Amnesty International tells Hollywood to shut it, calls for decriminalizing sex work


Sorry, Hollywood. Turns out Amnesty International doesn’t care a whit what you think.

Ignoring a petition signed by anti-trafficking groups, feminist organizations and enough celebrities to fill a Golden Globes awards show, the international human rights organization today announced its support for the full decriminalization of sex work.

The decision came in the form of a resolution, adopted Tuesday in Dublin by the International Council Meeting, which is Amnesty International’s decision-making body.

The resolution calls on A.I. to develop a policy encouraging states to legalize consensual (key word there) sex work, while also ensuring “full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence,” a release on Amnesty International’s website states.

This vote was two years in the making, following research in four different countries and consultation with multiple United Nations agencies, and groups representing sex workers, survivors, abolitionists, women’s rights supporters, LGBTI activists, anti-trafficking agencies and HIV/AIDS organizations, the release says.

“It was not a decision that was reached easily or quickly and we thank all our members from around the world, as well as all the many groups we consulted, for their important contribution to this debate,” Amnesty International Salil Shetty said in the release.

News that A.I. would be considering this topic spurred passionate debate on both sides of the issue. The petition that gathered some 3,000 signatures—including those from Oscar-winning celebrities like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway and Kate Winslet—fretted “wholesale decriminalization” would benefit bordellos, pimps and exploiters. Pro-sex-work and harm reduction groups, meanwhile, hailed the decision and said it would provide workers with greater protection.

SN&R has covered the unintended consequences that certain law enforcement strategies have on sex workers in California. In northern California, cracking down on escort-friendly websites pushed sex workers into dangerous street prostitution, where they were more vulnerable to violence, disease and poverty. And law enforcement’s use of condom-possession to identify sex workers has resulted in the abdication of protection among workers.

Meanwhile, the communities that ostensibly care about the fate of these workers often outlaw clean-needle exchanges and make it difficult for them to obtain emergency shelter or other assistance.

Whether decriminalization would solve these issues, or simply inflame them, is at the heart of the debate over Amnesty International’s position.

But there is some common ground between the two sides. In the July 22 petition letter opposing the resolution adopted today, its authors write:

We firmly believe and agree with Amnesty that human beings bought and sold in the sex trade, who are mostly women, must not be criminalized in any jurisdiction and that their human rights must be respected and protected to the fullest extent. We also agree that, with the exception of a few countries, governments and law enforcement grievously violate prostituted individuals’ human rights.

That’s certainly a reasonable place to start.

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