Amnesty International Voted To Decriminalize Sex Work & Here's What Sex Workers Around The World Think About It
The topic of sex work is rarely without controversy, but when human rights group Amnesty International voted to decriminalize sex work on Tuesday this week, they must have been as taken aback by the rest of us by the ensuing firestorm of public opinion. After months of consultations with sex work advocates, sex work abolitionists, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization, delegates at the International Council Meeting in Dublin sided with sex work advocates who claim that workers deserve "rights, not rescue."
The group's Secretary General, Salil Shetty, said in a statement that sex workers are "one of the most marginalized groups in the world... [and] face constant risk of discrimination, violence, and abuse." Although the issue is hugely complex and owes its existence to a variety of factors, Amnesty International hopes that decriminalizing sex work will end the "arbitrary arrest and detention" of workers and serve as a step forward for the protection of their basic human rights.
It's not exactly unusual for this type of decision to spark controversy, but the call for decriminalization has been contentious, to say the least. Twitter exploded with condemnations from sex work abolitionists, celebrities, and everyday users alike; a Change.org petition calling for support in the fight against decriminalization began circulating.
"We were quite surprised by this letter," Deputy Europe Director Gauri Van Gulik said in a video discussing Amnesty International's vote. However, Gulik points out that the letter misses the point of the decision, which was careful to specify that it was not in favor of decriminalizing human trafficking.
As Gulik discusses in the video, the group's decision was based on protecting the rights of sex workers. "How can we keep sex workers safe, how can we empower them to have access to their rights, and how can we make sure they have access to healthcare?" he asks. Furthermore, the organization explicitly wrote in its statement that it "considers human trafficking abhorrent in all of its forms, including sexual exploitation."
However, sex work is not always the result of human trafficking, any more than being a white feminist means you are a White Feminist. The sale and exploitation of human beings is a horrifying breach of basic rights that absolutely deserves our attention, but declaring all sex workers to be the victims of human trafficking takes away their agency in the matter. Some women choose to be sex workers, and nothing makes this clearer than the reaction of current sex workers after Amnesty International made its decision public:
Implying that we should leave the question of decriminalization up to "intelligent feminists," as Dunham does in an aforementioned tweet, completely disregards sex workers' ability to make their own decisions. It's condescending and, frankly, insulting to the men and women who choose to be in the sex trade.
And even if all sex workers were pushed into it (which, again, they're not), why should we blame them for being victims of a patriarchal society? "You cannot punish those who are therefore driven to sex work by criminalizing it and taking away choices," Gulik points out in the Amnesty International video.
Although Amnesty International cannot enforce decriminalization, the massive human rights organization has informed international policy in the past. Once the opposition dies down and Hollywood celebrities move on to the next cause-of-the-day, hopefully that trend will continue, and the organization will continue to make similarly progressive decisions.
"Amnesty showed that they are accountable to the people that they serve," Kate D'Adamo of the Sex Workers Project told the Daily Dot. For now, that's enough.
Image: Jason Pier in DC/Flickr