Is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, or because it is always wrong to use massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex?
The details of the Oxfam ‘sex scandal’ have been reported in great detail already, so I won’t reiterate any of that here. There is a debate to be had about global development in its current form (is this the best way to do it? does it work long term at all?), but that is beyond the remit of this blog post; in the short-term, in the face of disasters like the Haiti earthquake, organisations like Oxfam and their activities (minus the sexual coercion) seem to be better than no action at all from the global north.
I hope this scandal, as I hope for the ‘me too’/’time’s up’ movement in the entertainment industry, results in genuine change; I hope Oxfam, and other big charities like it, use this as an opportunity to get their houses in order and regain the public trust. I hope it is not used as an excuse for the UK government to scrap foreign aid altogether.
I am genuinely, personally, upset by this, Oxfam is a brand I trusted (they partnered with the Moomins for goodness sake), and I want to be able to trust them again.
Oxfam has never promoted entry into the sex industry as a ‘solution’ to the poverty of women and girls. Every campaign to end poverty for women and girls emphasises getting women into sustainable employment and their daughters into education, which, tacitly, is about keeping them out of prostitution.
The reactions to the Oxfam scandal are very different to the reactions to Amnesty International’s decision to support the decriminalisation of the sex industry back in 2015 (see all blog posts here).
The AI decision certainly did make headlines in the mainstream press, but not like this; there was no universal rush to condemn AI for its support of abusive institutions, there were no think-pieces questioning whether human rights organisations could survive such a scandal, because it was never reported in the mainstream press as a scandal at all.
The question here is simple: is what happened in Haiti a scandal because prostitution is illegal in Haiti, and the Oxfam aid workers were breaking local laws, or is it a scandal because using massive economic and social inequality to coerce someone into sex is always, objectively, wrong?
If it is always, objectively, wrong, how can it be acceptable for a ‘human rights’ charity to campaign and lobby for the decriminalisation of the people who perpetrate, facilitate, and profit from, such exploitation and abuse?
AI had as a member Douglas Fox, a known pimp at the time, who claims credit for AI’s ‘sex work’ policy. Mexico’s Maria Alejandra Gil Cuervo was vice president of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which received money from the Open Society Foundation, and advised UNAIDS; when, in 2015, she was found guilty of sex trafficking and sentenced to 15 years in jail, the story was ‘broken’ in the English speaking world by Kat Banyard, on the Faber and Faber website (a publisher not a newspaper), and again there was no ‘scandal’.
There are some obvious differences, AI is not an aid agency, and it receives no government funding, but there is still the issue of public trust – I, personally, do not trust AI at all, if they could behave so dishonestly over this, what else are they not doing correctly?
Janice Turner in the Times (a publication I now trust more than the Guardian to report on trans and prostitution issues, misogyny transcends notions of left and right wing), reported on AI’s disgustingly cynical and hypocritical response to the Oxfam scandal:
Kate Allen, the UK director of Amnesty International, was “shocked” by the Oxfam scandal, she told Woman’s Hour. She demanded an inquiry; for “lessons to be learnt”. I’d hoped Jenni Murray would follow through with a question: so what is Amnesty’s view on aid workers in poor countries paying women for sex? But she didn’t ask it, so I did.
Why is the question important? Because in 2015 Amnesty, a global organisation with seven million members, changed its policy on prostitution to support decriminalisation. Feminists were aghast: 3,000, including Gloria Steinem, signed a petition in horror that Amnesty was not only legitimising trade in women’s bodies, but the pimps and brothel keepers who exploit them.
No matter. Amnesty had been taken over by supporters of libertarian identity politics who regard prostitution not as a system of sexual abuse driven by economic need and inequality but a personal choice or a sexual identity, like being gay. Even, it seems, in disaster zones like Haiti.
“Decisions to sell sex,” states its policy document, “can be influenced by situations of poverty . . . Such situations do not necessarily . . . negate a person’s consent.” The only exceptions are “particular circumstances that amount to coercion where an individual faces threats of violence or abuse of authority”. But Amnesty’s overall stance is that it “neither supports nor condemns commercial sex”.
So how then would it view Roland van Hauwermeiren and his Oxfam compadres rolling into Port-au-Prince in safari jackets and mirrored shades, their 4x4s full of antibiotics and baby milk? Does it constitute an “abuse of authority” to round up a few hookers in town, take them to your villa and have a little fun in exchange for a few dollars and an Oxfam T-shirt? Or must we respect that these young women in a devastated land, with sick parents or hungry babies, have, in Amnesty’s words, “the agency and capacity of adults engaged in consensual sex work”?
Where does exploitation end and consent begin? I rang Amnesty for clarification. Kate Allen’s statement is a masterpiece of obfuscation. “The appalling situation of aid workers paying for sex in a context where they’re working with and providing services to extremely vulnerable people in crisis situations is separate from the issue of the legal status of sex work.”
But is it? In Haiti, 316,000 were dead, millions homeless, the entire infrastructure destroyed. Oxfam was “providing services to” a whole nation. Does Amnesty think it was wrong for van Hauwermeiren to prostitute a woman he met at, say, an aid distribution centre but it was fine for him to select equally impoverished women from the local brothel?
Given its neutral stance on commercial sex, is it cool with its staff using prostitutes? “Amnesty’s employment contracts clearly stipulate that employees must not behave in a way that brings the organisation into disrepute,” it said, “and in light of the Oxfam case, we’ve instigated a full review of all relevant policies.” Which reads less like a principled stand than a scrambled PR operation: ie we’ve smelt the public mood and don’t want lost donations. Only when I pressed further did it say: “Any staff members found to be using sex workers in the course of their work would face an immediate investigation and potential disciplinary action.” Which directly contradicts its own policy! What about neutrality, women having “agency” and punters not being penalised?
Turner also describes how the Labour Party has failed in its response to the Oxfam scandal:
Amnesty is not alone in being tied up in liberal knots. The Labour Party has been notably silent on the Oxfam prostitution scandal. The shadow international development secretary Kate Osamor defined it as a “safeguarding” breakdown, which reduces it to a failure to protect underage girls or prevent coercion, swerving the tougher question. But then in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn declared “I am in favour of decriminalising the sex industry”. Does he then approve of Roland’s poolside fun?
In Corbyn’s view, decriminalisation is a “more civilised” approach. Indeed, no feminist who signed the petition against Amnesty wants to punish desperate women. Rather, most favour the Nordic model, now law in France, Sweden, Ireland and other countries, which legalises selling sex but criminalises its purchase. Total decriminalisation always causes the sex trade to expand. And while Amnesty distinguishes between trafficking (coerced: bad) and sex work (consensual: fine), when male demand soars, more “product” is required and locked vans of Albanian girls arrive at the mega-brothels of Amsterdam or Hamburg’s Reeperbahn.
Finally, something on which we can agree: charity officials ought not to buy sex. No one, so far, seems prominently to have argued, of the Oxfam employees’ misconduct in Haiti and Liberia, that, providing their female purchases were adult, and not coerced, then their prostitution should rightly be called sex work, that is: a perfectly dignified transaction, from which both sides – say, impoverished survivors of a disaster and benevolent male humanitarians – stood to benefit.
We have yet, admittedly, to hear from Amnesty International, the human rights NGO, which now doubles as the world’s leading advocate of legalised prostitution. In 2015, a year that will forever be celebrated by its allies in the pimping and trafficking community, Amnesty committed to the decriminalisation of all aspects of “sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse”.
So, hint for Roland Van Hauwermeiren, who is currently to be found in Ostend, explaining how incredibly easy it is for a vivacious Oxfam official to be mistaken for a sex-buyer: Amnesty is there for you. Equally, critics of Oxfam’s conduct, including Theresa May and Penny Mordaunt, can expect a reminder from Amnesty that it’s people “who live on the outskirts of society that are forced into sex work. It may be their only way to earn a living.” Once you see it that way, Oxfam workers who live, courtesy of charitable donations, in villas suited to large pool parties, can be seen as doing prostitute attendees a tremendous kindness. Inalienable human rights, meet trickle-down effect.
The Oxfam-related outrage must be baffling, also, to many British parliamentarians, for whom the option of reducing prostitution via the Nordic Model (also adopted in Northern Ireland, Canada and France; now backed by the SNP) is so much less appealing than the formal commodification of – overwhelmingly – women’s bodies.
Jeremy Corbyn, for example, supports decriminalisation because he wants to “do things a bit differently and in a bit more civilised way”. Around a pool, perhaps? At any rate, all that was missing from this progressive analysis, given the exploitation reported in the decriminalised German and Dutch industries, was an alternative scheme whereby sex trade “things” could be separated from violence, poverty, murder, pimping, drug abuse, stigma, illness, trafficking, misogyny and coercion – and the inevitable implication that all women, prostituted or not, have their price.
In a rare show of political harmony, Corbyn’s enthusiasm for a free market in women’s bodies, or, as it would be defined in Sweden, unfettered violence against women and girls, is shared by the Lib Dems, the Greens and by the Commons home affairs select committee. The latter, reconstituted under new leadership, has yet to withdraw a 2016 report on prostitution that urged immediate decriminalisation (without any measures to protect women from exploitation). Only after publication did it emerge that its chair, Keith Vaz, one of eight men on an 11-person committee, was himself a sex buyer. Mercifully for Vaz’s future in public service, the relevant purchases had occurred in Edgware, not Port-au-Prince.
In fairness to Bennett, her piece only came out a day after Turner’s, so she couldn’t have seen the replies from AI. But, it seems, she is not a thorough Guardian reader, otherwise she would have seen the report last week calling the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Haiti ‘underage sex work’. (And in fairness to The Observer, it and the Guardian are editorially independent, the Observer has, in the past, been better at not calling raped children ‘sex workers’.)
This article explores the activities of George Soros and his charitable organization, Open Society Foundations (OSF), in advocating for the full decriminalization of the sex trade industry. Research finds that OSF spends only a small amount of money on grass roots “sex worker” groups around the world advocating for full decriminalization, but the foundation awards larger amounts of funds to large human rights groups whose reports and policies have a wider reach. OSF’s rationale for full decriminalization fails to consider violence and coercion in the sex trade industry, misreads research, and does not include research from venues where full decriminalization of prostitution has occurred. Thus OSF and its grantees have created a partial view on prostitution that they advocate to the public. Those concerned with trafficking for sexual exploitation, violence, coercion, and abuse in prostitution should be cognizant of these strategies used by decriminalization advocates funded by OSF and be prepared to point out the unsupported assumptions and meet OSF’s allegations with proven facts.
This paper is definitely worth reading in full, it covers the funding given by the Open Society Foundation to Amnesty International, as well as other charities like Human Rights Watch and the ACLU. It also shows how research has been misrepresented and misinterpreted, with those misrepresentations being repeated across the OSF funded organisations.
It also shows the huge sums of money involved – there is nothing democratic or accountable about any individual, of any political orientation, having such a huge, global, influence.
This article is in the Observer today, and it is completely one-sided reporting, from the use of the euphemistic ‘escort’ as well as the obfuscatory ‘sex worker’, to the lack of reporting of the opposite side of the story. It reads more like a regurgitated press release from the sex industry.
Sex worker and law graduate Laura Lee is steeling herself for a battle in Belfast’s high court that she believes could make European legal history. The Dublin-born escort is now in the final stages of a legal challenge to overturn a law in Northern Ireland that makes it illegal to purchase sex.
Not a single person in the region has appeared in court charged with trying to hire an escort, though Public Prosecution Service figures show that three are under investigation. The region is the first in the UK to make buying sex a crime. The law was introduced in 2014 by Democratic Unionist peer Lord Morrow and supported by a majority of members in the regional assembly.
But Lee will enter Belfast high court with her team of lawyers aiming to establish that the criminalisation of her clients violates her right to work under European human rights law. Since the law was established, Lee insists that the ban has put her and her fellow sex workers in more peril from potentially dangerous clients.
Just before flying out to address an international conference on sex workers’ rights in Barcelona this weekend, Lee told the Observer that most men currently seeking escorts in Northern Ireland no longer use mobile phones to contact her and her colleagues.
“They are using hotel phones, for example, to contact sex workers in Belfast rather than leaving their personal mobiles. This means if one of them turns violent there is no longer any real traceability to help the police track such clients down. Men are doing this because they fear entrapment and arrest due to this law.
This sounds like a pretty weak argument to me, as if there isn’t CCTV, credit card receipts and plenty of other ways to trace whoever rented the hotel room. If the police really cared about violence against prostitutes – something we all want – they would be able to track these men down.
Where do these ‘bad johns’ go under full decriminalisation of the sex industry? They go to the women who are trafficked, who are desperate, who can’t afford to pick and choose.
What these comparatively privileged woman in the sex industry are fighting for (aside from the sex industry itself) is better conditions for them, the ones at the top of the pyramid (the sex industry is a pyramid with a very broad base); decriminalisation increases demand and lowers standards, it is clear from Germany, and the cracks are beginning to show in New Zealand as whistle-blowers come forward.
Lee seems to be leading a jet-setting activist life-style – subsidised by Amnesty International perhaps? – how much actual ‘escorting’ is she fitting in around the legal action and the public speaking?
Among those supporting Lee is Amnesty International. Before the court hearing, Amnesty’s campaign manager in Northern Ireland, Grainne Teggart, said they had major concerns about the “Morrow law”: “Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Teggart.
“Far too often they receive no, or very little, protection from the law or means for redress. Laws must focus on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police, not place this relationship at risk by criminalising them and the context in which they work. Similar laws in Nordic countries have failed to decriminalise sex workers, who are still pursued and punished under remaining sex work laws.”
This is just lies, the Nordic/Abolitionist model decriminalises the prostitute her/him self, what they are actually referring to is the criminalisation of pimps:
In Norway we found evidence that sex workers were routinely evicted from their homes under so-called ‘pimping laws’. In many countries of the world, two sex workers working together for safety is considered a ‘brothel’.
We need to remember, AI deliberately chose to look at Norway, a country that had only recently enacted abolitionist laws, rather than Sweden which has had the law in place for over a decade – if the way a law is enacted doesn’t follow the intention of the law, as described above, that can and should be addressed, changes in the law always include re-educating the police and changing the culture, as happened in Sweden.
There is this very dishonest argument from sex industry advocates, that the abolitionist approach doesn’t improve the relationship between prostitutes and the police – if the police hate prostitutes that much, what difference would decriminialising the whole sex industry make?
Decriminalising the whole sex industry is the main goal of sex industry advocates; the proof is there that decriminalisation increases trafficking, and lowers working conditions, the real beneficiaries are pimps and brothel keepers (and the hand-full of already privilidged ‘sex workers’ at the top of the pyramid).
AI’s own research found no evidence of police violence against prostitutes in Norway, so the idea that full decriminalisation of the sex industry is necessary for a good relationship between the police and prostitutes has no foundation. In the UK, the ‘Merseyside Model’ was enacted only by a change in police culture, and no change in the law.
Lee’s Belfast legal battle is only the start of a Europe-wide campaign to overturn the model in which Scandinavian countries pioneered the outlawing of men buying sex. Lee’s next target is the Irish Republic, which, under new anti-trafficking laws, has introduced a similar ban aimed at criminalising clients.
“A win for us in Belfast will have a knock-on effect and set a precedent across Europe. If successful up north there will be a challenge in Dublin and sex workers across Europe can use the precedent to overturn the so-called ‘Nordic model’ in their countries,” she said.
From the outset, Lee said she had expected a “tsunami of abuse” on social media from her opponents, an alliance of religious groups and some feminist organisations on the island of Ireland. “In the hate mails they focus a lot on my daughter and say things like ‘I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game’ and vile things like that. Religious people tell me they can’t wait until I burn in the fires of hell – charming really! But they must know I am dogged in my determination to fight this law on behalf of all sex workers, especially the ones that can’t put their heads above the parapet and take a public stand. I am strong enough to do so and can take their abuse.”
And, of course, there is the dishonest lumping together of feminists and the religious right; I am confident no radical feminist has told her to burn in hell, or said “I really can’t wait until your daughter goes on the game” (although they may have asked her how she would feel about her daughter entering the sex industry, not exactly the same thing).
Rhode Island chapter of Amnesty International has broken with Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking
Group 49 of Amnesty International paused in its petitioning on behalf of political prisoners to talk about sex trafficking Sunday.
Group 49, the Rhode Island chapter, has broken with its parent organizations, Amnesty International and Amnesty International USA, on the issue of sex trafficking. The parent organizations in 2015 adopted a policy, in the words of Rhode Island coordinator Marcia Lieberman, “to decriminalize all aspects of prostitution.”
As guest speaker Cherie Jimenez put it at a Group 49 gathering Sunday, “If we want equality between men and women, we have to end this” organized prostitution. Although legalization is a fashionable “neo-liberal” approach, prostitution is “not an empowering experience” for girls and women, she said.
“It’s made me a little crazy and a little angry,” she confided to her audience. “Because it’s been around forever is not a basis for its continuance.” Jimenez said she has never met a sex-trade practitioner who wanted to stick with it.
Jimenez, who is in her 50s and used to be a prostitute herself, is founder and director of the EVA Center in Boston – as in Education, Vision and Advocacy – which offers peer counseling, housing and other support for women seeking to leave the commercial sex industry.
She said women who go into prostitution believe they do not have options because, in the United States, they usually are products of a public social-services system that does not do enough for them.
“We have so many flawed … systems,” she said, such as indifferent group homes that take in children from dysfunctional domestic situations but cannot overcome their behavioral problems.
“Why isn’t this a human rights violation?” she demanded to know.
After digressing to discuss sex trafficking, the 29th annual Write-a-thon resumed in the parish house of the First Unitarian Church on College Hill, with about 35 volunteers sitting at long tables hand-writing letters on behalf of at least 10 selected prisoners of conscience around the world. The letters were deposited in a glass container, to display the writers’ progress.
As usual, participants lit a large candle draped in barbed wire – the symbolic “candle of hope.”
Regarding sex trafficking, Group 49 officer Merritt Meyer, of Bristol, said decriminalization increases trafficking because it increases the market.
“It’s not just a job,” Lieberman protested.
She said various members of the group have communicated their disagreement to the parent organizations.
A second speaker, Providence police Capt. Michael E. Correia, commanding officer of the detective bureau, summarized how his department underwent a pronounced change and now goes after prostitution by treating prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators of crime.
“The victim isn’t just someone who signs a witness statement,” Correia said, but is someone deserving of help. The police do not handcuff suspected prostitutes and they introduce them to advocates like Jimenez, hoping the suspects will cooperate later in prosecutions of their pimps.
As part of the change, the police dropped the use of the word “john” as a euphemism for a prostitute’s customer.
“They’re not johns,” he declared. “That’s an antiseptic name. They’re sex buyers.”
Correia acknowledged that the revised approach is difficult to justify to higher-ups in the department because resources are often used in cases with no accompanying arrests to “clear” the cases statistically.
Bazelon’s claim that she’d known nothing of this topic or debate prior to beginning work on this piece seems even stranger as I discovered her connections to George Soros, a billionaire whose Open Society Foundations (OSF) not only is a major donor to Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HWR), and UNAIDS, but a number of sex work lobby groups across the world. Soros and OSF funded the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), which was revealed to be a front for a pimping operation last year, as their vice president, Gil Alejandra, who served as co-chair of the UNAIDS Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work & Global Working Group on HIV and Sex Work Policy, was arrested for sex trafficking. (Bazelon spoke to the president of NSWP for her piece, but didn’t mention the trafficking conviction, though she had been made her aware of it by another interviewee, Rachel Moran.) The man who appears to be the biggest financial backer of the pro-legalization lobby in the world, whose organization is overtly pro-legalization and funded reports Amnesty International relied on in order to support their position also has longstanding ties to Bazelon and her family. Bazelon herself was a Soros Media Fellow in 2004 and her grandfather’s foundation, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law (Emily’s sister and mother both serve on the Center’s board), receives over a $1 million in funding from OSF.
Bazelon says that it was only Amnesty International’s recent vote to adopt a pro-industry position that led her to support legalization. But this claim is hard to believe when we consider the bias she conveys in the piece, her connections to Soros, and the fact that she doesn’t acknowledge that Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO did not simply “discover” a grassroots “sex worker movement” independently, leading them to push for legalization. Rather, these organizations, alongside Soros’ OSF, have been working with pimps, traffickers, and industry lobbyists to develop policy for some time.
The report by Kat Banyard, which points out that NSWP was appointed Co-Chair of the UNAIDS “Advisory Group on HIV and Sex Work” in 2009, explains:
“UNAIDS is the international body responsible for leading global efforts to reverse the spread of HIV, and the advisory group was established to ‘review and participate in the development of UNAIDS policy, programme or advocacy documents, or statements.’ Alejandra Gil is also personally acknowledged in a 2012 World Health Organisation (WHO) report about the sex trade as one of the ‘experts’ who dedicated her ‘time and expertise’ to developing its recommendations. NSWP’s logo is on the front cover, alongside the logos of WHO, UNAIDS and the United Nations Population Fund.”
How can reports and policy funded by a billionaire who is specifically invested in the legalization of prostitution and that were developed in consultation with pimps and traffickers be either unbiased or be considered connected to “grassroots movements” in any way? The “movements” Bazelon references as having inspired Amnesty International, HRW, and WHO to develop these policies and positions are, in fact, organizations funded by Soros himself.
Bazelon’s dismissal of the Nordic model is yet another mistake made in her efforts to cling to neutrality. In an interview on the Diane Rehm show, she repeats erroneous claims that, while street prostitution appears to have decreased in Sweden after the implementation of the Nordic model, the purchase of sex did not, based on the increased number of ads online. But reports from Sweden say the ads are unrepresentative, as many of the ads posted are duplicates and/or posted by the same person. From the report:
“Authorities who have studied escort ads in the past have noted that one and the same seller of sexual services is often found in several advertisements. This finding is also indicated by the internet surveys, mainly in the form of the same telephone number cropping up during a search of several advertising sites. The overlap between the number of advertisements and escort sites and the duplication of many ads is shown by both surveys. This is also confirmed by other authorities working the field. Against this background, there is nothing indicating that the actual number of individuals engaging in prostitution has increased.”
While she admits that abolitionists are “oppos[ed] to arresting” prostituted women, Bazelon adds, “But they want to continue using the criminal law as a weapon of moral disapproval by prosecuting male customers, alongside pimps and traffickers — though this approach still tends to entangle sex workers in a legal net.” She fails to explain what she means by that and quickly moves forward to paint support for the Nordic model as something clueless American celebrities and ideologues do: The “man” vs the little guy, is the impression we are meant to get… The “man” being Gloria Steinem and Meryl Streep, and the “little guy” being, of course, the so-called “sex worker.”
Bazelon casually throws out the term “carceral feminism,” quoting Elizabeth Bernstein, a sociologist who studies “sex work,” who explains that abolitionists “have relied upon strategies of incarceration as their chief tool of ‘justice,’” going on to imply the history of abolition is connected to “faith-based” and “evangelical” groups who worked with George W. Bush to raid brothels for American TV audiences. She continues to connect abolitionists to Bush and to evangelicals throughout the piece, failing to acknowledge that the feminists who support the Nordic model today do so through a socialist lens and have always been part of an actual independent, radical, grassroots feminist movement.
Ignoring the decades-old grassroots women’s movement and the ongoing, tireless work of underfunded working-class women and women of colour who have been fighting prostitution for years is one of Bazelon’s most suspect choices. She discusses organizations funded by Open Society Foundations and the Gates Foundation, many of which have ties to pimps and traffickers, without question but erases or misrepresents the work of movement women who have nothing to gain from their fight against prostitution but a better life for women and girls and a more equitable world in the future.
Bazelon’s claim that decriminalization will make “people’s lives better, and safer” is not only untrue, but is based on money, not facts… The money that supports efforts to legalize is vast and passed around among sex industry lobby groups, civil liberty and human rights organizations, and, apparently, journalists. The incentive to support decriminalization is very clearly financial — prostitution is yet another billion-dollar global industry. It is unconscionable to ignore that reality when discussing key players. Support for decriminalization is also rooted in a deep desire to believe that a situation that is clearly not “okay” by any means can somehow become “okay,” despite ample evidence showing that this will never be the case.
Like the cover photo, which aims to convince the reader that “diversity” was a priority in Bazelon’s reporting (but, in fact, only featured those who both identify as “sex workers” and live in three American cities: New York, San Fransisco, and Seattle), the entire story intentionally removes or distorts the perspectives of abolitionists and survivors, positioning sex work advocates as the diverse expert voices that legitimize her piece.
While Bazelon claims the view she presents (which is, to be clear, her own) “poses a deep challenge to traditional Western feminism,” she’s ironically ignored the fact that Indigenous women and women’s groups say that prostitution never existed in their cultures until they were colonized by the West. Beyond that, almost all liberal American publications (many of which claim to be feminist) support the legalization of prostitution, as do, of course, privileged men. These are the voices and publications that dominate Western discourse and have the funding to promote their views. Men are the people who, at the end of the day, benefit from prostitution — their power is reinforced through its existence.
Bazelon herself is nothing if not a voice for Western privilege and liberalism, based on her Ivy League education, career, connections, and the ideology she supports. After all, is there anything more “mainstream” than the commodification and sexualization of women’s bodies? Certainly there is nothing more “traditional” than patriarchy itself.
Over the weekend, Emily Bazelon, a staff writer at the New York Times, published an article called “Should Prostitution Be a Crime?” What she didn’t say was that she had already answered her own question, and that she chose to distort (or outright ignore) facts and interviews in order to push a narrative in support of full decriminalization, under the guise of neutral reporting.
Her bias becomes clear early on to anyone who is familiar with the politically loaded term, “sex work,” which she adopts uncritically, claiming this is “the term activists prefer.” While Bazelon admits that most of those who speak publicly as “sex workers” are white and very privileged in comparison to most women in the industry, she doesn’t challenge the language.
The piece centered itself around Amnesty International’s recent decision to adopt a policy supporting the decriminalization of pimps and johns. Due to the choice of organizations like Human Rights Watch (HRW), World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS, and Amnesty International to advocate for the legalization of prostitution, Bazelon is able to claim this as the “human rights” approach to prostitution legislation, without acknowledging the unethical ways these organizations came to this advocacy, the hypocrisy of this position, and without fairly representing the opposition. In fact, defining decriminalization as the “human rights argument” is a distortion tactic itself as, by comparison, those who oppose the legalization of the industry are positioned as not being onside with human rights goals. In truth, prostitution itself is defined as “incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person” by the UN, meaning that organizations like Amnesty International and HRW defy their own mission statements, core values, and responsibilities by advocating for a system that accepts and normalizes prostitution.
Bazelon claims that “sex work” activists are “fighting the legal status quo, social mores, and also mainstream feminism,” leading me to wonder who and what, exactly, Bazelon believes “mainstream feminism” is…
Feminism is a radical movement that fights a system of oppression called “patriarchy,” so to call it “mainstream” is strange, in and of itself. But I myself have, admittedly, used the term from time to time, in reference to the large, mainstream, liberal publications that promote a version of “feminism” that is pro-capitalist, pro-objectification, pro-sex industry, and that fail to challenge male power at its root. This is to say that, when I have used the term “mainstream feminism,” (which I have, in the past, used interchangeably with other terms such as “Playboy feminism,” “liberal feminism,” and “corporate feminism”) I don’t mean “feminism” at all. My perspective is that feminism is not, as celebrities like Matt McGorry and corporate beauty magazines like Cosmo and Glamour claim, a thing that happens any time a woman makes a choice about anything at all, nor is it something that is not specifically about “women’s liberation” but rather about “gender equality,” nor is it something that must necessarily be inclusive of men. No. Feminism is a movement that is focused on ending the oppression of women under patriarchy and on ending the male violence women are subjected to within that system.
That Bazelon positions those fighting for men’s right to legally buy and sell women as “fighting mainstream feminism” confirms either ignorance with regard to what the feminist movement actually is or a strong bias.
But Bazelon not only doesn’t acknowledge a bias, but denies one, saying in a video conversation posted to Facebook shortly after the article was published, “Six months ago, I really knew almost nothing about this topic.”
This claim is hard to believe, even without considering the perspective put forth in the piece, which left out testimonies from survivors, distorted quotes from abolitionists, presenting them as out-of-touch conservatives, irrational ideologues, and misogynists, and provided false information about both the Nordic model and decriminalization.
In one case, Bazelon writes, “Melissa Farley, a psychologist who received Bush funds, wrote in 2000 in the journal Women and Criminal Justice that any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically — ‘enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature.’” The actual argument from “Prostitution: a critical review of the medical and social sciences literature” reads:
“Pornography, for example, is a form of cultural propaganda which reifies the notion that women are prostitutes. One [john] said ‘I am a firm believer that all women… are prostitutes at one time or another’ (Hite, 1981, page 760). To the extent that any woman is assumed to have freely chosen prostitution, then it follows that enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature, that is to say, she is a prostitute (Dworkin, 1981).”
The argument being referenced here is Dworkin’s, which says that normalizing prostitution or saying that women freely choose to work in the sex industry because they “enjoy it” leads to the conclusion that women, in fact, enjoy being dominated and raped, as this is what we see both in porn and in prostitution.
Likewise, Farley does not argue that she believes women enjoy rape and domination, but that buyers (johns) believe this and that men who buy sex have antiquated, sexist notions about gender and accept male sexual aggression and entitlement as “natural.”
For Bazelon to read all that and then to rewrite Farley’s words, framing her argument as one that says “any woman who claimed to have chosen prostitution was acting pathologically” and that “enjoyment of domination and rape are in her nature” is deeply disturbing in its overt dishonesty.
While Bazelon centered her piece around the perspectives of those who support a legalized sex industry, she intentionally left out stories of survivors who would have disrupted the chosen narrative for her story. A woman named Sabrinna Valisce who was involved in the sex trade in New Zealand on and off for many years, both before and after decriminalization, told me she spoke with Balezon for the piece, but that her interview was cut. Valisce was a volunteer with the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective (NZPC) until about two years ago and had advocated for full decriminalization until she experienced its results firsthand.
While the Prostitution Reform Act was meant to make the industry safer for women in it and enforce safe sex practices, it’s done the opposite, Valisce says. Women were suddenly expected to engage in “passionate” kissing and oral sex without protection (called “NBJ” or “Natural Blow Job”) — things that had previously been viewed as “a betrayal of the sisterhood” and internally policed by the prostituted women themselves. “All that has gone by the wayside [due to] high competition and lowered rates,” Valisce says. “Girls are also now expected to let men cum as many times as they can within the booked time. It was never that way before. They paid once and received one service.” Under decriminalization, Valisce’s efforts to institute exiting programs were rejected full out.
Not only that, but a kind of routine violence was normalized by johns. “I’m not talking about punching and beating… [though this still does happen] I’m talking more about the everyday violence of gagging, throttling, spanking, hair pulling, rough handling, and hard pounding.” Valisce says there has been a notable rise in men’s sense of entitlement and a normalization of abuse since the new law came into effect.
Just weeks after decriminalization was implemented, Valisce says just about every brothel in the country rolled out what they called “all-inclusives.” This meant, she told me, “that women couldn’t negotiate their own fees or services, nor could they decide what their boundaries were.” The reason she had supported decriminalization, Valisce said, was because she wanted “the power in the hands of the people who work in prostitution” and to ensure that women weren’t getting arrested or ending up with criminal records. She was told that decriminalization was the only way to go.
Her goals remained the same, but she realized the only way to address the problems she was seeing under decriminalization was through the Nordic model.
Regardless of the real effects of decriminalization and contradictory testimony from survivors, Bazelon parrots Amnesty’s claim that legislation in New Zealand and Australia places “greater control into the hands of sex workers to operate independently, self-organize in informal cooperatives and control their own working environments.”
When I spoke to her over Skype, Valisce said she had told Bazelon that she had worked alongside trafficked women post-decriminalization. Trafficking was hard to track, as it had been rebranded as “sex worker recruitment,” but it still went on. Nonetheless, Bazelon reported that “the New Zealand government has found no evidence that sex workers are being trafficked,” and left it at that. Bazelon’s desire to paint a rosy picture of decriminalization in New Zealand seems to have led her to expunge Valisce’s testimony from the record, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she was the only person Bazelon interviewed who had worked under decriminalization in New Zealand.
“The things she’s said about decriminalization in New Zealand are absolute falsehood,” Valisce said.
Everything Valisce told me, she also told Bazelon. Which makes her statements about New Zealand and the benefits of decriminalization all the more shocking, and Bazelon’s choice to leave Valisce’s testimony out of the story all the more telling.
Ask the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals to Reject Amnesty International
Librarian organisation CILIP (which stands for the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) have got together with human rights campaigners Amnesty International to announce a major new partnership to celebrate human rights in children’s literature.
It’s going to be called the Amnesty CILIP Honour and will span both the Carnegie fiction and the Kate Greenaway picture book awards.
Beginning with the 2016 medals, a title from each of the prestigious shortlists will receive the Amnesty CILIP Honour, a thumbs up for the books that most distinctively illuminate, uphold or celebrate freedoms. The books receiving the commendation will be able to carry an Amnesty CILIP Honour logo.
The first Amnesty CILIP honour judging panel will include last year’s Carnegie medal winner, Tanya Landman whose book Buffalo Soldier dealt with issues including racism, slavery and gender discrimination.
Amnesty International’s Nicky Parker, said: “Books have a unique ability to inspire empathy, broaden horizons and empower young readers. We hope this award will make it easy to identify books which will teach children about truth, freedom and justice and encourage them to feel they can shape a better world.”
The winners will be announced at the Medals ceremony in June 2016, look out for our gallery of the longlistees for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway when its announced early next year!
I have drafted an email/letter to send to CILIP, the judges, and the authors listed for the awards (it will need adjusting slightly for the different recipients), please feel free to adapt and use:
I am writing to ask you to reconsider CILIP’s partnership with Amnesty International for the awarding of an extra honour to nominees of the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal.
Amnesty International’s recent decision to support the full decriminalisation of the sex industry, in opposition to established international human rights treaties  demonstrates that they are no longer legitimate as a human rights organisation.
Amnesty International made this decision in advance of consulting their membership , the consultation process was rushed through without giving members time to research and respond , and the information given on the abolitionist approach/Nordic model (which decriminalises the prostitute her or himself, while criminalising buyers and third party sellers) was inaccurate and misleading .
Amnesty International defined ‘sex work’ in such a way as to exclude anyone who had been abused in the industry  , and lied about consulting prostitution survivors . The first version of their ‘sex work’ policy was written by a known pimp  and the vice president of one of the groups Amnesty International took advice from has recently been sentenced in Mexico to 15 years for human trafficking into the sex industry .
Amnesty International’s Nicky Parker has said this about the CILIP award: “We hope this award will make it easy to identify books which will teach children about truth, freedom and justice and encourage them to feel they can shape a better world.”
I would like you to consider how a ‘better world’ is compatible with the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies inherent in prostitution, and I ask you to read this critique from Taina Bien-Aimé , Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women :
“What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a #2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?
“What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? “First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required.”
“[…] The Afrikaans term apartheid means “apart and aside” and evokes one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.”
An early, leaked draft of Amnesty International’s policy paper contained the following claim : ” Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfill that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.”
Do you really want CILIP, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, to be associated with a group that tells boys that when they grow up, they will have a ‘human right’ to purchase sex?
Do you really want CILIP, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, to be associated with a group that tells girls, especially poor girls, that, once they turn eighteen, they will have the right to ‘choose’ prostitution?
I hope you will read my email, and the sources supplied, and re-examine CILIP’s partnership with Amnesty International.
I look forward to hearing back from you.
The email address for CILIP is: firstname.lastname@example.org (also copy in email@example.com, and firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, who are the publicity contacts for the prize)
They also have a postal address: 7 Ridgmount Street, London, WC1E 7AE, UK.
Nick Poole, CILIP Chief Executive, can be contacted here: firstname.lastname@example.org and is on twitter @NickPoole1
Dawn Finch, President of CILIP, can be contacted here: email@example.com and is on twitter @dawnafinch
Sioned Jacques, chair of the judging panel, can be contacted here: firstname.lastname@example.org and is on twitter @sejbookworm
Tanya Landman, one of the judges, can be contacted here: email@example.com and is on twitter @tanya_landman
The Amnesty CILIP Honour is sponsored by the Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS). They can be contacted here: firstname.lastname@example.org
This page has a list of all the nominees for both prizes, I will update contact details in the comments section as I find them:
Neil Gaiman (I already know there is no point in contacting Gaiman, he’s a sex-pozzer)
That page also tells us:
The winners for both the CILIP Carnegie Medal and the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal will be announced on Monday 20th June at a lunchtime ceremony at the British Library
Japan and South Korea have removed the biggest obstacle to better bilateral ties after agreeing to “finally and irreversibly” resolve Tokyo’s use of tens of thousands of Korean women as sex slaves during the second world war.
In a breakthrough that barely seemed possible a few months ago, Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, offered his “most sincere apologies” to the women in a statement issued in Seoul by his foreign minister, Fumio Kishida.
It was not immediately clear if Abe would send a letter of apology to each surviving “comfort woman”.
There was no immediate reaction from the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, who has described the sex slave row as “the biggest obstacle” to improved ties with Tokyo.
Japan also offered to set up a new 1bn yen ($8.3m) fund, with the money, paid directly by the government, divided among the 46 former comfort women still alive, most of whom are in their late 80s and early 90s.
Speaking after make-or-break talks with his South Korean counterpart, Yun Byung-se, Kishida heralded a new era of better relations between the two countries, whose strong trade ties and military alliances with the US have been overshadowed by the controversy.
“This marks the beginning of a new era of Japan-South Korea ties,” Kishida told reporters. “I think the agreement we reached is historic and is a groundbreaking achievement.
“[Shinzo Abe] expresses anew his most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”
The Japanese government also conceded that its military authorities played a role in the sexual enslavement of the women. While avoiding any admission of legal responsibility, Kishida’s statement said: “The issue of comfort women, with an involvement of the Japanese military authorities at that time, was a grave affront to the honour and dignity of large numbers of women, and the government of Japan is painfully aware of responsibilities from this perspective.”
Abe and other conservative politicians in Japan had previously questioned whether the Japanese government and military played any role in coercing the women, arguing that they had been procured by private brokers.
Both countries said the agreement would resolve the issue “finally and irreversibly”, adding that they would refrain from making critical remarks on the subject at the United Nations and in other international forums.
Yun said Seoul would cooperate, as long as Japan followed through on its promises. He also suggested that South Korea was willing to negotiate the removal of a statue of a girl symbolising the comfort women that stands outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Although the statue belongs to privately run campaign groups, Yun said the South Korean government would “strive to solve this issue in an appropriate manner through taking measures such as consulting with related organisations”.
There is disagreement on the exact number of women forced into prostitution by Japan during its 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. Campaigners say as many as 200,000 women – mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, south-east Asians and a small number of Japanese and Europeans – were forced or tricked into working in military brothels between 1932 and Japan’s defeat in 1945.
Most women took their secret to the grave. South Korean Kim Hak-soon became the first to testify about her experiences in public in 1991. “We must record these sins that were forced upon us,” she said.
South Korea has long called on Japan to issue an official apology, pay compensation to the surviving women and recognise its legal responsibility. Japan stopped short of admitting legal responsibility and stressed that the new fund was a humanitarian gesture.
The Japanese government initially denied the existence of wartime brothels. But in 1993, the then chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged and apologised for the first time for Japan’s use of sex slaves.
Over the years, Japan has refused to directly compensate the women, saying all claims were settled in a 1965 treaty that restored diplomatic ties and included more than $800m in grants and loans to South Korea.
In 1995, it set up the privately run Asian women’s fund, which drew on private donations. But many women refused money unless it came directly from the Japanese state. Only about 260 former sex slaves received cash – worth about 2m yen each – and the fund was disbanded in 2007.
The spread of frontline brothels coincided with Japan’s military campaigns in large parts of China and south-east Asia. As colonial ruler of the Korean peninsula, Japan was able to target poor and uneducated victims, typically aged between 13 and 19.
This is nice, but it is obviously not really about the women who were abused, but about trade and security ties between two countries; this is one group of men apologising to another group of men for damaging ‘their’ women.
There is certainly no real interest in dealing with modern sexual exploitation. According to Wikipedia, in 2006, the UN reported that Japan was one of the top nine destination countries for victims of human trafficking; also according to Wikipedia, as of 2013, child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in Southeast Asian countries were abused mainly by South Korean men, who outstrip Japanese and Chinese as the most numerous sex tourists in the region.
From the same Guardian article, we can see Amnesty International parasitizing this issue:
Hiroka Shoji, an east Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said: “Today’s agreement must not mark the end of the road in securing justice for the hundreds of thousands [of] women who suffered due to Japan’s military sexual slavery system.
“The women were missing from the negotiation table and they must not be sold short in a deal that is more about political expediency than justice.
“Until the women get the full and unreserved apology from the Japanese government for the crimes committed against them, the fight for justice goes on.”
If Imperial Japan’s system of military prostitution was operating today, Amnesty International would call it ‘sex work’; remember, AI claims that the exchange of money removes all coercion: “by definition, sex work means that sex workers who are engaging in commercial sex have consented to do so.”
Australian feminist, environmental activist and whistleblower Isla MacGregor gave a compelling case against Amnesty International’s “Sex Work policy” at the Women’s International League For Peace and Freedom (WILPF) forum in Hobart, Tasmania today .
MacGregor was invited to speak by Human Rights Award recipient Linley Grant.
The talk by the self- described “retired activist”, (who recently won the Volcano Art Prize for her evocative photographs of the environmental impacts of mining on both the earth and community) was “well received”and praised as “informative and mind-changing” by attendees at the forum.
MacGregor’s talk has been taken as a case to the WILPF branch of the United Nations.
“How will Amnesty International’s Sex Trade Policy
Impact on Human Rights,
Poverty and Violence to Women Globally?”
Talk by Isla MacGregor for the
Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Forum in Human Rights Week, Hobart 4 December 2015
Thank you Linley for inviting me to give this presentation during the 2015 Human Rights Week events in Hobart.
“Prostitution affects all women because it affects the way men regard women.”- Julian Burnside – @JulianBurnside #qanda 5:36 AM – 1 Sep 2014
(Julian Burnside AO QC is an Australian barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, and author.)
The subject I am about to talk about is not one that receives much public or media attention. Nor is it a topic of ‘polite’ in depth conversation amongst members of social justice or human rights groups.
But the inherent harms to women in a globally expanding sex trade urgently need to be brought back into public discourse – especially now, when the White Ribbon campaign to end men’s violence to women is attracting so much media attention.
Recently, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said –
All violence against women begins with disrespecting women….and further….. men need to take action.
There are many urgent questions that must be addressed by the human rights community. Most importantly, the voices of survivors of all forms of violence against women, including in the sex trade, must be heard. They must not be silenced or threatened.
Why does the debate about men’s violence toward women not include the violence perpetrated by men against the 40 million women worldwide who are part of the $99 billion dollar per annum sex trade? Many of these women have been trafficked, tricked or coerced into transactional sex as a result of war, poverty, terrorism, ecological disasters, or socio-economic disadvantage. Most have little or no education, many are homeless, and a disproportionate number have been sexually abused as children.
Society accepts the commodification of women’s bodies and its ensuing harms for the purpose of providing sexual access for men. Why has that not been considered as a contributing factor in the broader debate about the root causes of violence against women?
Why are the relentless multi-media pornification and hypersexualisation of our cultures, and the increasingly overt sexualisation of young girls not being widely questioned?
How could Amnesty International develop a policy that is incompatible with the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, the 1949 United Nations Convention on the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons and on the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, and the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)?
I will begin by discussing what has been considered by many in the human rights movement globally as one of the most retrograde steps any human rights organisation has taken on the issue of women’s rights – Amnesty International’s new policy on what they controversially refer to as ‘sex work’.
Amnesty International began its consultation process on the issue of prostitution in 2008, largely in response to lobbying by the Amnesty Newcastle UK branch, and AI member and known pimp Douglas Fox. Fox stated publicly that he would pursue Amnesty International ‘mercilessly’ to develop a policy supporting full decriminalisation of the sex trade, including sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners.
Amnesty was roundly condemned for fast-tracking the sex laws policy and for dishonestly misrepresenting the alternative to decriminalisation – the Nordic Model – in the material distributed to members. They described Nordic Model laws as a ‘criminalisation’ of the sex trade, and ignored their true rationale – the decriminalisation of sellers of sex, and criminalisation of buyers, pimps and brothel owners.’
The Hobart branch of Amnesty International, for example, did not facilitate any meetings on the issue or invite input from proponents of different legislative approaches to the sex trade. At the 2014 Tasmanian Branch AGM, however, the issue was hotly debated when a resolution was moved by members who stacked the meeting in support of Nordic Model laws – not necessarily a democratic result, but it made a strong point about Amnesty’s decision making processes. Amnesty failed to invite submissions from international women’s human rights groups, or circulate information to members, on all alternative legislative approaches to the sex trade. The members were not fully or properly informed.
Prostitution survivor and National Director of the Nordic Model in Australia Coalition (NorMAC), Simone Watson said –
The proposed Amnesty International Council policy calling for the decriminalisation of sex work released at the Amnesty International Australia AGM held in Sydney last weekend (July 2014), has been roundly condemned by human rights, women’s and survivor groups and Amnesty members all over the world.
This is an appalling abuse of due process by the Amnesty International Council. Amnesty International is an organisation that has become increasingly top down in its consultation processes with members.
The International Secretariat previously admitted after receiving responses in 2013 to their Sex Work policy discussion paper that –
‘There is no question that the consultation process could have been handled much better.’
Of the 29 Amnesty sections that submitted consultation responses, nearly all were from Europe and North America but few responses were received from sections in developing nations or those where indigenous populations have proved to be at high risk of human rights abuses in the sex trade.
With just under 60% of Amnesty International sections not submitting any response on the Sex Work Policy and only four sections giving support to the policy, it is appalling that Amnesty persists with their policy direction.
Of the 40% of sections that submitted written feedback on the policy, all supported decriminalisation of sex workers.
Twenty eight per cent of sections that responded said they needed more research to be conducted by Amnesty to inform their views. And further, 38% of respondents called for an extension to the consultation process. Others found the consultation process to be flawed.
NorMAC submitted a formal and detailed complaint to Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty seeking an independent investigation into the conduct of the International Secretariat during the policy development process. NorMAC also expressed concern about the lack of proper membership and stakeholder consultation for the policy. Contrary to normal Amnesty procedures, Salil Shetty took no action.
Amnesty declined to offer any response to questions about the omissions from their final report to the International Council Meeting in Dublin in August this year.
For example, there was no reference to research critical of decriminalisation/legalisation outcomes in Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand. Neither was there any mention of positive outcomes for the Nordic Model in Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The latter three countries are in the top five nations on the Global Gender Equity Index.
As I mentioned earlier, survivors’ voices and their experiences need to be heard. Simone Watson has written of her experience in the sex trade –
The first harm of prostitution arrived the day I took on the first ‘john’ and needed prescription medication to endure it. Far from being risqué and ‘kinda cool’, I experienced the need for dissociation, inhibiting of vomit-reflexes and humiliation. This did not end even after I left the industry, due to PTSD. It flares up to this day.
Writing the words ‘vomit-reflexes’ I am aware many will take that as the reality of being orally penetrated, and it is. Further, I mean to make clear that having been raped prior to, during, and after my time in the sex trade, nausea is commonly associated with rape, particularly when one is not able to engage the natural fight/flight response and thus experiences the ‘freeze’ response. As I was being paid, these natural reflexes where inhibited by way of my, quote, ‘job description.’ Prescription medication became my instant best friend.
I did not meet one woman, man or transperson in the sex trade who was not taking some form of medication, including, but not limited to, diazepam, xanax, alcohol and illicit drugs, outside of or during our ‘working’ hours.
I often hear that disabled men need access to prostituted people, and that women such as myself are therefore providing a service to these men, much as we do to soldiers, and any other group of men. The fact that those of us in prostitution end up with disabilities as a result of being sexually used by men seems irrelevant to the discussion and apart from being patronising to disabled men, I think that the prostituted matter and thus our right not to be bought and sold is in keeping with the same principle which demands one marginalised group of people should not be pitted against the other.
The research on the harms of prostitution is damning. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) posted a letter from survivors of prostitution on their website. It said –
The average age of entry into prostitution in the US is 13. By the time an ‘average’ girl in prostitution turns 18, she has been abused countless times as a minor by adults. Turning eighteen does not magically change the poverty, sexual violence and abuse, lack of education, racism, sexism, homophobia, and disability, which lead to and are perpetuated by the prostitution trap.
The European Women’s Lobby recently reported that –
80% of registered victims of trafficking are women and girls, and 69% are trafficked into the sex industry. Nearly all of these victims are women, who, in addition to the human rights violations they have already faced due to trafficking, are receiving very limited support, protection and attention from European legal systems.
NorMAC’s analysis of the sex trade is useful –
Research in 2003 looked at the prevalence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) amongst women in prostitution across nine countries. It was found that 68% of those in the sex trade experienced PTSD. This rate is comparable to the trauma faced by rape survivors and survivors of state-sponsored torture.
In 2005 the National Drug and Alcohol Research centre published an article titled ‘Mental health, drug use and risk among female street-based sex workers in greater Sydney’. The project interviewed 72 women who had been involved in prostitution for 3 months or more, and the statistics highlighted the following –
- One quarter of the identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.
- More than half left home before the age of 16.
- The median range for school completion was year 9.
- 14% had no fixed address or were currently homeless.
- Nearly half the sample reported being homeless within the past 12 months.
- Three-quarters of the sample experienced child sexual abuse before the age of 16.
- Almost two-thirds reported that after the age of 16 someone had sexual intercourse with them despite them making it clear they did not consent.
- One third of participants reported moving into prostitution before the age of 18.
- Two thirds of respondents found sex work stressful with half stating that the clients were the cause of this stress.
- 85% of women reported experiencing violence in prostitution, particularly physical assault (65%), rape with gun/knife (40%), rape without weapon (33%) and attempted rape (21%).a little over half (39 respondents) reporting severe depressive symptoms. A little over half of this group (54%) reported having attempted suicide and one-quarter of these had been before the age of 18. Half the sample also screened positively for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with approximately half the total sample also meeting the criteria for PTSD with 31% of respondents reporting current PTSD symptoms.
‘Stigma’ is a word we often hear in conversations about the sex trade. Sex trade advocates often cite ‘stigma’ as one of the major issues for women in the sex trade and charge that abolitionists are doing nothing to ameliorate the problem of stigma for those in prostitution. But who is doing the stigmatising? What do men say about the women they use in prostitution?
Here are some examples –
No big deal, it’s just like getting a beer.
You pay for the convenience, a bit like going to a public loo.
Prostitution is like being able to masturbate without doing any of the work.
We’re living in the age of instant coffee, instant food. This is instant sex.
Look, men pay for women because they can have whatever and whoever they want. Lots of men go to prostitutes so they can do things to them real women would not put up with.
Prostitution is being able to do what you want without the taxation.
Ironically, today’s neo-liberal feminists support the arguments of ‘agency’ and ‘choice’ put forward by the sex trade lobby as justification for decriminalisation. Are they aware they have been co-opted by those who benefit from the sex trade? Not the prostituted persons, but the punters – the men who buy sex- the pimps and the brothel owners.
A study published this year in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence co-authored by UCLA Professor Neil Malamuth profiled men who buy sex. It found that men who buy sex are more likely to report having committed rape and other aggressive acts.
Professor Malamuth, a professor of communications studies and psychology, said –
Our findings indicate that men who buy sex share certain key characteristics with men who are at risk for committing sexual aggression. Both groups tend to have a preference for impersonal sex, a fear of rejection by women, a history of having committed sexually aggressive acts and a hostile masculine self-identification. Those who buy sex, on average, have less empathy for women in prostitution and view them as intrinsically different from other women.
Men who work in law enforcement in decriminalised/legalised jurisdictions have a unique perspective on the relationship between sex buyers and prostituted persons. A senior German Police Officer giving evidence to the European Parliament in Brussels said –
This is precisely what we had to experience in the course of investigations against a brothel in Augsburg a few years ago. We had found that the women were subjected to very strict rules and regulations by the brothel operators. For example, they had to be at the disposal of the punters for 13 hours running, they weren’t allowed to leave the brothel earlier, they had to walk around stark naked, they weren’t even allowed to decide on the prices for their services. Prices were unified and set. They partly had to offer unprotected sex. And they had to pay fees to the brothel for the infringement of any of these rules. These conditions are of course incompatible with human dignity. But the court declared all of this to be legal now, because of the new Prostitution Act.
The Nordic Model
As part of a hearing in the European Parliament recently, Jonas Henriksson, a Swedish Detective Sergeant who works combating prostitution and trafficking, referred to the model of prostitution legislation implemented in Sweden in 1998. He said –
The goal is to damage the market and to starve it of its buyers.
Also at the hearing, a member of the European Parliament, Malin Björk, who organised a workshop on the Nordic Model said –
I am happy to hear you will be focusing on addressing demand for trafficked women, but what exactly is this demand? Brothel owners, pimps, but also men buying sex. The Nordic Model has been very effective in addressing the issue of demand, so what will the Commission do to tackle this?
Nordic Model laws decriminalise all people who sell sex and provide exit programs for those who wish to leave the sex trade, including services aimed at providing housing, health, education and employment support. The prostitution law is part of broader legislation know as the Women’s Peace and Sanctuary Laws. As a result of criminalising buyers of sex these laws have had a marked effect on cultural attitudes to women, especially men’s attitudes, and has been effective in reducing sex trafficking.
In February this year the European Parliament voted in support of Nordic Model laws on prostitution. Recently, Northern Ireland implemented Nordic Model laws and it is expected Eire will follow soon. In Scotland there are moves to reintroduce a Nordic Model style bill next year. Along with Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and South Korea have introduced these laws, with Canada passing similar laws earlier this year. France and Israel are set to follow.
Prostitution and war
Many of you here might remember the shocking case of the whistleblower and American policewoman Kathryn Bolcovac. Kathryn exposed international humanitarian employees, UN police and NATO troops as regular buyers of sex from minors and trafficked women in Bosnia in 1998. She further revealed that UN police were involved in the trafficking of women. Her role was intended to stem the incidence of forced prostitution and sexual abuse in Bosnia but instead she ended up fighting for protection under public interest disclosure laws.
Another example of the sex trade flourishing in times of conflict is documented in the book Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World by Associate Professor of Anthropology David Vine at the American University in Washington, DC. He wrote –
As World War II came to a close, U.S. military leaders in Korea, just like their counterparts in Germany, worried about the interactions between American troops and local women. ‘Americans act as though Koreans were a conquered nation rather than a liberated people’, wrote the office of the commanding general. The policy became ‘hands off Korean women’, but this did not include women in brothels, dance halls and those working the streets.
U.S. military authorities occupying Korea after the war took over some of the ‘comfort stations’ that had been central to the Japanese war machine since the 19th century. During its conquest of territory across east Asia, the Japanese military forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, China, Okinawa and rural Japan, and other parts of Asia into sexual slavery, providing soldiers with ‘royal gifts’ from the emperor.
The arrangements were further formalized after the 1950 outbreak of the Korean War. ‘The municipal authorities have already issued the approval for establishing UN comfort stations in return for the Allied Forces’ toil’, wrote the Pusan Daily. ‘In a few days, five stations will be set up in the downtown areas of new and old Masan.
The ‘camp towns’ became deeply stigmatized twilight zones known for sex, crime and violence.
Former camp town former sex worker, Aeran Kim recalled –
Women like me were the biggest sacrifice for my country’s alliance with the Americans. Looking back, I think my body was not mine, but the government’s and the U.S. military’s
They urged us to sell as much as possible to the GI’s, praising us as ‘dollar-earning patriots’. Our government was one big pimp for the U.S. military.
The links between war and the normalisation of sexual abuse and harm to women in prostitution remains a case of business as usual for male privilege and protection today.
Amnesty’s ‘sex work’ policy is a band-aid solution that ignores the lack of real global action on poverty and violence to women in the sex trade since the Nairobi Women’s Conference in 1975. This conference concluded that –
Men own 90% of the world’s wealth and women do 75% of the world’s work.
According to documents leaked in 2013, and prior to any consultation process, the Amnesty International Secretariat had already decided to push through with a full decriminalisation position. But who, other than 80 people claiming to be sex workers, did Amnesty consult with? Certainly not survivors of prostitution – not one was consulted.
The organisation, Abolish Prostitution Now (APN), provides a useful reference point on the Amnesty decision. Recently it posted the following –
Claudia Brizuela, a former leader of the Association of Women Prostitutes of Argentina and a founder of the Latin American-Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, was arrested and charged for sex trafficking a year ago.
The latter network was also represented by Alejandra Gil in Mexico, also charged with sex trafficking this Spring, found guilty and condemned to 15 yrs. Both groups were funded by UNAIDS and referenced by Amnesty International in support of the policy it intends to adopt, where trafficking is described as not to be conflated with pimping and brothel-managing.
Taina Bien-Aime, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, summarised the issue in an article in the Huffington Post in October this year, titled ‘The Framing of Gender Apartheid: Amnesty International and Prostitution’.
What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a 2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?
What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? ‘First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required’.
Women have the unequivocal right to make decisions about their health, body, sexuality and reproductive life. Men, on the other hand, do not have the fundamental right to gain access to that body in the sex trade or in any other sphere, despite Amnesty’s premise to the contrary. Amnesty is refusing to admit that the prostituted suffer at the hands of buyers regardless of the legal environment, wilfully ignoring johns‘ own accounts of their predilection for dehumanization, and research showing their propensity for sexual violence.
Think of this: over three million women and girls are sold to men on a daily basis in mega-brothels in India. Under Amnesty’s plan, that number would exponentially increase with legalized demand and cultural acceptance of prostitution as a viable livelihood for poor, low caste and invisible girls and young women. A vote to endorse the global sex trade would wipe out any progress to advance women’s rights that Amnesty might have made in the past years.
The Afrikaans term apartheid means ‘apart and aside’ and evokes one of the most brutal regimes in modern history. By encouraging governments to enshrine the sex trade as just another potential employer, Amnesty is promoting gender apartheid, the segregation of women between those who deserve access to economic and educational opportunities and those who are condemned to prostitution. Make no mistake: as long as women are for sale, no woman will be viewed as equal in corporate boardrooms, in the halls of legislature, or in the home.
A visionary human rights organization crafts its mission on what we’d like the world to be, not accommodate the untold suffering that exists. But until Amnesty rights this wrong, its legitimacy is tarnished; its soul, lost; its candle, extinguished.’
And this decision by Amnesty International comes at a time when women in Greece – a country experiencing a dire financial crisis – have been forced to sell themselves for the price of a sandwich. When the spectre of climate change means an impending human and ecological disaster and the mass migration of women from rich food growing coastal belts to urban ghettos, with few options for survival available to them.”
Imagine opposing big business in ALL its forms. Challenging industry lobbyists. Following the money. Fighting for alternatives. Freeing the world’s poor from having to service the world’s rich. Choosing solidarity with women, children and the world’s poorest.