in prostitution at age 18 and at any age may need protections.
- The growing evidence that many individuals who engage in sex work do so due to socio-economic marginalization and limited choices, and that therefore Amnesty International should urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the social, economic and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will, and those who decide to undertake sex work should be able to leave if and when they choose.
This is victim blaming. Saying that the sex trade exists because of women making choices and because women are poor and marginalised relieves perpetrators of responsibility. The reality is that all people who are prostituted are bought by a john (buyer), and nearly always these perpetrators are male. It is because of the choices of these men and the demand they create that women/people are in prostitution. Of course, most of the time women are in desperate situations, and this fact makes the actions of perpetrators all the more exploitative. It means that men should be held to account and informed that they risk inflicting PTSD on the people they buy for sex. In addition, women should be able to report their johns anytime they want, it is not good enough to say that if a woman develops PTSD she should just leave the industry and it’s her responsibility, by then it’s too late, the damage is done. Men must be held to account, and the people being bought for sex must be decriminalised. This is the Nordic model solution. Any law that is passed impacts on all people in prostitution, including trafficked people and those who are suffering PTSD. What we know from evidence is that the industry grows where we have decriminalised or legalised buyers and pimps. These approaches will always expand the abuse, there is no way to avoid that.
- 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 themselves often key factors in what leads people into sex work.
Discrimination and oppression, particularly against women, contributes to the restrictions on the decisions that they make, but again the sex trade would not exist without buyers and they are responsible for the prostituting of women.
- The evidence from Amnesty International’s research on the actual, lived, human impact of various criminal law and regulatory approaches to the human rights of sex workers.
there is lots of research on the sex trade, Amnesty’s being one. We do not believe that there is sufficient time prior to Augusts meeting for the Amnesty community to have time to scrutinise the research methodology and outcomes and compare it with other research. Therefore, we recommend that any policy decision is postponed until a time where it is possible to undertake such research. Also to note, it is very disappointing that AI has not used inclusive language here to acknowledge people in the sex trade and survivors and the impact of legal systems on the most harmed and vulnerable.
In Australia, the Amnesty Members Against Sex Trade Pimps and Buyers group, which includes sex trade survivors, will be organising a global conference in Melbourne on first weekend of December to reclaim Amnesty International as a real human rights organisation, to express our dissent towards the infiltration of our organisation by pimps and sex trade apologists. We will develop our own policy platform on prostitution, which we will communicate to Amnesty members across the world. Please get involved by joining our Facebook page. We also encourage you to write publicly about this issue and to email your branch presidents. We welcome all voting delegates at Augusts meeting to get in touch with us.
Amnesty International against pimps and buyers.