On 7 July 2015, Amnesty International released their 32nd International Council Meeting Circular No.18, ORG 50/1940/2015.
In short, it was Amnesty International saying “hey, we’d like to change our views on sex work because we have been doing it all wrong so far.” Low and behold, every anti-sex work advocate, religious group, miniscule one-sided human rights organisation and a few “well known celebrities” have been up in arms about the fact that their once sacred Amnesty International had gone to the “dark side”. An organisation which had previously denounced sex work as abhorrent activity that needed to be criminalised was now saying that to attain the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, sex work needs to be fully decriminalised.
Summary of Amnesty’s New Requests
1. Amnesty is saying that to start with, states need to not only review and repeal laws that make those who sell sex vulnerable to human rights violations, but also to refrain from enacting such laws (*cough* the Nordic Model).
2. Amnesty needs to adopt a “harm reduction policy”.
3. They are happy for laws to be enacted to ensure international human rights laws are dealt with but they need to be proportionate to the legitimate aim they are trying to achieve, and they must NOT be discriminatory.
4. They want gender equality and non discrimination.
5. They still maintain that human trafficking should always be criminalised and that states should take all steps to ensure that sexual exploitation and abuse of children should be prevented.
6. They want states to take all appropriate steps to “realise the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will”, and those who want to leave sex work should do it by choice.
7. They state that discriminatory practices by governments often lead people into sex work and they ask for this to be stopped.
How Amnesty Came To This View
Amnesty International did not one day wake up and decide that they would treat sex workers with the full rights and dignity that they deserve. Amnesty International, two years ago, embarked on full consultation with as many parties who had an interest in matter, ranging from sex workers themselves, academics in the human rights and health fields, law enforcement, government agencies and religious organisations. They observed four sex industries around the world, including Norway and China. The likes of the big human rights conglomerates such as the Human Rights Council, UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime, and UNAIDS all accepted that Amnesty needed to change its policy on sex work (surely when the United Nation jumps on your side in terms of human rights, you’re on the right track).
Two years later, they have produced the Draft Paper to be presented to Amnesty International at its International Council meeting in Dublin, Ireland from 7 August – 11 August 2015.
Cue international meltdown.
What Is All The Fuss About?
It is hard to imagine that one of the world’s leading human rights organisations would come under fire for, you know, wanting human rights. However, when it comes to the oldest and dirtiest profession in the world, the issues are not always so clear cut. The Amnesty document was leaked before its release on the 7th July 2015, as if it was some secret CIA document that would expose the underbelly of a wayward organisation under pressure from the pimp lobby. The detractors didn’t like what was written so it spread far and wide, up into the lofty hills that is called Hollywood. Suddenly we had the likes of Lena Durham, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway and Meryl Streep (who had till then been Amnesty International Angels) creating petitions for the world to sign, claiming that “prostitution” is a harmful practice steeped in gender and economic equalities that “leaves a devastating impact on those sold and exploited in the sex trade.”
The argument for and against decriminalisation is complex and cannot be explained in one blog post alone. However, it is clear (in my view) that the people who are up in arms about Amnesty International’s Draft Policy haven’t really grasped all of the concepts about the issue.
The thing is, Amnesty International wants full decriminalisation. Not half-decriminalisation. Full decriminalisation. The idea of full decriminalisation smacks right in the face of the growing trend that is the Nordic Model (which criminalises the purchase of sex) and therefore has made many people around the world feel as though Amnesty International has betrayed them. People erroneously claim that the Nordic Model is a form of decriminalisation, however it needs to be understood that the REAL decriminalisation that Amnesty International is suggesting is not only releasing sex workers from criminal obligations, but also releases the purchasers of sex, clients, and brothel owners of criminal sanctions also. Furthermore, it is being alleged that Amnesty International is calling for decriminalisation of human trafficking and child exploitation. Its as though Amnesty International is siding with the devil.
The Truth About Decriminalisation
The proponents of “full criminalisation” (ie. everyone is a criminal, sex worker and purchaser) and the proponents of half-sorta-kinda-decriminalisation (ie. the Nordic Model) are all blind sided by the idea that by legislating something in the sex industry, it will produce the immediate result of complete cessation of industry. This is so very far from the truth. Full criminalisation and the Nordic model place sex workers at greater harm by creating a blacker market which is formed to evade law enforcement. It prevents sex workers from accessing the social services that are needed to create a safe and healthy environment to do their job. As such, the industry becomes larger and more dangerous for all parties involved. What some parts of society cannot grasp is the idea that sex work will always happen, whether legal or not. Sex work is work. However, for as long as sex workers are treated as social pariahs by the justice system, they will not be able to obtain the human rights necessary to live as sex workers, or go and make the choice to move out of sex work into a more “socially desirable” occupation. Amnesty International recognise this and believe that the world should adopt decriminalisation and focus on harm reduction, access to services, and decreased social stigma – thus reducing the violence that can occur in the industry.
Furthermore, the idea is that the sex industry would (if decriminalisation was to be successfully attained) have to police itself. God forbid, we cannot have that. The world does not want this because we have been told for so long that people involved in the sex industry are inherently bad and incapable of managing themselves. Bad people cannot do good things, apparently. While our financial systems love the idea of decreased regulation, the idea that sex workers have the same kind of system scares society. It seems that when it comes to issues of moral behaviour, good governance is impossible.
Marginalised members of society, it appears, are incapable of deciding what is good for them. But hey, Hollywood celebrities on the other hand apparently do.
What Is the Impact on Australia?
If you have been following my blogs, where I have attempted to explain our myriad of sex work laws, you will find that we have quite a complex system of legislation and regulation that impacts various States and Territories with respect to different things relating to the industry.
The immediate impact, if Amnesty International is successful in lobbying for a change in policy, will be significant to those currently in South Australia who are furiously demanding that South Australia move away from their criminalised regime. This Amnesty International Policy change will provide a significant boost to those who are getting prepared to go into South Australian Parliament to argue the Decriminalisation Bill which has been submitted to Parliament.
Secondary to this, the Amnesty International proposal will assist those who are arguing for states such as Victoria and Queensland to move away from their haphazard sex work regulation which is complicating the sex work industry. The Amnesty International proposal will assist in arguing that these governments need to get rid of their rigid and unrealistic industry requirements which are in no way benefiting the sex worker in his/her pursuit for human rights and freedom from discrimination.
No doubt, the sex industry in all parts of the world will be looking closely at Amnesty International at the end of the week to see whether common sense will prevail in this instance.
I will be following the Amnesty International meeting on my twitter – @KateOnTheGo