The International Secretariat of Amnesty International passed a draft policy at their meeting on August 7 on “sex work” that would decriminalize all aspects of prostitution including buying, pimping, and brothel keeping while still allowing a state the power to regulate selling. The policy now goes to the board. That policy is a direct attack on women and would make a mockery of human rights. The Nordic Model of targeting demand, where selling is not a crime but buying is, has proven to be the only successful tool to protect women in prostitution.
The alleged reason for Amnesty’s action is to make prostitution safer; the result is to do the opposite. Every country that has legalized the purchase of women in prostitution has failed. Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen said, “Almost five years after the lifting of the brothel ban, we have to acknowledge that the aims of the law have not been reached.” According to the Amsterdam police, “We are in the midst of modern slavery.” In New Zealand, a city council member said, “It was widely expected that the outcome of legalizing prostitution would be that sex trade workers would generally operate from safe, regulated and legal brothels. In Manukau, that has not been the case.”
As Maricopa County Attorney, Bill Montgomery states, “Legalizing any activity tells the members of society that we approve of the activity in question. Accordingly, legalizing prostitution would necessarily result in a growing market for the selling and buying of women with the consequent degradation of their dignity and heightened objectification of daughters, sisters, and mothers.”
While Amnesty would maintain its opposition to trafficking, wherever prostitution is legalized, sex trafficking increases. In the Netherlands, the sex industry increased by 25%; in Victoria, Australia, the number of legal brothels doubled, and illegal brothels increased by 300%. A 200-400% increase in street prostitution was reported in Auckland, New Zealand and in Germany, the numbers of trafficked women increased dramatically.
Prostitution is indeed not safe for women. Studies around the world show that women in prostitution have the highest rates of rape and homicide (50% of deaths) of any group of women ever studied, and that they suffer injury equivalent to victims of state-sponsored torture. The practice has a “workplace” homicide rate nearly seven times higher than that of the next most vulnerable group – male taxi drivers.
“From my understanding the survivor community is absolutely opposed to this because the person who is a trafficking victim is suddenly a non-victim the moment she turns 18. The assumption is that now she is making an informed, empowered, legal choice where the day before she was a victim of a brutal violent experience. I feel society will avert their eyes and not pay attention when they see a woman with a pimp because they will think, “Oh, she’s a working woman who chooses this.” It empowers organized crime and gangs to benefit even more from the victimization of girls and women, according to Victoria Steele, Arizona state representative and CD2 congressional candidate.
Amnesty’s support for pimps is totally misplaced. Research indicates that pimps typically take all or most of the money and, far from protecting or managing their “stable” of girls, they force women and children to earn nightly monetary quotas to avoid beatings. Pimps even “brand” those under their control with tattoos of their names or symbols including bar codes to demonstrate “ownership.”
Amnesty claimed that men have a “right” to sexual access. Women have encountered this “rights” argument before. Husbands no longer have the “right” to beat their wives or have sex with them over their objection (in some states); parents no longer have the “right” to beat their children; employers have no “right” to ask sexual favors from employees, and men have no “right” to have sex with dates regardless of the price of dinner. Like the movements that named domestic abuse, marital rape, child abuse, sexual harassment and date rape for what they are – violence against women – we must likewise name prostitution as violence.
The proposed policy would harm all women. A thriving sex industry increases child prostitution and other sex crimes and has a negative effect on how women are regarded by men. The men who engage in prostitution have more discriminatory attitudes toward women and are more accepting of prostitution and rape myths as well as being more violent themselves. Violence against women and children increases when prostitution increases because acceptance or normalization of prostitution sets up the image of women as suitable targets of violence.
Prostitution is the sexualization of power based on gender, class, and ethnicity. Prostitution embeds into society the very inequality it feeds on; thus perpetuating the subordination of women. Prostitution brands all women as commodities. This policy would violate half the population – the female half.
–Dianne Post has been an attorney for over 34 years. For 18, she practiced family law in the Phoenix area representing battered women and molested children in family and juvenile court. Since 1998, she has been doing international human rights work mainly in gender-based violence.