Amnesty International Comes Out for Prostitutes’ Rights

Amnesty International, the most respected protector of human rights in the world, has (finally!) said that prostitution should be decriminalized worldwide, because the criminalization of prostitution is itself a violation of human rights.

The group published its Proposed Policy on Sex Work on its website. You can read the full proposal here.

Amnesty International was careful to specify that it was proposing the decriminalization of sex work that was both consensual and between adults. To quote from the proposal:

Amnesty International opposes the criminalisation or punishment of activities relating to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults. This policy is based on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference …

This policy does not change Amnesty International’s longstanding position that trafficking into forced prostitution should be criminalised as a matter of international law. Amnesty International considers children involved in commercial sex acts to be victims of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law. States must take all appropriate measures to prevent violence and exploitation of children …

The proposal goes on to explain that treating prostitution as a crime is responsible for much of the harassment (often at the hands of police) and violence that women (and men) who engage in sex work suffer. Amnesty International rejects the argument that by keeping prostitution a crime, women are being “protected.”

… the criminalisation of sex work is sometimes justified as a means of protecting sex workers themselves. One argument is that sex work, or prostitution, is inherently a form of violence against women that must be eradicated. The rationale for this argument is that those who claim to sell sex voluntarily are coerced to do so by circumstances or by structural disadvantages such as poverty or gender inequality. Consequently, the men and women who buy sex are seen as perpetrating abuse through maintaining unequal power-structures that keep sex workers disadvantaged, whether or not they are aware of it or believe themselves to be doing so.

But it is the criminalization of prostitution that leads to much of the violence against and exploitation of women.

Clients may threaten sex workers with criminal sanctions to control and exploit them …  Criminalisation leads to restrictions on travel, employment, and housing, increasing sex workers’ dependence on others …

Amnesty International also points out that it is not the only human rights organization recommending that prostitution be decriminalized.

The UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work is quoted:

States should move away from criminalising sex work or activities associated with it. Decriminalisation of sex work should include removing criminal penalties for purchase and sale of sex, management of sex workers and brothels, and other activities related to sex work.

The UN special rapporteur on the right to health, concluded in his 2010 report to the Human Rights Council, “The decriminalization or legalization of sex work with appropriate regulation forms a necessary part of a right-to-health approach to sex work …”

The World Health Organization also calls for all countries to “work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers …”

According to Amnesty International, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Human Rights Watch, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, the Open Society Foundations, and the South African Commission on Gender Equality have all called for the decriminalisation of sex work.

As Nevada is the only state in the U.S. where prostitution is legal, it would be nice to see this state take the lead and simply decriminalize prostitution. I realize this may put many of the state’s current brothels out of business. Who would drive to Pahrump if there were a legal red light district in Vegas? But it’s about time there was a red light district in Vegas, as exist in many European cities.

It will be a leap for women’s equality when sex work is decriminalized, as it is women who primarily suffer from our cruel and immoral laws, and women who are stigmatized as a blight on society, when they are performing a valuable social service.


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