“Ignored and mis-represented repeatedly”: Treatment of survivors of sex industry violence and supporters, at the 2014 AI Australia National Annual General Meeting (NAGM)

July 17, 2014

Letter of complaint regarding the unfair treatment of survivors of sex industry violence

and supporters, at the 2014 AIA National Annual General Meeting (NAGM)

This is a letter of formal complaint to the Amnesty International Australia Board.

We, members of Amnesty International Australia, believe that at the recent NAGM, there were some serious concerns that need to be addressed by Amnesty branches and membership.

Survivors of sex industry violence, who were speaking at the NAGM and presenting resolutions, were:

  • ignored and mis-represented repeatedly,
  • placed in psychologically harmful situations,
  • denied prior information about the situation they would be placed in (despite actively seeking it) and
  • treated differently from other guest speakers who were talking about other human rights violations.

Amnesty International Australia invited Scarlet Alliance to participate in two workshops at the 2014 Human Rights Conference, as well as give a 2-minute presentation at the NAGM. This was in spite of the fact prostitution survivors and their supporters, all of whom were AIA members, had requested that a safe, non-adversarial space be provided by organisers for the workshops and NAGM where survivors would speak.

Scarlet Alliance is an organisation that downplays the incidence and harm of sex trafficking.

The organisation advocates for the inclusion of prostitution in Australia’s 457-visa skilled occupation list, and for the creation of a ‘sex work’ visa category. Scarlet Alliance minimizes the activities of traffickers through alternatively using the term ‘third-party agents’, and through describing debt bondage arrangements facilitating the trafficking of women into Australia as ‘alternate entry means to those trying to travel for work’, and as legitimate employment ‘contracts’ drafted by ‘people who will facilitate their entry into Australia’. This organisation opposes government anti-trafficking measures, and claims that ‘the greatest threat to the health, safety and human rights of migrant sex workers is government antitrafficking policy’.

Scarlet Alliance is well known among survivor organisations for its actions attempting to silence survivors who speak out about the harms of prostitution. For example, soon after the NAGM, a Scarlet Alliance member used social media (1) to claim that a survivor who spoke in a workshop about her experience of harm in prostitution could have been charged with pimping. This is an outrageous and hurtful claim that was personally directed. At the second workshop, too, the same survivor was belittled by an Scarlet Alliance member over her claimed right to report a prostitution buyer. These are examples of the bullying tactics this organisation is well known for.

By inviting Scarlet Alliance members to the Human Rights Conference and NAGM, and giving them a platform to speak, AIA did a disservice and an injury to members, especially those members who are survivors of prostitution. These members volunteered in good faith to speak about their experiences of harm at the AIA events, but organisers betrayed them through creating an unsafe and hostile speaking environment. Specifically, AIA organisers failed to:

  • Respond to requests from survivors about the planned formats and speaking lists for the two workshops.
  • Respond to requests from survivors to change the workshop program description to delete or amend phrases such as ‘sex worker industry’ and to include survivors.
  • Supply a neutral person to chair the workshop.
  • Without warning, the workshop program was changed to include a chair who is open about his views in support of sex industry decriminalisation.
  • While this was ultimately changed, this change occurred only after requests from survivor supporters
  • Manage workshops in a way that minimised harm to survivors. Speakers at the second workshop in particular were allowed by the chair to attack survivors personally over their experiences. This was unacceptable, and would never be permitted in similar circumstances of childhood sexual abuse survivors speaking out (cf. the current Royal Commission hearings in which Justice Peter McClellan does not permit defamatory or stereotyped assertions to go unchallenged in proceedings)
  • Consider the inappropriateness of an adversarial format for the two conference workshops. AIA would not consider it appropriate for survivors of torture to speak publicly together with deniers of the harms of torture, and nor should AIA facilitate speaking events in which publicly declared deniers of the harms of prostitution are given a platform.
  • Understand the hypocrisy of issuing ‘trigger’ warnings and warnings about language usage at the workshops while failing to use terms respectful of survivors, and in fact

setting up events that were wholly disrespectful of the wishes of survivors in their organisation and conduct. The workshops were organised in a way that failed to respect even the most modest requests from survivors for the use of neutral language.

  • Understand the hypocrisy of offering the assistance of a social worker after the second workshop, while having conducted the workshop in a way that was hostile to the interests and wellbeing of survivors.
  • See the inconsistency in allowing non-AIA members to be allowed a platform to speak at the Human Rights Conference and NAGM on an issue that had been brought to these AIA by survivors who are members of AIA, supported by state branches. Scarlet Alliance members had not registered for the events, nor contributed to their planning.

Their participation was particularly inappropriate at the NAGM where AIA members were discussing resolutions in support of survivors and the Nordic Model. (Both of which Scarlet Alliance is publicly hostile to and has already been directly contacted for their contribution to the consultation on the draft policy.)

  • Understand the inappropriateness of scheduling three speakers in opposition to the two scheduled survivors at the first workshop. While the third speaker was from AIA, and not SA, her views in favour of decriminalisation are still widely known.

Some AIA executive members, who represent AIA on an international basis, appear to maintain unprofessionally close alliances with members of Scarlet Alliance (and there is public evidence of these alliances), as witnessed over the course of the Human Rights Conference and NAGM. These alliances stand in stark contrast to the treatment of survivors and their supporters by key AIA leaders.

Survivors were marginalised, and eventually excluded, from the Human Rights Conference and NAGM as a result of the hostile environment created by organisers and participation by SA members. For example, survivors were eventually unable to represent their resolutions at the NAGM on behalf of branches because of distress, and were unable to represent themselves for the national executive committee elections.

Given the treatment of survivors of prostitution at NAGM, we are concerned that the close relationship of senior national and international AIA officers, including Nicole Bieske, Gabe Kavanagh and Senthorun Raj, with Scarlet Alliance and their outspoken support for the current draft policy will hinder their ability to be rigorous presenters of the resolutions passed at NAGM. These resolutions supported a new consultation and unbiased widespread consideration of the Nordic model and the proactive involvement of survivors of prostitution and the organisations that provide support to survivors.

We ask that Amnesty International Australia Board:

1. consider how Amnesty Australia address these past behaviours and ensure that the NAGM resolutions are represented internationally with the respect and power that a resolution from NAGM should carry with it.

2. that representatives attending internationally to represent Australia, are not pro sex trade supporters and that accountability mechanisms are put in place to ensure the voice of AIA members and our dissent to the consultation process and pro sex trade bias are represented.

3. that survivors of sex industry violence are treated with the same level of considerationas other people who have suffered human rights abuses.

Signed

Amnesty International Australia Members

Names of signatories removed for wider distribution outside Amnesty International Australia.

Over 5000 signatures in total on our change.org petitions

 

(1)  1 https://twitter.com/scarletalliance

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Amnesty – making the exploited conform to the language of the exploiters?

This is a report from a telephone conference with Amnesty International Australia members.

It is cringe-worthy to be part of a conference arguing international policy on prostitution with one of the largest human rights organizations in the world, and hearing them defer unanimously to pro-prostitution lobby speech.

It is like a stab in the guts to be asked to conform to sanitized etymology and use these terms to avoid upsetting “anyone”.

It is unbearable to know that someone has left the conference because while they define your experience for you as “sex work”, your use of the word “johns” is unacceptable to the point that they get a heartfelt apology from the Chair.

Yet we did bear it.

Many AI members who are survivors and many AI members who support the Nordic Model do not feel represented by this language and proceeding. They do not want to be presented like this by the drafters of this hideous policy created by the pimp lobby, and this is not what they joined Amnesty for.

To explain:
The terms “sex work” and “sex worker” were coined and very successfully launched by the very organisations that seek to legalise all aspects of the sex industry, and mainly its enormous profits. The terms are sold off to us all as less stigmatizing and less insulting than “prostitution” and “prostitute”. What they do – and this is their intent – is to sanitize what the prostitution of women, of children, of people does to the prostituted. Our perception gets diverted from the ugly, physical and emotional realities of what being in prostitution means to an abstract idea of “work”, of prostitution as “work as any other”. The woman in prostitution is no longer recognized as a human being in an exploitative, violent and abusive situation that denies her fundamental rights. She becomes someone who just has “a bad day at work.” At the same time the term “sex worker” is deliberately blurred to include everybody in this industry, from the woman in prostitution to – what is now termed – “facilitators”, “receptionists”, “landlords”, “managers”, “body guards” and “drivers”. The correct word, in fact, is: pimp.

Making survivors of prostitution use these terms dreamed up for the marketing strategies of the pro-prostitution lobby is an attempt at silencing, at denying their right to define their own experiences in any meaningful way.

This is why survivors speak of themselves as “prostituted woman” or “woman in prostitution” when they inform others about what prostitution is.

These are very clear statements on this:

Prostitution is sexual abuse

Rachel Moran’s statement at a panel discussion in the Swedish Embassy in Brussels (excerpt)

“It is not sexwork”

“Your language is part of the problem”

both by Rebecca Mott

 

 

 

 

 

 

A PLEA FROM AN AUSTRALIAN INDIGENOUS WOMAN ON BEHALF OF ALL WOMEN

Dear Sisters, Survivors and Allies,

I am speaking as an exited prostituted woman and the grand-daughter of a Latje-Latje Indigenous woman in Australia. As many of you are aware Amnesty International have drafted a policy in favour  of  full  decriminalisation of prostitution. They are actively opposing the Nordic Model which protects the prostituted from prosecution and decreases demand in favour of a policy which has been informed by the sex trade and one notable pimp.

Indigenous women globally are among those most threatened by sexual violence.

AI’s policy on prostitution seeks to ensure that the buying and selling of (mostly) women be seen as inevitable and just any other job. ‘Sex Worker ‘unions claiming to be helping prostituted women are actively promoting AI’s policy ensuring they too profit from our enslavement.

Many of you have written/co-signed letters from survivor groups and written as individuals

These have been an invaluable resource.

At this time here in Australia, a small and dedicated team have taken on our local Amnesty International branches. We have had some success, with two AI branches endorsing the Nordic Model and one calling for a halt on the policy until survivor’s voices have been heard.

However, we are soon going to take this to a National AGM and ask that you lend your support.

The pro-prostitution lobby is fierce, well-funded and we need your help.

I want to deliver a letter signed by Indigenous women worldwide.

Prostitution is not inevitable. Women are not commodities.

I ask that add your name, whether survivor or ally, after mine to our letter written below.  This National AGM is taking place July 5-6 so we have very little time to collect signatures.

With sincere respect I ask that you support us in this significant time of change for women.

In solidarity and Sisterhood,

Simone Andrea (Watson) of Abolish Prostitution Now Amnesty Action

 

“To the International Secretariat of Amnesty International and Salil Shetty

We the undersigned demand recognition for the violation of human rights Amnesty International’s current draft Policy on Prostitution will endorse condone and promote if passed at the Australian National AGM.

As Indigenous survivors and allies of our Indigenous sisters worldwide we fully and without reservation  demand that AI acknowledge on our behalf

* That Prostitution is not inevitable – but the result of demand

*That prostitution IS violence against women

*That trafficking and prostitution are NOT two different industries but each feed the other

* That AI’s current draft policy focuses on “harm minimization” and profit for pimps rather than prevention of our abuse and this is NOT acceptable.

* That full decriminalisation and legalisation of prostitution increases trafficking and further violence against Indigenous women and children.

*That in passing this current draft policy Amnesty International will go down in history as one of the worst offenders in human rights history along with colonialists, slave owners and human rights criminals.

*That Amnesty International concedes and thereby endorses the Nordic Model as the best way forward to end ongoing human rights violations against women as a caste globally.

Indigenous women of Australia and globally reject AI’s policy in its current form and demand that our voices be heard.

Sincerely,

Simone Watson

Jimmy Carter in his interview with Robin Morgan: Leaders in the world don’t know, and don’t want to know, how bad the abuse of women and girls is …:

“It’s inconceivable to me that Amnesty International or any other organization that respects human rights would endorse slave masters who buy young girls and put them into involuntary servitude to be sex slaves,” says Carter. “And when they go and do this with brothel owners and pimps, then to me that violates the basic principles of human rights.”

Former President Jimmy Carter at Women’s Media Center on  April 30, 2014.

Jimmy Carter has volunteered to write a letter to Amnesty International strongly condemning a draft policy proposing the decriminalization of pimps and brothel keepers, after the document was brought to his attention during an exclusive interview with Robin Morgan, author, activist, and host of Women’s Media Center Live.

Abolish Prostitution Now thanks Jimmy Carter for his clear outspokenness in favor of the human rights of women and girls and everybody in prostitution or threatened by the system of prostitution. We admire and are deeply grateful to Robin Morgan for her work and for this interview. Robin Morgan’s comment at the end of the interview are a must to listen to. The issue is – harm – not ‘choice’.

Jimmy Carter has already denounced the full decriminalization of brothel-keeping and pimping, and endorsed the Nordic Model in his statement “How Canada Can Revise Its Prostitution Laws” from December 27, 2013.

As Carter says in the interview: “Because in the United States there are 50 girls who are arrested for every one brothel owner or pimp or male customer” – we need a model that will decriminalize these girls and women, and target the first in the line of abusers, the buyers.

 

If Amnesty International succeeds in its pimp- and pro-prostitution lobby-inspired stance of decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution, that will be almost the end of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as we know and understand it. They will not have brought it down alone, there have been other forces undermining the foundation of global human rights, but the impact of AI to decriminalize and remain the leading human rights NGO of the UN cannot be underestimated. The concept of Human Rights, and of Human Dignity as universal, inalienable and shared by all equally will be replaced by the idea of “dignity” being a marketable, individual stance that is at all times subject to market forces. Safeguarding human rights – and the rights of marginalized and disadvantaged groups like women and girls – will no longer happen from the standpoint of their inalienable rights, but merely from the point of view of improving their sales opportunities.

This is unacceptable. It means giving free reign to those in power, that is those with money. Just as decriminalizing all aspects of prostitution basically means giving free reign to pimps, traffickers, brothel owners and punters. The question will no longer be – how  can women and girls (and boys and men) be kept out of prostitution, which we know to be devastating – but: How can we devise ways to make prostitution sound good, and to let those in prostitution keep a fraction of the money that is being passed around among powerful men? This is not Human Rights.

 

Links to the statements and interview:

 

Robin Morgan’s great interview with Jimmy Carter, and comments: 

http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/c/0/a/c0a5e0d03c40442b/WMCLive_Episode81.mp3?c_id=7132085&expiration=1399094211&hwt=287d40168a8d8d779abe6f5d19eec58e

 

Press Release by the Women’s Media Center:

http://www.womensmediacenter.com/press/entry/exclusive-interview-with-president-carter-on-womens-media-center-live-with

 

Article in the Washington Examiner: Jimmy Carter slaps Amnesty International for backing ‘slave masters’ in sex trade:

http://washingtonexaminer.com/jimmy-carter-slaps-amnesty-international-for-backing-slave-masters-in-sex-trade/article/2547926

 

Statement by Jimmy Carter published on the Jimmy Carter Center’s website: 

https://www.cartercenter.org/news/editorials_speeches/jc-canadas-prostitution-laws.html

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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