The Downfall of Amnesty International Part 2

“We need to eroticise equality. Prostitution is about buying a body, not mutual pleasure and free choice”, says Gloria Steinem …“The end of prostitution might be a distant ideal, but it is still far better than Amnesty’s grubby collusion with misogyny.” – Julie Bindel

Simone Watson, a Survivor of prostitution recalls her experiences at the 2014 Amnesty International Australia AGM which she attended in Melbourne:

“As survivors of the sex trade with post traumatic stress disorder, we were informed that we should not refer to ourselves as survivors but as “former sex workers”. What other group of people who have experienced torture were told they could not call themselves survivors? None. Unlike any other survivors or victims of torture, we were informed our experiences of suffering were merely how we “perceived” them. Not only did the board members of Amnesty International Australia allow us to be jeered at and subjected to slurs, two of us had to actively flee the room to escape the attacks on us. The hecklers were allowed to remain with impunity.

“You know, I was actually there as the democratically elected Amnesty International Human Rights Delegate for Western Australia. The board had no inclination to respect that democratic process, even if it meant allowing me to be bullied and traumatised. We were there as experts in legal, illegal and decriminalised prostitution. It wasn’t merely a suspicion that Amnesty wanted to ignore our expertise on policy and legislation, deliberate plans were put in place to silence us. Every trick in the book was thrown at us to discredit us and our proposed resolutions. Everything, from refusing to inform us who we would be debating, from telling us our alternative proposals had a one letter typographical error and therefore would now be invalid, to inviting a group of people, some of whom were not even Amnesty members, to call themselves “sex workers” to propel these heinous jeers and slurs at us. Have you ever heard of a marginalised group of people being treated that way by a human rights organisation?

“Are others with PTSD subjected to this kind of abuse by Amnesty International? Have you ever heard of a human rights organisation that says sex-buyers and pimps should have rights over the prostituted? Well, you have now.”

Chris Hedges, as a sufferer of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from his years as a war correspondent, recognises what prostituted women with PTSD endure after his interviews with them in refugee and displacement camps in Latin America, Africa and the Balkans. Prostituted women in and near war zones are as commonplace as corpses. He has outed Amnesty’s neoliberal approach to the global sex trade.

Lee Lakeman, the Canadian feminist, told [him] by email,

“In sheer numbers, it is the poor brown women of the world who pay with bruises, humiliation and deaths for this ignorant and hideous decision that has brought Amnesty International so low.

“When Amnesty International’s ‘progressive leftists’ blithely refer to ‘free choice to prostitute,’ do they choose to forget prostitution as imperialism? Third world brothel cities, the tourist brothels sprung up where once armies were stationed, man-camps of resource thieves that overrun indigenous communities, UN troops buying sex from women in refugee camps by offering them food? Abandoned migrant addicted kids and women in the ghettos of the world’s cities being bought for the price of a quick hit?

“Or are they [Amnesty and those who support its decision] imagining this free choice: the women, babes in arms migrating from war zones and environmental deserts who are bought with rides, food and water or with a chance to save a child? Surely they know how indigenous girls are groomed with drugs and alcohol and rides to the city from hopeless homelands. But they cannot have missed the inherent racism of prostitution that makes exotic every racial stereotype of woman on the back pages and internet sites of the world.

“And what of those of us, women of the global north, who have food and shelter? We fight now for the public life of full citizens. Are we obliged every time we leave our houses to face a barrage of men bloated with entitlement of class and race and sex, who sit scanning as we pass for our price tag? Consciousness, in part, knows who is standing with you. We know Amnesty International sold us out.”

Once a culture descends into the sickness of violence, once a culture allows human beings to become racial objects of exploitation, there is an explosion of rape and prostitution, along with pornography. War, like neo-liberal economics, sees only commodities, not sentient beings with the ability to feel pain and joy. Making war on people, as well as the planet, lies at the heart of neo-liberal economics.

Amnesty International has, in essence, legitimised the weapon of male objectification and violence in the war against women.

Amnesty International: Protecting the ‘Human Rights’ of Johns, Pimps and Human Traffickers

In The Framing of Gender Apartheid: Amnesty International and Prostitution by Taina Bien Aime, Director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, the questions we must be asking of Amnesty are made clear:

“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, Victim of Incest, Transgender, 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.”

“We need to eroticise equality. Prostitution is about buying a body, not mutual pleasure and free choice”, says Gloria Steinem, whose pleas to Amnesty were also left unanswered. “The most successful way to tackle this dangerous inequality is not criminalisation or legalisation, but the ‘Third Way’: decriminalise the prostituted while offering meaningful exit strategies and hold the buyers accountable.”

The lack of understanding of the indivisibility of the human rights of women and girls is not new to Amnesty. From refusing to speak out in the nineties against harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, to dragging its feet to include reproductive rights in its mandate, Amnesty preferred siding with countless governments on characterising such violations as mandated by culture or religion.

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.

Anna Djinn expands on the flawed consultation process and how many members of Amnesty were kept in the dark about the policy and the selective and biased research that underpinned it.

“At a meeting in Dublin on 11 August 2015, Amnesty International’s International Council adopted a resolution to authorise their International Board to develop and adopt a policy on ‘sex work’.

“Amnesty presented the arguments dishonestly and in such a way that, unless you were already well informed, you would get the impression that many people are calling for those involved in prostitution to be criminalised. However, in fact not a single feminist or human rights group or organisation working in the field is calling for this. This way of arguing is sometimes called a straw man argument – often the sign of a poor argument or an ulterior motive. It is not the behaviour we would expect from an international human rights organisation.

“Similarly Amnesty disguised the fact that they were calling for the full decriminalisation of the entire sex industry, including pimps, punters and brothel owners, behind phrases like ‘the operational aspects’ of the industry and by lumping sex buyers and sellers together. This means that Amnesty members and supporters were asked to make a decision on the basis of incomplete information.

“The consultation was a sham. When the draft policy/background paper was leaked in early 2014, many survivor and feminist groups condemned the proposal. Members were then offered three weeks (2-21 April 2014) to provide feedback on the document, although most members did not receive notification of this and members are spread around the globe in more than 70 countries.

“An internal Amnesty document dated 11 June 2014 summarised the feedback and included another draft of the policy. Of the 29 countries that responded, all supported the decriminalisation of those in prostitution but only 4 countries supported the full proposal and almost as many (3) called for the criminalisation of those buying sex, and more than twice as many (11) called for more consultation.

“The document does not, however, provide unbiased information about the arguments against the proposal received in the consultation – for example, arguments and evidence for the Nordic Model.

“The final draft of the policy was released to members on 7 July 2015.

“It appears that this was removed because the consultation had shown this to be hard to justify. However, the other changes did not fundamentally alter the proposal to fully decriminalise prostitution including punters and the “organisational aspects,” by which they mean pimps and brothel owners.

“The new draft did not even mention the criticisms from feminist and survivor groups or research that shows that full decriminalisation leads to greater trafficking and child sexual exploitation, and arguments for the Nordic Model do not even get a mention, not even a reference. And every single reference provided supports their position. By omitting the large body of writing and research that shows an opposing position, they gave a very one-sided and biased view.

“Many organisations, including survivor groups (such as Space International) and feminist groups criticised Amnesty’s new draft policy. The Coalition Against Trafficking of Women (CATW) published an open letter signed by over 400 advocates and organisations, condemning

“Amnesty’s proposal to adopt a policy that calls for the decriminalisation of pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex – the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry.”

Amnesty’s research was flawed.

Amnesty conducted research in 4 countries (Papua New Guinea, Norway, Argentina and Hong Kong) that have a variety of legislative approaches to prostitution, including one country (Norway) that has implemented the Nordic Model. Amnesty did not make the full reports publicly available but the leaked final draft policy includes a summary of the “overarching” research findings. This states that they interviewed “80 sex workers” – i.e. an average of 20 in each of the four countries – too small a sample to draw conclusive results. Also, as we saw earlier, the “sex worker” term may include pimps and others with vested interests in the decriminalised approach that Amnesty recommends.

A more honest approach would be to compare a country that has implemented a fully decriminalised approach (such as Holland) with a country that has implemented the Nordic Model. Sweden would make the best choice as an example of a country that has implemented the Nordic Model, as it has the longest experience with that approach and has had time and, importantly, the political will to iron out some of the teething problems.

Amnesty lied about who they’d consulted. Resources Prostitution, a feminist campaigning organisation, confirmed in a tweet that after months of calling Amnesty begging to talk to them about their proposals, Amnesty responded after the crucial vote on 11 August.

Shortly after Amnesty voted on the issue, Rachel Moran, Survivor from SAPCE was asked to appear on the BBC’s “The World This Week” to debate with Amnesty. She agreed but Amnesty refused to debate directly with her and insisted that the show was segmented so that Rachel would speak first and they would follow. They refused to meet Rachel Moran in a head on discussion.’

In talking to a single survivor of prostitution, what has Amnesty got to be afraid of – except, perhaps, the truth?

What Amnesty Did Wrong


At the 2017 Amnesty International UK National Conference and AGM the internal conflict over the “sex work” policy continued with the defeat of a resolution proposed by Anna Cleaves supporting the overturning of the “sex work” policy. The resolution, below, was defeated by 65.61% against to 34.39% for.

Summary: Re-evaluation of Amnesty International Policy in the light of evidence of consequences of models adopted across Europe.

This AGM calls on AIUK to advocate to the international secretariat board to:

1- Undertake balanced, rigorous research to make comparisons from recent findings between countries where prostitution is either decriminalised or legalised or which have adopted the Swedish legal framework (the latter being countries by which the UK is now practically surrounded). 2 – Use inclusive terminology to represent people in the sex trade rather than the term ‘sex worker’ and ‘sex work’, terms not representative of how most people in prostitution identify. The terms fail to include the vast majority of those in prostitution, 90% of whom are women. A more inclusive term would be ‘prostituted persons’ 3 – Work with survivors of prostitution, to support their human rights and to recognise what survivor organisations are saying about the men who buy and pimp women. 4 – Review the framework in which any policy on prostitution should sit.

Alternative policy frameworks such as the elimination of all forms of discrimination against Women (CEDAW), prevention of torture and trauma or ending violence should be considered. To recognise that the Harm Reduction principle identified in AI’s policy is inappropriate in the context of prostitution.

Motion Asking Amnesty to Reconsider its Prostitution Policy

The lack of understanding of the indivisibility of the human rights of women and girls is not new to Amnesty. From refusing to speak out in the nineties against harmful traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation, to dragging its feet to include reproductive rights in its mandate, Amnesty preferred siding with countless governments on characterizing such violations as mandated by culture or religion. (Taina Bien-Aime)

“The end of prostitution might be a distant ideal, but it is still far better than Amnesty’s grubby collusion with misogyny.” Julie Bindel

*Isla MacGregor is radical feminist, abolitionist and social justice advocate in Tasmania and was instrumental in establishing the Tasmanian Coalition for Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2003. Isla considers that the links between international organised crime groups, sex trafficking, the sex trade and the violence to women inherent in the prostitution market must be remedied by laws that criminalise the purchase of sex while decriminalising all those who are bought for sex. Isla considers that pornography and the commodifiication of women is a major driver in the escalating global crisis of violence against women.

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