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.
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