We, the members of SPACE International, object in the strongest possible terms to the position of Amnesty International (AI) on the issue of prostitution. Their recently released policy document*, which contends that the exploitation of prostitution is a matter of autonomy and choice, is deserving of nothing less than our public condemnation as a betrayal of women’s rights. Further, it is a policy position that can only be taken if one is willing to ignore the realities of how women and girls end up in prostitution in the first place. Prostitution is a trade that thrives on the distinct lack of autonomy and choice and for Amnesty International to refer to it as ‘freely chosen gainful work’ is to explicitly ignore that nothing about commercial sexual exploitation is freely chosen.
We object in every way to the message and tone of this document, beginning with its title which, by framing prostitution as ‘Sex Work’, obscures the very nature of prostitution itself. Prostitution is abusive and exploitative sexual violence against humans, most often women and girls, carried out by other humans, usually grown men, who are in positions of relative social, racial and financial privilege to the human beings whom they buy for sexual use and abuse.
For arguments sake, a small minority of the worlds prostituted population might be said to be choosing it; however the vast majority of those in prostitution are there as a function of lack of choice. Public policy is made to respond to what is happening to the vast majority, not a minute minority. Everywhere on earth those who endure prostitution are found, in staggering numbers, to be the economically disenfranchised, the educationally disadvantaged, the emotionally vulnerable, the sexually abused, the racially marginalised and the socially dispossessed. In the face of this globally recognised fact, Amnesty International has clearly taken a position that contradicts their own mission as a charity concerned with human rights.
AI’s position directly contravenes long established human rights conventions. It is at odds with several key UN instruments including the 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Prostitution of Others, which holds that prostitution is ‘incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human being’. The 1979 Convention on the Elimination of Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Article 6 articulates a similar position. The 2000 UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons similarly views prostitution as trafficking when it occurs under certain circumstances. This Protocol also discourages the demand for commercial sexual exploitation.
AI’s position supporting ‘the world’s oldest oppression’ ¹ places the long-standing human rights organization in alignment with some of the most brutal and violent forces known, organised criminal networks that carry out the hugely profitable business of selling human beings for sex, rather than with their victims, whose human rights are being ignored and denied. AI’s position in fact not only condones but compounds the injustice of prostitution by championing punters ‘right to buy sex’ in this bizarre and inverted document. We would advise the membership of Amnesty International to take a hard look at the pro-prostitution stance currently besmirching the reputation of Amnesty International and all those associated with it.
* ‘Decriminalisation of Sex Work: Policy Background Document’
¹ Norma Ramos, Addressing Domestic Human Trafficking, 6 U. St. Thomas 2008