On 7th August, 2015 Amnesty International will have their congress meeting in Dublin, Ireland, my home town. At this meeting they will take a vote on whether to endorse decriminalising pimping and brothel-keeping. As a survivor of prostitution, I wrote this to remind Amnesty of the harsh realities of the sex trade from a very personal place. You will understand just how personal when you read it.
The Last Insult
In December, 2005, my friend and I were bought and brought to a hotel complex. We were paid by a group of eight men, to “entertain” them on their Christmas night out. That “entertainment” evolved into mayhem, the result of this held to the gang-rape of me and my friend. The events of that night were to change the way I saw the world forever and they took the life of my friend, a 27yr old woman named Jenny who had a beautiful young son whom she adored.
Jenny was a friendly, bright, kind person and an extremely loyal friend. And although heroin had controlled her life for some years, she had been making positive steps to get her life back. She had moved out of Dublin, she had stabilized on methadone and most importantly (and something she was so proud and happy about) was that she had regained visitation rights to her only child. That night before the men took us to the hotel, her whole face lit up, whenever she spoke about her son. She had only come down to Dublin to make some money to buy him some special gifts for Christmas. That Christmas would turn out to be her very last.
I have spoken publicly about the rapes that were committed that night on many occasions. I can find no justification for those crimes and; I believe that no one is able to justify such human wickedness. Amnesty would agree with me I am sure, and would fight alongside me to find justice if I asked. This is confusing to me and it makes no sense because on the other hand they are prepared to sanction the behavior that led to this crime. They are prepared to endorse the purchase of human beings for sex and they are fully prepared to ignore the conditions which are present in all cases; the conditions under which rape, beatings, torture and murder occur. Those conditions can never be policed and those who are purchased can never be offered any protection as there is no way of knowing if or when it is going to happen. The only right and humane thing to do is to stop these conditions being set up in the first place and that is by banning the purchase of human beings for sex.
But maybe you have to be present. Maybe you have to witness the rape of another with your own eyes, be in the same room, be less than ten foot away from your friend as she is being violently abused and you can do nothing to help her because you are held down. Because your own body is being mauled at and violated by others in a heinous way. You plead, you beg, you cry, you offer yourself to the few that are attacking her in the hope that her pain will cease. You watch as her eyes sink into the back of her head, as the last shred of her dignity is removed. Jenny didn’t die that night, and yet she did, because she spent the next couple of months in a drug haze until she overdosed and died all alone.
The largest human rights organization in the world, Amnesty International, is about to take a vote on prostitution policy at the very same Dublin hotel complex Jenny and I were taken to and tortured; Citywest. The proposal they apparently intend to endorse would bestow a life sentence of sexual exploitation and rape to many around the world.
My call is to the Amnesty members who have come to the same conclusion as I have, members who joined an organization to help improve the lives of others, and who would appear to have no voice or they are choosing to remain silent. Remember, Amnesty does not belong to the elite board members, it belongs to you and its reputation and name is in your hands also. Martin Luther King stated that history will recall not the actions of our enemy but more the silence of our friends, he was right, because out of the eight men that were present that night in 2005, one of them never laid a hand on either of us and his is the only face I can recall.
Those Amnesty members must stand up and speak out, even if you are the only one standing. You will then be able to leave the Citywest complex; knowing that you took no part in sanctioning the heinous crime which happened there, and you will be able to hold your head high knowing that you actually stood on the side of human dignity and, despite objections, you were prepared to fight for its protection. Amnesty, a human rights organization, is in danger of committing a grave act of cruelty. They will also be handing out an extremely painful last insult to my friend Jenny.
In Loving Memory of my beautiful friend Jenny xx
How can you, Amnesty International UK, claim that a person of age is able to choose sex work as a livelihood, and also understand that they are the most marginalized group in the world?
How can the women who are being presently exploited in the commercial sex industry, that are far removed from being organized, and who remain unseen and neglected by the rest of their community, have a voice or be a stake holder when they are consistently ignored? Why are you not seeking out these exploited women? Is it because you do not see them or know they exist? These women walk the streets of my city, as sex buyers seek them out and they seek out sex buyers, in order to meet their basic needs of housing and food, and, for some, support their addiction. They are the ones right at the threshold of trafficking. They are involved in the commercial sex industry, and are being exploited daily, even though they do not meet the legal definition of sex trafficking.
“If you truly understand the marginalization of the majority of those in the commercial sex industry, and how groups that experience the most discrimination and oppression are overrepresented, you would know that calling us “a chosen at will sex worker” is most harmful. Calling this harm a “choice” prevents us from being able to access needed social services such as healthcare, housing, and long-term recovery.” No one recognizes these women, my friends in Boston, in Maine, and in Canada, who don’t fall under the legal definition of “sex trafficking,” but are still facing sexual exploitation, as anything worthy of assistance. They are the least of the least. There is no one trying to provide a service and path for them to exit the street. In the street outreach that I do, I connect with these women who are stuck at least every other day. When I have asked them, “How would you feel if we arrest the sex buyers?” they say, “Don’t arrest them, because I won’t be able to make money if you arrest them.” However, when I have asked them, “If you had another way to live, if you could be provided with everything you need to exit the street, housing, access to recovery, education, and counseling, would you still want to do this?” they say, “No, I would not want to do this anymore, I would want something different.” So, a lot of the perspective depends on how you ask the question. Along with this, it is important to recognize that for most of these women these needed services are completely unavailable, which is why they continue to remain in the commercial sex industry. It’s not a choice, it is a lack of opportunity, a lack of choice. These women are in the commercial sex industry because they are so marginalized, they have no access to anything. These women know these services are unavailable because they do not meet the legal definition of human trafficking, and they’ve told me this. They have no choice. How will legalizing and regulating the commercial sex industry provide these choices and these opportunities to these women? How are you listening to and advocating for these women?
I and my street outreach partner are friends and sisters to the women you are wanting to call “sex worker” with the sex worker definition in the draft of your policy. They are not organized, and not there by their choice, in the sense of what are the choices. I, myself, am a survivor, and like these women, I ended up in the commercial sex industry because I believed I wasn’t worth anything else. I lived out of choices created by outside influences. My family, my community, and my culture groomed me from childhood to believe that this was what I was meant for. Like these other persons, I didn’t choose commercial sex. Society and the systems around mepushed me into it. Legalizing commercial sex and calling it a “choice” ignores these societal, systemic forms of oppression-sexism, racism, economic inequality-that creates and fosters the path into this industry. You list all of these forms of oppression in your draft policy, yet continue to state that commercial sex is a choice for these women. How can this truly be a free choice? Oppression is not a choice.
I am against the criminalization of those being exploited in the commercial sex industry. I am not arguing for the arrest or prosecution of these persons. However, decriminalizing the individuals and systems that are oppressing them-the pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers-will do nothing to help these women, will do nothing to bring systemic change, will do nothing to provide them with justice. The Nordic model which was used in Sweden, which decriminalizes those who are being exploited in the commercial sex industry while still prosecuting those doing the exploitation. The Nordic model provides education to law enforcement about approaching individuals in the commercial sex industry with dignity, justice, and humanity and provides resources and services for these persons to give them more choice. While the Nordic model is not currently in place in Maine, law enforcement here has taken a stand against criminalizing these persons and are actively advocating for them to receive more services and resources. How does legalizing all forms of the commercial sex industry provide more choice and opportunity for these persons than the pre-existing Nordic model does?
Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the entire world. Your decisions about this policy will influence many other important actors in this field for the foreseeable future. This decision will influence policy creation and funding and other resources around the world. I am asking you to remember these women, who, like me, do not have a choice, those whose voice is not heard at the table of these policy discussions. Remember those who are not organized, who do not have advocates, who are being exploited daily, even though they do not fit within the legal definition of sex trafficking. You are speaking for them without recognizing them. I am one of these women, and it has taken years for me to find my way to the table of these policy discussions. I am only just now learning more about your organization, what you do, and the power and influence you have. After years of work and experience, I am still far removed and excluded from discussions at organizations like yours. You will never hear the voices of many of the persons who will be affected by your policies. It is your responsibility to put the needs and perspectives of these persons first in decision making. The voices of these persons may never make it to your policy table. They are the least of the least, unheard and ignored by those in power. Unless you learn who these persons are, what their daily life is, you cannot be inclusive in your decision making. You are excluding their voices and perspectives from the table. If you knew who these persons were, you would not adopt this policy and call their oppression a “choice.”
I’m sure the stakeholders that I know stuck on the street engaged in turning car tricks and trick houses here in Maine, Boston and Canada WERE NOT a part of your SOLID RESEARCH and consultation.
OPPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE
Survivor Speak a grass roots organization educating advocating mentoring organizing for systemic change for sexually exploited prostituted victims and survivors
Dear Amnesty India,
We are members of the Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance in India. We would like Amnesty International to include our right not to be prostituted in their upcoming resolution. We are from the most marginalized section of society. We are poor, female and low-caste, often from groups labeled as nomadic tribes under British colonialism and from minority religions.
We would like Amnesty to recognize that our prostitution is an absence of choice and not a choice. We request you as Amnesty India to take into account the lived experiences of the most marginalized low-caste and poor women and girls in India who want protection from our exploiters, not their impunity. We want you to call on states to invest in our basic needs. Our basic needs are our “human rights”.
Our prostitution is based on us being the most marginalized and weakest in society -the “last”- due to the fact that we are poor, female, low-caste and teenagers. We are facing the multiple inequalities of class, caste, gender and age. Our rights are violated in every way before we are prostituted and when we are in prostitution.
We are kept out of school, sold into child marriage, domestic servitude and child labour and then finally pimped into prostitution. In prostitution we live in debt bondage, with our debt increasing, not our income as we move into our twenties. We are finally thrown out when we are in our thirties and no longer commercially viable.
Our old pension is disease, trauma and the multiple wounds due to the violence done to our bodies by pimps and clients. The pimps beat us when we say no to standing for long hours on the street, or don’t want additional customers in the same night. The customers are buying violence -they stub cigarette butts out on us, push rods into our bodies, slap us, piss on us, break our arms and punch us.
Amnesty is known for protecting the rights of prisoners. In prostitution, we are imprisoned by pimps and brothel keepers. We are subjected to mental and physical torture. Our mobility is controlled by psychological abuse and brothel managers actually sitting at the door of our brothels to monitor our movements. We cannot even decide when to stand or lie down. We suffer from sleep deprivation.
We are also imprisoned by our debt bondage. Over the years our debts increases and the income earned off our body decreases. We don’t earn an income, we earn disease and trauma. It is the brothel owners and pimps who earn an income from us.
In the guise of protecting our rights from police harassment and detention, your resolution is giving impunity to our imprisoners.
You will end up legitimizing our exploitation as work, and give legally acceptable status to those who torture and imprison us. You will also give states the easy way out and an excuse not to invest in ending our marginalization or looking at the violation of our human rights.
As a human rights organization we ask Amnesty the question: Do you stand for the commodification of human beings?
Asma Begum and Salma Ali,
co–convenors, Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance, India,
Munshigunge, Kidderpore, India
“Victims of rape and sexual assault say they are not being taken seriously by elite universities, with devastating results”
Susuana Amoah, women’s officer at the National Union of Students, said: “It’s really disheartening, but not surprising, to hear that students reporting sexual assault are being met with victim-blaming and poor advice.
“Many students don’t even make it to the reporting stage because of the lack of clarity around the complaints and disciplinary procedures available to victims of sexual harassment and assault by universities.”
The NUS, which has examined the policies of 35 higher education institutions in England, Wales and Scotland on sexual violence, is expected to publish its report today. It is calling for Universities UK to develop national guidance to tackle the problem.
Some of the 50 students who contacted the Guardian reported historical allegations, although many told of recent experiences. They told harrowing stories of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and, in one case, attempted suicide, that followed their alleged attacks.
Some had dropped out, failed to obtain expected grades or taken a longer time to obtain their degrees.
Only one reported a positive response, and that was from a student union. Most were women, although at least one was a man. Many spoke of being blamed for the attacks on them, others of a failure to provide support or practical help such as counselling or time off from their studies.
What they had in common was how alone they felt in being left to cope with the most traumatic experience of their young lives.
Home Office figures show that only 15% of sexual assault survivors report to police. When they do report, only a fraction of alleged assaults make it to prosecution. Research by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2015 showed that only 28% of alleged rapes of adults and children in England and Wales reported to police were referred to the Crown Prosecution Service.
The reality of sexual violence on campus, where the alleged perpetrators and victims often live and work in close proximity, and where survivors are unlikely to report to police, means that universities are the front line in terms of reporting and support. Many have numerous policies on such issues. Yet, according to those who spoke to the Guardian, they are not working.
Much sexual violence at universities involves alcohol, consumed by the perpetrator, the victim or both, adding a layer of complexity to an offence around which many misconceptions still lie.
Dianne Whitfield, chief officer at Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, where 10% of their clients are students, said that it was crucially important that the first response was supportive.
“If that first response is negative or judgmental, it could cause huge problems in their mental state,” she said. “It shuts them down. They are already blaming themselves for not foreseeing that a person may be a sexual predator.”
Whitfield said that because of the victims’ tendency to blame themselves, counsellors needed training in how to offer support without judgment or prejudice. But the students who spoke to the Guardian appeared to experience the opposite.
A series of freedom of information requests from the Guardian to elite universities reveals that this policy, to refer students to police, is common. Some go further, even insisting that student survivors of sexual assault report to police, if any action is to be taken by the university. This is against advice from Rape Crisis and other groups.
Sarah Green, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, which is lobbying for universities to better investigate sexual violence, said specialist organisations would never prescribe reporting to police. Green said: “There is an issue about respect for the victim. You don’t tell women what they should do either for themselves or others. Women are known to their attackers, so there’s a whole load of decisions going on before that one.”