Statement: Victory! Amnesty International votes for decriminalisation

The English Collective of Prostitutes and the US PROStitutes Collective welcome Amnesty International’s vote to approve their draft policy calling for decriminalisation of sex work.

The decriminalisation policy is rooted in “respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of sex workers” and “preventing and redressing human rights violations”.

It is comprehensive, carefully considered and based on concrete evidence from around the world. It spells out the harm caused by criminalisation, specifically the ways in which it puts sex workers at greater risk of violence, including police violence; denies sex workers access to justice and police protection; and encourages discrimination in the provision of housing, health and immigration status.

Crucially it puts obligations on states to provide resources in the form of “state benefits, education and training and/or alternative employment” to help sex workers leave prostitution if they want. It recognises that women, transgender people and migrants are over represented in sex work because of discrimination, and demands that states take action to improve and support their situation not “devalue their decisions, compromise their safety and criminalise the context of their lives”. This is even more crucial now that austerity is driving so many people, particularly mothers and other women, into destitution and therefore into sex work. Many asylum seekers who have been denied benefits and the right to work have no other way to survive.

Cari Mitchell from the English Collective of Prostitutes commented:

“Amnesty International’s call on governments to review and repeal laws that make sex workers vulnerable to human rights violations is a massive boost to our international campaign for decriminalisation and to the movement against austerity. AI recognises that discrimination and economic hardship propel people into prostitution, and calls on governments to provide resources and support.”

Rachel West from US PROS said:

 Sex workers round the world have been campaigning for decriminalisation for decades. We have been up against a moral crusade funded by the US government, especially since the Bush administration. One-seventh of the world’s population of women works in the garment industry, which rarely pays more than half a living wage (including to women in fast fashion retail in the US). What NGOs opposed to decriminalisation are “saving” women from is a life outside the international garment trade with its sweatshops and starvation wages. Criminalisation has been a major obstacle to sex workers, garment workers, domestic workers and others organising together so we can put an end to exploitation in every industry.

We applaud AI for repelling the inaccurate and gratuitous attacks which accused it of siding with “buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters”. Opponents of AI’s policy ignore the success of decriminalisation in New Zealand in 2003, and evidence that the Swedish law which criminalised clients has endangered sex workers. They confuse (perhaps deliberately) decriminalisation (which allows sex workers to work collectively) with legalisation (a form of state control) and ignore evidence that criminalising “the buying of sex or general organisational aspects of sex work, such as brothel-keeping or solicitation, often force sex workers to work in ways that compromise their safety”.

A petition in support of AI’s draft policy was signed by over 10,000 people: here