Should Sex Work Be Decriminalized?

by Dawn Day

Human rights organizations are up in arms over Amnesty International’s decision to create a policy that supports the decriminalization of sex workers on a global scale. The #NoAmnestyForPimps campaign launched at the beginning of this month in an effort to combat the Amnesty International’s decision – 

Wait, so what’s the deal here?

On Aug. 11, Amnesty passed the decision to support the human rights of sex workers at its International Council Meeting, where delegates from around the world meet to decide on policy. In case you didn’t know, Amnesty International is a global organization that advocates for justice through campaigns ranging from torture to gun control to sexual and reproductive rights. The policy they are planning to adopt will “decriminalize all aspects of consensual sex work,” according to Amnesty’s website.

Why did they do this?

The goal of the policy is to protect consensual sex workers from things like harassment, sex trafficking, violence and arrest. Amnesty International also reported that the conclusion to adapt a policy protecting sex workers came only after extended research and consultations with groups including survivors of prostitution, sex worker groups and anti-trafficking agencies. Catherine Murphy, policy adviser at Amnesty International, wrote a column on Aug. 14 to combat the direct backlash that came with the announcement of the decision.

“To be clear, our policy is not about protecting ‘pimps.’ Amnesty International firmly believes that those who exploit or abuse sex workers must be criminalized. But the reality is laws, which criminalize ‘brothel-keeping’ and ‘promotion’ often lead to sex workers being arrested and prosecuted themselves,” she wrote.

Who is opposing this decision?

Some human trafficking survivors oppose the decision, including Rachel Moran, who spoke to The Guardian the day the decision was announced and called it “An insult from the most publicly recognized human rights body in the world, who are saying everything that happened to me was completely normal, above board and ought to be legal.” But more than that, National Center on Sexual Exploitation has launched a campaign entitled #NoAmnestyForPimps, which criticizes Amnesty’s sex worker policy decision, claiming that it is a “gift to pimps and sex buyers,” and regulates sexual exploitation as a job rather than as abuse. In a press conference the National Center for Sexual Exploitation’s Vice President of Education and Outreach Lisa Thompson said, “It really doesn’t matter what the context, you’re going to have sexual violence and exploitation occurring with prostitution.” Throughout the press conference, emphasis is placed on the alleged secrecy on Amnesty International’s part about the research they obtained and when the next vote will take place.


Another organization, Coalition Against Trafficking In Women, wrote an open letter with more than 25 pages of signatures to Amnesty International’s Board of Directors, arguing that the proposed policy will take a turn for the worst and decriminalize not just sex workers, but the entire sex trafficking industry.

What does Amnesty International have to say about this response?

Responding to the outpour of articles and calls to halt their decision, Amnesty International released a video featuring the voice of Gauri van Gulik, deputy Europe director for the organization. “We were quite surprised by this letter. On the one hand it really mischaracterizes the policy that we are looking at. We are focused on how can we keep sex workers safe, how can we empower them to have access to their rights, how can we make sure they have access to healthcare,” she said.


What happens next?

The protesters keep protesting and await Amnesty International’s vote to adapt the policy. On Oct. 23, organizations launched the Global Day of Action to oppose the sex worker policy of the world’s leading human rights organization. Protests have sparked up globally, and petitions are floating around the Internet. This is an extremely interesting dialogue, with seemingly good intentions on both sides, but the next question is:

What do you think is just for progressing international safety and welfare? To advocate for the human rights of sex workers, or to fight for #NoAmnestyForPimps? We want to hear what you think.

Photos via Amnesty International, Coalition Against Trafficking In Women and Twitter/@wendyjoyfrancis.

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