Desperate people will consent to a lot of things

The BBC did a backgrounder piece by Naomi Grimley on Amnesty and the decriminalization of sex work yesterday.

It’s not often that a liberal newspaper like The Guardian rails against an organisation like Amnesty International.
But last week the paper ran a stinging editorial questioning the wisdom of the human rights group.
It said Amnesty would make a “serious mistake” if it advocated the decriminalisation of prostitution – a decision the group’s international council will vote on later on Tuesday.

Women’s groups and Jimmy Carter have said similar things.

Amnesty’s leaked proposal says decriminalisation would be “based on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults is entitled to protection from state interference” so long as violence or child abuse or other illegal behaviour isn’t involved.

But you could call anything consensual and make it ok that way. Desperate people “consent” to do dangerous work, because they need to survive. Desperate people sometimes even “consent” to selling themselves into slavery, because they need to survive. Desperate people “consent” to living in neighborhoods near toxic landfills and the like. Consent isn’t always completely free.

Germany is one of the countries which liberalised its prostitution laws, together with New Zealand and the Netherlands.

One of the main reasons the Germans opted for legalisation in 2002 was the hope that it would professionalise the industry, giving prostitutes more access to benefits such as health insurance and pensions – just like in any other job.

But there are many who argue that the German experiment has gone badly wrong with very few prostitutes registering and being able to claim benefits. Above all, the number one criticism is that it’s boosted sex tourism and fuelled human trafficking to meet the demand of an expanded market.
Figures on human trafficking and its relationship to prostitution are hard to establish. But one academic study looking at 150 countries argued there was a link between relaxed prostitution laws and increased trafficking rates.
Other critics of the German model point to anecdotal evidence of growing numbers of young Romanian and Bulgarian women travelling to Germany to work on the streets or even in mega-brothels.

An investigation in 2013 by Der Spiegel described how many of these women head to cities such as Cologne voluntarily but soon end up caught in a dangerous web they can’t easily escape.

But it’s good for the people who make the profit.

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