I support Amnesty International’s draft policy on sex work

Content warning: this post discusses whorephobia and violence against women.

If you’ve been following the news, you’ll know that a bunch of Hollywood celebrities who are not sex workers have recently started attacking human rights campaign group Amnesty International. You see, Amnesty have taken the very welcome step of considering sex workers human and prioritising their human rights by supporting decriminalisation of sex work.

In their draft policy, they say that the purpose of this is to “prevent and redress human rights violations against sex workers” as well as pointing out that policies involving criminalisation “make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations”. This succinctly sums up a position which current sex workers have been advocating for.

Despite wilful point-missing by those who wish to attack Amnesty for understanding that sex workers need to be protected from human rights violations, Amnesty are explicitly against trafficking, and make some fairly basic suggestions which are Too Hard for those who’d sooner throw vulnerable women into prison than make structural changes. From Amnesty’s list of underlying principles of their document:

5. Amnesty International’s longstanding position that trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation should be criminalised 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.
6. Evidence that some individuals who engage in sex work do so due to marginalisation and limited choices, and that therefore Amnesty International should urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social 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.
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.
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.

I am quoting this here, because Amnesty’s decriminalisation draft policy has been misrepresented repeatedly in the media.

I support decriminalisation because current sex workers say it would make their work safer, allowing them to self-organise in unions for labour rights, facilitating access to health and safety measures, and allowing involvement of the police in the unfortunate situations where they do face sexual or physical violence.

I have taken two actions to support Amnesty’s draft policy on decriminalisation on request of sex workers.

Firstly, I have signed this petition–this takes two minutes, and you don’t really have an excuse not to!

And secondly, I have sent the email below to Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty:

Subject: I support AI’s draft policy on sex work

Dear Mr Shetty,

I am writing to support Amnesty International’s Draft Policy on sex work. I myself have never worked as a sex worker, but like your organisation, I have taken the time to listen to current sex workers talking about what would make their work safer, and reached the conclusion that decriminalisation is the best route towards accepting their dignity and humanity, as well as increasing safety.

I am aware that your organisation has faced a lot of pressure from high-profile individuals who do not respect these principles, and I am writing to express my support for what you are doing. Struggles for human rights often meet with stubborn resistance with those who would rather things remained the same, with some groups pushed to the margins. I have long respected Amnesty’s stance of pushing against this resistance, and I hope that your organisation will stand firm in the face of this and continue to maintain your evidence-based and human rights-focused approach towards sex worker rights.

Many thanks for what you are doing.


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