Darren Geist at Rolling Stone has 5 reasons to be wary of Amnesty’s position on prostitution.
In its report, Amnesty frames prostitution as sex work, pimps as legitimate sex business operators and johns as customers. This approach to prostitution is irresponsible and has been opposed by more than 600 leading organizations and individuals in the women’s rights, human rights and anti-human trafficking fields.
But they can all be called whorephobic and dismissed.
The first reason is that decrim will increase sex trafficking.
Prostitution has been decriminalized or legalized in several countries, and the results have been clear: Sex trafficking and criminal activities have increased or, at best, remained constant. Even Amsterdam had to impose greater restrictions on its prostitution industry to deal with rising crime. Denmark, where prostitution was decriminalized in 1999, has four times as many sex-trafficking victims as nearby Sweden, even though Sweden’s population is 40 percent larger.
These conclusions are backed up by three recent studies of global databases. All three — a World Development paper, University of Gothenburg study and NYU School of Law report — found that decriminalizing drastically increases the demand for prostitution by reducing the associated stigma and costs.
It’s not hard to see why that might be. If cocaine were available at Safeway next to the aspirin and Ibuprofen, more people would buy it.
Next, decrim will make life worse for prostitutes.
Prostitution’s decriminalization typically has a race-to-the-bottom effect where prostitutes are pressured to offer more for less. Prostitutes in Germany, for instance, often put in 18-hour days and live in the rooms out of which they work — hardly a healthy environment. Prostitutes also end up offering a wider range of risky services, including unprotected sex, anal sex, group sex, BDSM and acting out torture or rape fantasies. In New Zealand, women in brothels have reported that “men now demand more than ever for less than ever. And because the trade is socially sanctioned, there is no incentive for the government to provide exit strategies for those who want to get out of it. These women are trapped.”
But it’s whorephobic to say that.
And then there’s the issue of consent, aka “agency.”
Over the past several years, consent to sex has been a hot topic of debate — but Amnesty largely ignores its complexities. What counts as voluntary prostitution is highly contested. We know that prostitutes are predominantly from disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. We know that entry into prostitution is often preceded by prolonged and repeated trauma, that rape was the first sexual experience of most prostitutes, and that a majority of prostitutes were victims of child sexual abuse. We know that many sex traffickers groom their victims, fostering romantic relationships with them before leveraging those attachments into commercial exploitation. We also know women who enter into prostitution do so at a very young age. While exact numbers are impossible, several controversial studies have put the average age of entry between 12 and 14; others have found that the majority entered prior to 18, and an international study found that 47 percent entered before age 18. Under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, any minor — person under 18 — in prostitution is a victim of sex trafficking. Yet in Amnesty’s framework, regardless of a prostitute’s history of exploitation or age of entry into sex work, prostitution is considered consensual from the day she turns 18.
And that’s treated as “respecting” the prostitute’s “agency” – which I think is a perverse way of looking at it.
And then there’s the rape culture reason, which I’ve always considered all but undeniable. If prostitution is okie doke, then rape becomes just a property crime.
Amnesty’s embrace of commercial sex feeds rape culture by trivializing sex, weakening gender equality and treating sex as something that can bought and sold. But sex is — and should be — treated differently from other activities. It is a uniquely personal and private act. Rape is categorically worse than other forms of assault precisely because it is a more intimate violation. The human rights push against anti-sodomy laws was also grounded in a belief that sexual activity deserved special protection.
Decriminalization of prostitution will lead to bizarre (and morally troubling) legal problems. If a client and prostitute reach an agreement for services and the client “exceeds” those agreed-upon services, is that theft of services or rape? If police are investigating the incident, should they, at first instance, treat it as a contract dispute or a sexual assault? These problems are created by Amnesty’s framework, in which sex is treated as just another commodity.
The final item is yo, this is economic libertarianism, and since when is that a left thing?
The government prohibits a wide range of economic activity, and groups like Amnesty usually advocate for robust regulation because of concerns about labor-right violations, work conditions and abuse of workers. But in this case, Amnesty proposes a decriminalization of an industry known to be highly dangerous, rife with corruption and violence, frequently if not by definition sexually exploitative and at a high risk of sex trafficking.
Not to mention harming mostly women, for the sexual pleasure of mostly men.
Amnesty’s proposal perverts human-rights and women’s-rights principles. It sacrifices the concerns and welfares of the vast majority of prostitutes, who are caught in an exploitative and brutal industry. As a result, Amnesty has staked out a position that will be a boon to pimps and sex traffickers, and will do great damage to the human rights of the men, women and children caught in the sex industry.
Especially the women and girls.