Amnesty International can’t make laws, but they are a powerful voice in influencing governments around the world. Thus, its recent policy endorsing the decriminalization of the sex trade is cause for great concern.
At its decision-making forum in Dublin, the human rights watchdog approved the resolution to recommend "full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work." It argues its research suggests decriminalization is the best way to defend sex workers' human rights.
"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," said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. "We also consulted with our global movement to take on board different views from around the world."
On a Q&A page, the group defended their position and said the new policy does not mean Amnesty International supports sex work. “We do not believe that anyone should enter sex work against their will and should never be forced or coerced into being a sex worker,” it reads. “There is evidence that sex workers often engage in sex work as their only means of survival and because they have no other choice. This only perpetuates the marginalization of sex workers and this is why we want to ensure we have a policy in place that advocates for their human rights.”
But the decision raised eyebrows among many women’s rights group, such as the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, who believe that while women who are prostituted shouldn’t be criminalized, a full decriminalization would mean pimps essentially become ‘businesspeople’ and thus continue their practice with impunity.
"It really is a slap in the face to survivors and to women's rights groups around the world," Taina Bien-Aime, the executive director of the coalition, told AP.
“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,” said Ian Kitterman, policy specialist for Demand Abolition, a group that aims to abolish sex trafficking by ending the demand for paid sex, in a statement. “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.”
Survivors who’ve voiced their opinions, like Fiona Broadfoot, who was tricked into sex work when she was 15, are equally unhappy with the new policy.
“The vast majority of women working in this industry are abused on a massive scale,” she said during a press conference last week organized by Space International. “We need a law against buying sex, so men are made responsible for their own sexual deviancy, not legitimizing it, which is killing women.”
Only a very small minority of women view this work as “a job like any other,” she added.