Talk by Isla MacGregor
1 April 2016
Parliament House, Hobart, Tasmania


Thank you, Simone, for speaking of the harms of the global sex trade with such clarity.

I hope I can add something to the debate by discussing Amnesty International’s recent policy announcement on what they controversially refer to as ‘sex work’ – a policy that many in the global human rights movement see as the most retrograde steps ever taken on the issue of women’s rights.

Amnesty is now advocating for the full decriminalisation of the sex trade – including johns, pimps and brothel owners.

But before I start I would like to read some quotes from notable Australian men:

“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.]

“All violence against women begins with disrespecting women….and further….. men need to take action.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull

Questions to Amnesty

There are five important questions Amnesty International needs to answer about its policy development process on the issue of prostitution:

1. Why were the voices of sex trade survivors excluded from Amnesty’s consultations and reporting on their proposed decriminalisation policy?

2. How can Amnesty’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign, which states – Violence against women is one of the most widespread human rights abuses. Every day, thousands of women and girls are abused and murdered by their families, raped in armed conflicts and attacked for defending women’s rights – exclude 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. Many have little or no education, or are homeless, and a disproportionate number have been sexually abused as children.

3. How has Amnesty International transitioned from an organisation primarily concerned with prisoners of conscience to one that now justifies the capitalist marketing and commodification of mainly women’s bodies to provide sexual access for privileged men?

4. Why has Amnesty been incapable of conducting thorough research integrating a broader approach to the issues of discrimination against and violence towards girls and women, including the relentless multi-media pornification and hyper-sexualisation of our cultures, and the increasingly overt sexualisation of young girls?

5. 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)?

‘Sex workers’ and Amnesty’s pimp advisors?

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 sextrade, including sex buyers, pimps and brothel owners.

Dr Melissa Farley has done excellent research with an astonishing expose of a compilation of who the ‘sex worker’ unions represent some of whom also advised Amnesty and some are funded by UNAIDS.

A contributor to this expose writes:

‘Sex Worker’ Projects are not unions for prostituted people, they are propaganda machines orchestrated by convicted pimps and traffickers. Please, well meaning ‘supporters’ of ‘sex workers’, actually support us not our exploiters.

Douglas Fox, UK, founder of the International Union of Sex Workers and co-manager of an escort agency. Fox was arrested for living off the earnings of prostitution in a police sting at the escort agency Christony Companions. Fox was an advisor to Amnesty International. Investigative journalist Julie Bindel concludes that the purpose of the International Union of Sex Workers appears to be ‘to normalise pimping, lobby for an end to laws that criminalise the exploiters in the sex industry, and ultimately to sugar-coat prostitution and present it as a job like any other’.

Eliana Gil, Mexico, Global Network of Sex Work Projects, Latin American-Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, in 2015 was convicted of sex trafficking. According to victim testimony, with her son she pimped about 200 women in Mexico City. The Latin American-Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network was affiliated with and funded by United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, affiliated with World Health Organization, and cited by Amnesty International.

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 in 2014. Both sexworker groups were funded by UNAIDS and referenced by Amnesty International in support of its decriminalization advocacy.

Pye Jakobsson, Sweden, of the Rose Alliance, and Global Network of Sex Work Projects, is a decade-long board member of a Stockholm strip club where she was also paid to organise and place new women into the club’s schedule. She engaged in similar scheduling of women and quasi-management activities at a second club Erostop.

Tanja Sommer, Germany, sex worker advocate with (BesD), Business Association of Erotic and Sexual services. Tanja manages a dominatrix sex studio and rents out rooms to others in prostitution. She has a leading position at the BesD and also runs her own dominatrix studio, in which other women prostitute. Her colleague Holger Rettig is leader of the UEGD – Association of Erotic Business – in Germany. This organization, consisting only of brothel-owning pimps, helped to found and works closely with the BesD.

Jackie McMillan, Australia, Sex Workers Outreach Project, pornography producer, dungeon club manager and promoter. Jackie McMillan stated that she produced pornography for 10 years. McMillan also manages a fetish club in Sydney with her husband Craig Donarski – the Hellfire Club – where employees provide a dungeon/kink experience with bondage, domination, sadism and submission. Donarski and McMillan received a business award for the Hellfire Club in 2014.

Norma Jean Almodovar, USA, International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture, and Education, Executive Director of COYOTE /Los Angeles (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics), convicted of pandering.

Terri Jean Bedford, Canada, sex worker advocate, convicted of running a brothel. Bedford was one of three applicants, describing themselves as sex workers, who challenged the Canadian laws on prostitution with the goal of decriminalizing prostitution in Canada. In the Toronto Star, September 1994, Paul Moloney wrote – ‘Sexual bondage parlor raided in Thornhill. York Region police have seized an astonishing array of sexual bondage paraphernalia in a raid on a modest Thornhill bungalow advertised as Madame de Sade’s House of Erotica. Along with assorted whips, chains, spanking paddles, handcuffs, masks, wigs and boots, police seized a tall throne, stocks, spanking benches, and a black wooden cross with tie-downs for head, arms and feet’.

Maxine Doogan, USA, Erotic Service Providers Union, charged with felony prostitution and money laundering.

Robyn Few, USA, founded the Sex Workers Outreach Project, convicted of conspiracy to promote interstate prostitution.

Maggie McNeil, USA, Sex Workers Outreach Project, Madam of a New Orleans escort prostitution agency “the best” .

Margo St James, USA, COYOTE, arrested for running a brothel.

Amnesty – What consultation – which stakeholders?

Amnesty was roundly condemned for fast-tracking the ‘sex work’ 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 sextrade. 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 and exposed flaws in 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 sextrade. The members were not fully or properly informed.

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.

While the media in Australia and including here in Tasmania choose to ignore the outcry from human rights and survivor groups about Amnesty’s undemocratic and flawed policy decision, Simone Watson’s response for NorMAC was released promptly:

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, noting this contravened Amnesty’s own governance policy.

Contrary to normal Amnesty procedures, Salil Shetty took no action.

Amnesty declined to offer any response to questions about omissions from their final report to the International Council Meeting in Dublin in August 2015. 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.

Yet the latter three countries are in the top five nations on the Global Gender Equity Index.

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.

Prostitution and war

Many of you here might remember the shocking case of the whistleblower and American policewoman, Katherine Bolcovac. Katherine 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 at the American University in Washington, DC, David Vine. 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.

US 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.

The arrangements were further formalised 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 stigmatised twilight zones known for sex, crime and violence.

Former camp town Survivor, 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 US military’.

Later, in 1967 during the Vietnam War, a pact was signed between Thailand and the US to set up “Rest and Recreation sites” with hundreds of brothels being opened to relieve combat stress for US troops.

The Bank of America and Chase Manhattan Bank provided the financing to establish these R&R sites.

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. Did the Amnesty International Secretariat consider these issues when researching their DRAFT policy paper? NO.

Amnesty – just who is doing the stigmatising?

‘Stigma’ is a word we often hear in conversations about the sex trade. Sextrade advocates often cite ‘stigma’ as one of the major issues for women in the sextrade 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 sextrade lobby as justification for decriminalisation. Are they aware they have been co-opted by those who benefit from the sextrade? 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.

What future?

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 decriminalised prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimised 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 dehumanisation, 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 legalised 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 organisation 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 Syrian refugees are being mercilessly exposed to dire poverty and unscrupulous traffickers. 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.

Yet informed legislation and changes in policy can offer these women hope and safety. The proven success of Nordic model laws in those countries, which have adopted them, shines as a beacon of light for all people who want to see the true liberation of women become a reality.

I would like to acknowledge all the Survivors who are now organising globally against the sextrade for their outstanding efforts and courage and all the people whose work I have quoted in my talk today but not named and lastly all the people in Hobart who have organised today’s event especially Bronwyn Williams, also for her excellent article published in the Mercury on 29 March, Elizabeth Fleetwood, Pat Gartlan, Matthew Holloway and our very special guest, National Director of NorMAC Simone Watson.