On August 11, 2015, the Amnesty International’s International Council Meeting passed a resolution to a policy protecting the human rights of sex workers.
Sex worker action projects all over the world have been spotlighted over the last few years since Canada’s (seemingly) historic decriminalization of prostitution an adoption of the Nordic model back in 2014. Though that ruling has produced significant conflict, back and forth, and strife between legislation and activists, this historic resolution by Amnesty International could be the catalyst for serious change.
The policy, which was put into place mere days ago, offers protection to sew workers under the umbrella of human rights– a much-needed resolution, considering that sex workers still remain some of the most policed and marginalized groups in the world. This revolutionary policy will not only create what promises to be dramatic change, but will also allow Amnesty International to continue to do the important work for sex workers’ rights everywhere.
The resolution agreed upon supports full-spectrum decriminalization of sex work between of-age, consenting adults, the beginning of what many hope will be institutionalized support from state to state. It is a call to action for local and federal legislature to offer legal protection from violence, exploitation, abuse, discrimination, and trafficking.
From the mouth of the Secretary General of Amnesty International herself: “We recognize that this critical human rights issue is hugely complex and that is why we have addressed this issue from the perspective of international human rights standards. We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world,” said Salil Shetty.
This decision comes at the closing of a two year research and trial period, concluding that protecting workers from a human rights perspective would be the most effective way to prevent harm and discrimination across the board. This is monumental–many don’t realize the extent of violations sex workers are exposed to on the daily. The list includes, but is not limited to physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. They are also routinely denied social services and human rights such as housing, medical care, child custody, and access to resources necessary to survive.
These violations are particularly true for sex workers of color, those who are disabled, native, or transgender, who not only face the above abuse, but also the highest levels of police brutality within the sex worker community. Protection under human rights is especially important for these intersecting communities.
“This is a historic day for Amnesty International. It was not a decision that was reached easily or quickly and we thank all our members from around the world, as well as all the many groups we consulted, for their important contribution to this debate. They have helped us reach an important decision that will shape this area of our human rights work going forward,” said Salil Shetty.
This movement and resolution by Amnesty International is lauded and supported by action projects and activists all over the world, with many such as the Urban Justice Center Sex Worker Project writing public letters as a show of solidarity and support for the policy. The UJC Sex Worker Project is an organization that has not only provided vital services to the sex worker community (the same services often denied to them), but also has fought alongside organizations world-wide for human rights for the last 14 years.
Not only is this resolution an historic decision because of the coupling of sex work with human rights (and all of the benefits that will come from that), but it also comes at a time when sex workers are being publicly disparaged by (primarily white) feminist activists.
Feminists such as Meryl Streep, Gloria Steinam, and Lena Dunham have sided with abolitionists such as Ian Kitterman, the policy specialist for Demand Abolition, a group that equates paid sex with sex trafficking and supports an umbrella ban that would end both. Says Kitterman: “By calling for the decriminalization of all facets of commercial sex, including sex- buying, pimping, and brothel-owning, Amnesty is saying they value the rights of exploiters over the exploited. I fully agree with their belief that more must be done to protect those sold in the sex trade, but it’s equally critical to hold accountable sex buyers, pimps, and traffickers who perpetuate this predatory industry.” He added that many people in sex trade are not there by choice, but by manipulation, coercion or lack of options.
When it comes to feminists and public opposition to the sex industry, this country is no stranger. Remember how Gloria partnered with Linda Lovelace on a tirade against pornography in the 1970s? No? Read about it here, here, and here.
Not only have the above self-proclaimed feminist voices sided with abolitionist politics, but they also co-signed a recent letter written by former president Jimmy Carter to Amnesty International, urging them to reject the proposal on the same ground Ian Kitterman spoke about.
Since the resolution, articles, statements, and public support/damnation have flooded the journalistic community. One of the best sources for reading about what the resolution really means is the recent article by Hilary Hanson, at the World Post:
“The draft calls for countries not to criminally penalize any person — adult or minor — for selling his or her own sexual services. Additionally, countries should not criminally penalize those who purchase sexual services from adults. The draft specifically notes that a “child involved in a commercial sex act” should automatically be considered a victim of sexual exploitation and therefore not penalized.
The policy says that some “operational” aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping, should also be decriminalized. But it explicitly states that human trafficking and coercion should remain violations of criminal law.
It also specifies that governments have an “obligation” to offer support services to any person who wants to leave the sex industry.”
For the full scoop on the policy and its nitty-gritty details, check out The International Council’s Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect, and Fulfill the Human Rights of Sex Workers.