Amnesty International’s recently released Draft Policy on Sex Work, to be considered at the organisation’s 32nd International Council Meeting (ICM) in Dublin on 7-11 August this year, is a ‘human rights travesty’, said NorMAC director Simone Watson.
‘The language of the draft document is all style and no substance’, said Ms Watson.
The policy document acknowledges that ‘systemic factors and personal circumstances related to poverty, discrimination and gender inequality can have a bearing on some individuals’ decisions to do sex work’, but insists that ‘sex workers’ have ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ when entering ‘sex work’.
‘Apart from the fact that most, not ‘some’ people (mostly women) enter prostitution because they have no other option, Amnesty’s glib recognition of their ‘agency’ is patronising in the extreme’, said Ms Watson.
‘They’re saying to the thousands of women forced into prostitution by these circumstances that even though they are poor, and suffering discrimination, at least they have agency’.
‘Shouldn’t Amnesty be focusing more on ensuring women have a real choice – that they have real agency – by addressing the underlying poverty, discrimination and lack of education that lead women into prostitution?’.
The draft policy also fails to canvass alternative legislative options for ‘sex work’, particularly the Nordic Model – a model that decriminalises ‘sex workers’ but criminalises those that purchase, or procure the purchase of sexual services – the johns, pimps and brothel owners.
‘This model is obliquely referred to in the draft policy document as “overbroad criminalisation of the operational aspects of sex work”, and “indirect criminalisation” of ‘sex workers’. Laws that criminalise the buying of sex are dismissed as compromising the safety of ‘sex workers’, without any evidence or proper analysis’, said Ms Watson.
‘The entire document lacks academic rigour’, she said.
Amnesty’s supposed research into prostitution in four disparate jurisdictions appears to consist of nothing more than anecdotal evidence, with only 80 or so prostitutes interviewed in total.
‘That’s hardly a representative sample’, said Ms Watson. ‘And were any survivors of prostitution interviewed?’.
NorMAC also notes the document’s mention of the ‘impunity’ offered to perpetrators of assaults against ‘sex workers’ by legislative regimes that criminalise some or all aspects of ‘sex work’, including Nordic model laws.
‘Despite this apparent concern about perpetrators of such assaults being unpunished, the draft policy completely fails to consider any legislative measures that would work to make such offenders (mostly men) routinely accountable’, said Ms Watson.
‘The draft policy also perpetuates several other simplistic notions about prostitution – for example, that consensual ‘sex work’ can be readily distinguished from ‘sex work’ undertaken by trafficked ‘sex workers’, with the latter being something that must definitely be criminalised. And that exploiting a child in prostitution must also be a criminal offence.
Amnesty considers a ‘child’ to be a person under 18, but the policy fails to address a very obvious question – how can a person in prostitution change from someone who must be protected from exploitation to the fullest extent of the law, to someone who has total autonomy to engage in such work simply by the passing of one day?’.
The Draft Policy on Sex Work is nothing more than a series of ‘motherhood’ statements about the human rights of ‘sex workers’, and how the world’s sovereign states should work towards promoting those rights by affording ‘sex workers’ the same workplace rights and remedies as any other worker.
But nothing in the policy truly addresses the reality of prostitution – it naively assumes that decriminalisation of ‘sex work’ will succeed in reducing the many harms of prostitution, including the violence and degradation suffered by prostitutes on a daily basis worldwide, and that ‘sex work’ will henceforth be entirely legitimate. And it makes these assumptions contrary to available evidence in jurisdictions adopting the decriminalised model.
We can only hope the 450 Amnesty delegates attending the ICM next month will call for better evidence and a broader consideration of alternatives before voting on this policy.
‘With its abject failure to address the demand side of the ‘sex work’ contract, one wonders just exactly who will benefit from this policy’, said Ms Watson.
‘And who is driving this push to promote prostitution as a job just like any other, given that around 60 per cent of Amnesty International sections did not submit a response to the original draft decriminalisation policy position on ‘sex work’?’.
‘Does the broader membership support this policy?’.
‘We need to ask why the International Board of Amnesty is continuing to aggressively pursue the adoption of a pro-sex work policy position’.