Sex Work

Decriminalization Is the Only Feminist, Humane Response to Prostitution, Says Human-Rights Group Amnesty International

Group calls on governments worldwide to stop the criminalization of sex work



After nearly a year of contentious and high-profile debate from concerned parties, the worldwide human-rights organization Amnesty International has released its official policy paper on sex-worker rights, which calls for the global decriminalization of adult prostitution. The main focus of the document is identifying "the most prominent barriers to the realization of sex workers' human rights and underlin[ing] states' obligations to address them." Among these obligations: 

  • Repeal existing laws and refrain from introducing new laws that criminalize or penalize directly or in practice the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults for remuneration;
  • Refrain from the discriminatory enforcement against sex workers of other laws, such as those on vagrancy, loitering, and immigration requirements;
  • Ensure the meaningful participation of sex workers in the development of law and policies that directly affect their lives and safety; 
  • Refocus laws away from catch-all offences that criminalize most or all aspects of sex work and towards laws and policies that protect sex workers' health and safety and that oppose all acts of exploitation and trafficking in commercial sex (including of children); 
  • Ensure that there are effective frameworks and services that allow people to leave sex work if and when they choose; and 
  • Ensure that sex workers have equal access to justice, health care and other public services, and to equal protection under the law.

Read the whole policy paper here. It was "developed in recognition of the high rates of human rights abuses experienced globally by individuals who engage in sex work; a term that Amnesty International uses only in regard to consensual exchanges between adults," states Amnesty at its start. And consent is emphasized throughout the document, with Amnesty pointing out that understandings of consent in the context of sex work must prioritize "the views, perspectives and experiences of individuals selling sex." While that might not sound terribly radical, people engaged in prostitution have long been stereotyped by police, government agents, and clients as either "always consent[ing] to sex (because they may engage in sex frequently for their work) or, conversely, that sex workers can never consent to sex (because no one could rationally consent to selling sex)." 

Amnesty concludes that laws criminalizing commercial sex between consenting adults have "a foreseeably negative impact on a range of human rights," including "the rights to life, liberty, autonomy and security of person; the right to equality and non-discrimination; the right to be free from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to privacy… [and] the right to freedom of opinion and expression." Furthermore, criminalization "creates an environment where law enforcement officers and other officials can perpetrate violence, harassment and extortion against sex workers with impunity." And because sex workers fear violence and arrest by police, they are leery of reporting crimes against themselves or others in their community, offering "impunity to perpetrators of violence and abuse." 

The response in media and among activists has been predictably mixed (and heated). 

The group formerly known as Morality in Media put out a press release accusing Amnesty of "defending pimps and sex traffickers," despite Amnesty's strong condemnation of any forms of sex work that involve violence or non-consent. Socialist feminist Laurie Penny called Amnesty's decision "great news," but also complained that instead of focusing on sex work as a specific entity, we should be focusing on "the abolition of work in general." Professor Allison Bass, author of the 2015 book Getting Screwed: Sex Workers and the Law, wrote at the Huffington Post that "my hat's off to Amnesty for having the guts to stand up and shout the truth. I hope that some day the state and federal governments in this country will listen." As for the word on Twitter… 

In addition to the policy reccomendation, Amnesty International released four location-specific sex work reports on Wednesday: 

The Norway report has been getting the most attention, due the fact that Norway's model of punishing prostitution clients more harshly than those selling sex (also known as the Swedish model) has become popular far outside Scandinavia. Canada adopted a similar model in 2014, and perversions of the model have made their way to various parts of the U.S. as well. 

"The legal model adopted by the Norwegian government is promoted as one that encourages protection of people who sell sex, shields them from criminalization and instead shifts the criminal burden of blame to buyers of sex," states the Amnesty report on Norway. But this isn't how things work in practice found researchers after interviewing an array of Norwegian sex workers, lawyers, government officials, and social -ervices workers. In fact, human rights abuses against people who sell sex in Norway "are compounded by and, in some cases, directly caused by the legal framework" there. 

"The claims that individual sex workers are not criminalized or penalized under the 'Nordic Model,'" are simply untrue, according to the organization's research. "Oslo police have over the last decade adopted a 'preventative policing' approach to sex work which involves the enforcement of lower level offences as 'stress methods' to disrupt, destabilize and increase the pressure on those operating in the sex sector. One academic researcher describes how police sources 'in Oslo often use terms like they are going to 'crush' or 'choke' the [prostitution] market, and unsettle, pressure and stress the people in the market'. Amnesty International has also found that many sex workers remain subject to a high level of surveillance by police," in part so police can identify sex buyers in order to fine them.

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  1. Has anyone posted the HuffPo Tweet fiasco? Cause that shit is hilarious!

    I know that the IPA Newsletter (where i saw it) is IFH’s beat but I haven’t seen her in a while. Perhaps the drop bears got her.

    Feminists in their true colors…the responses are priceless.

      1. Hmm. A most diverse group of people.

        1. Mo’ crackers than Nabisco!

  2. There are certain posters here who trash ENB. I will never do that (fully) because at the very least she is fully libertarian on this issue and it’s a pretty important one on both practical grounds as well as principle. It ties back to the most fundamental of rights – self-ownership.

    A lot of people aren’t fully libertarian, but they have certain issues that can be emphasized to show them the inanity of faith in government. That may be the missing link between Michael Hihn’s Nolan chart libertarians and actual libertarians.

    1. at the very least she is fully libertarian on this issue

      Agreed, ENB is solid on this one issue. Now let’s all give her hell for the ones where she isn’t.

    2. I will never do that (fully) because at the very least she is fully libertarian on this issue

      More importantly she covers the subject very well, which more important than acing a libertarian purity test.

  3. Notice how the malfeasance of the police forms one of the main arguments in the push to remove sex workers from their purview.

  4. Selling is legal; fucking is legal; why isn’t selling fucking legal?

      1. Don’t make me stop this car and turn around and smack you!

    1. Selling & fucking are each only somewhat tolerated. Combined, the objections are too great.

  5. Diana f/k/a ?@desifoxx

    .@amnesty You’re a fake agency run by #pimps who want to legalize #pimps right to sell our children as sex slaves & men’s right to buy them!

    This moron is a huge part of the problem. Her twitter bio: Mom/Blogger/Activist – Porn Valley Sells You Fantasies. At Porn In The Valley Learn the Realities of Porn for FREE because what Happens in Porn Affects us ALL!

    I went to that website. Summary: porn is evil.

    1. My penis doesn’t think it’s evil.

      1. Take it up with Diana, porn-loving monster.

        1. I bet she is a dirty girl behind closed doors.

          1. A crucifix, or two, has definitely been inside of her.

  6. So prostitution should be legal for the providers…congrats.
    Unfortunately, your customers will be fined heavily and harassed….even arrested and shamed.

    So good luck on your business.

    1. Amnesty International:

      Repeal existing laws and refrain from introducing new laws that criminalize or penalize directly or in practice the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults for remuneration

      1. Thanks. You saved me the effort of posting that.

      2. Don’t go crazy!

        Repeal existing laws and refrain from introducing new laws that criminalize or penalize directly or in practice the consensual exchange of sexual services between adults for remuneration

        1. Repeal existing laws and refrain from introducing new laws that criminalize or penalize directly or in practice the consensual exchange of sexual goods and services between adults for remuneration

  7. You know, I see this expression “decriminalization” used in reference to various vice type “crimes” and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. What does it mean exactly? Things are either against the law or they are not. Are these things to be made “infractions” like traffic tickets or what? In other words, the state still get to torment you for your personal life choices, just not to the degree they could previously?

    1. I was thinking the same. Massachusetts decriminalized marijuana yet if you are caught with more than an ounce, it is a misdemeanor that can carry 6 months in jail and/or a fine of $500.

  8. “Decriminalization Is the Only Feminist, Humane Response to Prostitution, Says Human-Rights Group Amnesty International”

    A feminist *and* humane policy? Does such a thing even exist?

    1. feminist:female::Islamist:Islamic

  9. I disagree with the topic of decriminalizing. However I thank the author for pointing out that two organizations, Amnesty and NWSA, both hold the same acceptance of it. This is because I was about to apply to work with Amnesty and be a dues paying member of NWSA. Which I won’t do now. I also would like the add the Department of Justice and FBI are still issuing stings on Commerical Sex Act crimes throughout the year of 2016. In which a bust in Tennessee recently indicted more the five dozen persons including 2 pastors.
    I think person with a criminal conviction involving Commericalized Sex, like Pimps- Prostitutes- Sexual Exploitation- And Purchasing a Prostitute should be treated like the same issue as a Rapist or Child Molestor. It should be a topic of Probate Law like it is in some Asain countries, where former Sex Workers are required to make manufactured goods that help the non-profit organization rescue other victims. Women who are convicted of such a crime need more than jail cell to re-enter society. They should be put into work camp where they live in tents and repay society for the criminal damage they have engaged in. One part of the problem of solving the criminal matter is dealing with men who are in governmental roles where they themselves have been a Jhon or Purchased Commerical Sex from a Prostitute..

    1. I think trolls and randos who cannot grasp proper nouns and the use of capitals ought to be barred from written communication for life. Certainly anywhere I have to read it.

      Want in one hand and piss in the other, and see which fills fastest.

  10. What do anti-prostitution activists & reformers propose as substitutes for prostitution for people who desire sexual services? Do any of them favor anything like a Sex Corps of volunteers? Or a push for more singles clubs?

    1. Or more sex therapy? Or a research program for a drug or device substitute?

  11. On the same topic, see this recent TED talk which explains how most policies hurt sex workers, whereas decriminalization actually helps:…..eally_want

  12. Prostitution, recreational drug use and alcohol prohibition are all riding in the same morality boat. Criminalization only exacerbates the societal fallout. The US in particular continues to refuse to acknowledge everything painfully learned historically from alcohol Prohibition, and the longest ongoing war — the drug war.

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