Amnesty’s Call to Decriminalize Prostitution Means More Slaves

And in the long-term, maybe more prisoners as well.

By Jakob Schneider Published on January 8, 2016

Amnesty International’s delegates recently passed a resolution calling for full decriminalization of prostitution, a resolution now under review by Amnesty’s board. Now the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) is running a campaign against the move. “Decriminalization of prostitution is one of the world’s most disastrous approaches to the sex trade,” the NCOSE argues, “because: 1) it is a gift to pimps and sex buyers allowing them to carry out their activities as mere ‘sex business operators’ and ‘customers,’ and 2) it normalizes sexual violence and exploitation as a ‘job.’

The NCOSE goes on to insist that if passed, Amnesty’s support for decriminalizing prostitution “will undermine the human rights of persons in the sex trade (the majority of whom are females), and give impunity to perpetrators of sexploitation.”

In late October, the NCOSE held a protest (one of many in more than 45 countries) in front of the Washington, DC Amnesty International (AI) Offices. A letter containing 400 signatures, including those of many celebrities and high-profile organizations spanning the political spectrum, was sent to Amnesty in public opposition to the proposed resolution.

Boasting a $32 million 2014 budget, Amnesty International is a powerful organization. Only powerful, bipartisan resistance of the kind the NCOSE is seeking to generate with its letter will prevent Amnesty’s plan from going forward.

AI’s policy on the decriminalization of prostitution will not help reduce sexual exploitation worldwide but rather will increase it. Sweden, Iceland and Norway criminalize pimps and sex buyers, which has successfully decreased sexual exploitation. On the other hand, Germany in 2002 legalized the sex industry, leading to its exponential growth. More specifically, this move has made Germany a center for human trafficking, as underscored in this article by German news source Der Spiegel.

In Holland, the situation is equally bad. “Almost five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, we have to acknowledge that the aims of the law have not been reached,”Amsterdam’s former Mayor Job Cohen said.  “Lately, we’ve received more and more signals that abuse still continues; the police admit we are in the midst of modern slavery.”

Decriminalization of prostitution seeks to normalize this as a safe job, but the NCOSE has compiled research that shows how violently women are treated within the sex industry, even when the final destination is a city or country where prostitution is legal. St. James Infirmary published an Occupational Health and Safety Manual for people who are engaged in prostitution. On page 90 the manual advises, “Don’t let him get between you and the exit.” Such is not a common workplace warning.

Additionally, sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) are extremely common in the sex industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having numerous sexual partners naturally puts you into a high risk category. It is common for those in the sex industry not to use condoms, which also increases the chance of contracting an STD. Instances of drug use and abuse are also widespread within prostitution compounding the risk. In many cases the prostitutes are pressured or even coerced to take illegal drugs, the better to control them.

The argument is often made that women choose prostitution as a career. The claim is partly true. Some prostitutes have freely chosen the career. But in Not for Sale: Feminists Resisting Prostitution and Pornography, author Rebecca Whisnant notes, “That something is chosen or consensual is perfectly consistent with its being seriously oppressive, abusive, and harmful — to oneself and/or to a broader group of which one is a member (e.g. women).”

But there is a more basic danger and an even clearer cut injustice. An enormous number of prostitutes were coerced into the role. Human trafficking fuels the sex industry, and vice versa. Those seeking to legalize one half of this sinister cycle cannot hope to somehow stem the flow of the other half. Encourage prostitution and you encourage the sex-slave trade. Indeed, many of the people caught in the prostitution industry are children who either have never consented or who consent under coercion.

Amnesty International’s naïve and dehumanizing policy would only further debase those enslaved in the sex industry. These human beings deserve better.

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