The Feministahood has a great post up called What Amnesty Did Wrong. I’m going to quote from it more than once, since they pull the info together so well.
Amnesty’s research was flawed
Amnesty conducted research in 4 countries (Papua New Guinea, Norway, Argentina and Hong Kong) that have a variety of legislative approaches to prostitution, including one country (Norway) that has implemented the Nordic Model. Amnesty did not make the full reports publicly available but the leaked final draft policy includes a summary of the “overarching” research findings. This states that they interviewed “80 sex workers” – i.e. an average of 20 in each of the four countries, which is too small a sample to draw conclusive results. Also, as we saw earlier, the “sex worker” term may include pimps and others with vested interests in the decriminalised approach that Amnesty recommends.
The research purports to show “the human rights impact of criminalisation of sex work.” However, they did not conduct research in a country (like Holland or Germany) that has implemented a fully decriminalised approach. To show that full decriminalisation is the solution to the problems that they observed, they would need to show that these problems are not present in countries that have implemented that solution.
Under the heading “Criminalisation of sex work compounds stigma and discrimination against sex workers”, the research summary includes four quotations from migrant women in street prostitution in Norway describing racist slurs they had received from passing white Norwegian women. Clearly what these women describe is appalling but it does not prove that it is caused by the prostitution legislation or that it would be solved by decriminalisation.
Under the heading “Sex workers are criminalised and negatively affected by a range of sex work laws – not just those on the direct sale of sex,” there are several quotations from women in prostitution in Norway who complain that the ban on sex buying results in them having to visit clients in their homes and the dangers this involves. For example:
“When you go to a customer’s house there could be five of them there.”
“If he hurts you there is no-one there to rescue you.”
Rather than proving that decriminalisation is the solution, this shows that punters are inherently dangerous to women in prostitution and that the prostitution relationship is inherently unequal. That Amnesty wants to legitimise this inherently dangerous and unequal relationship through full decriminalisation of the entire industry seems to prove only that it has lost touch with its original aims of protecting the least powerful.
Under the heading “Criminalisation gives police impunity to abuse sex workers and acts as a major barrier to police protection for sex workers,” the summary says that Amnesty “did not find substantive evidence of police violence towards sex workers in Norway.” Unfortunately they did not conclude from this that Norway’s Nordic Model legislation has produced some good results for prostituted women in Norway. The report goes into some detail about how a law against promoting prostitution in Norway is used by the police to evict prostituted women from their accommodation. However, again this does not prove that the full decriminalisation that Amnesty is advocating is the only solution or even a solution. You do not have to be a genius to think of other solutions.
Under the heading “The most marginalised sex workers often report the highest levels, and worst experiences, of criminalisation,” the summary reports migrant on-street prostituted women in Norway complaining of racism from the police and the public. However, there is no evidence that this is related to the Nordic Model law per se or that full decriminalisation of the sex industry would magically cure the racism in this Scandinavian society.
The summary also reports the head of a Brazilian transgender rights NGO saying that the police demand money to protect the prostituted transgendered people from human trafficking networks and thieves. Again this does not prove that full decriminalisation of the sex industry would solve this problem. However, it does hint at the extreme dangers that prostituted people experience from those who profit from the sex trade.
There is no doubt that marginalised people are treated appallingly in the sex trade. The argument is about what is the best way to deal with this. There is a significant body of research that shows that prostitution tends to entrench the disadvantages that marginalised people face. This is an argument for the Nordic Model rather than for full decriminalisation of the entire industry.
It is clear that Amnesty’s research was poorly designed and implemented and it is not possible to honestly extrapolate from the research that full decriminalisation of the industry would be a solution to any of the problems that they document. This suggests that the research was not conducted in good faith and a spirit of openness but with the aim of proving what had already been decided.
A more honest approach would be to compare a country that has implemented a fully decriminalised approach (such as Holland) with a country that has implemented the Nordic Model. Sweden would make the best choice as an example of a country that has implemented the Nordic Model, as it has the longest experience with that approach and has had time and, importantly, the political will to iron out some of the teething problems.