Statement to Amnesty International by prostitution survivors and those who have been harmed in the sex trade

This is a statement and response developed for the attention of Amnesty International leadership and grass roots membership by prostitution survivors and people who are or have been harmed in the sex trade. Although we have all experienced harm in the sex trade, we also have extensive knowledge from all perspectives, having researched thoroughly the impacts of different legal systems around the world from an objective point of view. Some of us are active Amnesty International members and are concerned about the organisations capacity to further inflict human rights violations and expand harm to women and girls - 90 percent of prostituted people are women/girls and over 99 percent of buyers are men, so this is a women’s rights issue (Sullivan 2007).

The resolution, if passed, will give power to the international board to develop a policy for full decriminalisation, including of sex trade buyers and/or pimps. We are deeply concerned that the organisation is going to pass something that will have serious consequences of influencing countries and states around the world to adopt legal frameworks that will lead to expanding the size and impact of the sex trade and therefore expanding the harm caused to 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 and power relations with women.

In Amnesty’s paper accompanying the proposed resolution, Amnesty provides an example of a woman in PNG who wanted to report a man who had paid her for sex (a john) for being abusive. She was unable to report him because of police brutality. In a system where the john is decriminalised, it would be impossible to even have a starting point which makes it easy for a woman to report johns, because the woman has to prove that the john has committed a crime under the criminal code. The Nordic model would enable a woman in this situation to prosecute a john without that burden. We agree that police often abuse people in the sex trade, but that is an issue with the police in general, they have power that they abuse against vulnerable women. Police have been known to also abuse women when attending to domestic violence reports, however that doesn’t mean we decriminalise the abuser.

The survivor movement does 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. 67 percent of women who have been prostituted develop PTSD (Farley, 2004). Without buyers, this harm would not exist and neither would sex trade offenses such as trafficking. Although the policy principles say they are against trafficking, Amnesty should be aware that trafficking is increased in a legalised system (Sullivan, 2007).

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 policy is developed on a set of human rights principles that does not enable the decriminalisation of buyers and pimps. We would also 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.

We believe strongly that if Amnesty is to remain a grass roots inclusive and democratic organisation, that no policy on the decriminalisation of pimps and buyers should be developed and clearly based on Amnesty's own statistics from sections, the movement is deeply divided and has no consensus on a decriminalisation model, other than a consensus to decriminalise those in prostitution. This policy is therefore not being developed in the interests of democracy in the movement and it is disappointing that members funds to Amnesty are being used by some leaders who want to inflict human rights violations of people harmed in the sex trade.

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 that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work, taking into account:

1.The starting point of preventing and redressing human rights violations against sex workers, and in particular the need for states to not only review and appeal laws that make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations, but also refrain from enacting such laws.

Response: The best human rights approach is to ensure the decriminalisation of women who are prostituted/selling sex, whilst at the same time ensuring that these women are able to report johns for prostituting us. It is a human rights violation to decriminalise johns and to consequentially remove rights to have them more easily criminalised for the harm that they cause so many women through the act of prostituting.

2. The harm reduction principle.

Response: Many harm reduction principles are based on old school thinking that harm and oppression is inevitable and can be made ‘nicer’. For example, 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 elimination of harm, by raising the consciousness of men around the risks of harm each time a man pays for sex. Harm reduction often takes a pessimistic view that harm in the sex trade, for example, is inevitable but as human rights advocates, we need to be working with an ultimate goal of ending harm.

3. 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.

Response: 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.

4. The Principle of Gender Equality and Non Discrimination

Response: Decriminalising johns and pimps leads to further inequality for women and increases that chances of women being in the sex trade and therefore her risk of PTSD, which is a potentially life long debilitating condition.

5. Amnesty International’s longstanding position that trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be criminalized as a matter of international law and further 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.

Response: 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. In addition, 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.

6. The growing evidence that some 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.

Response: 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.

7. 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.

Response: 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 and the consequential harms, including trafficking and causing PTSD.

8. States have a duty to ensure that sex workers from groups at risk of discrimination and marginalisation enjoy full and equal protection under relevant international instruments, including for example, those pertaining to the rights of Indigenous peoples and ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.

Response: Indigenous women, including survivors who are members of AI, have been very vocal against the adoption of Amnesty adopting a policy to decriminalise buyers and pimps.

9. 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.

Response: There is significant research on the sex trade, Amnesty's being just one example. We do not believe that there is sufficient time prior to August’s meeting for the Amnesty community to have time to scrutinise the research methodology, who the research was conducted by and their impartiality and to compare it with other research. Therefore, we recommend that delegations vote against this policy. 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.

What Now?

Please get in touch with us to find out more and to speak to survivors and activists who oppose this, including from the Indigenous community.

There will be actions organised to highlight the reasons why the Amnesty people who are trying to push this through are creating more harm for the most vulnerable people in the sex trade.

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 August’s meeting and any Amnesty members, media or concerned members of the public to get in touch with us.

Our contact email is: [email protected]

See also:

What we know about men who buy sex

Amnesty branches vote down sex industry pro-prostitution agenda

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