Amnesty is confused

Amnesty International has a report on the physical assault, exploitation and sexual harassment that refugee women face as they reach Europe.

Governments and aid agencies are failing to provide even basic protections to women refugees traveling from Syria and Iraq. New research conducted by Amnesty International shows that women and girl refugees face violence, assault, exploitation and sexual harassment at every stage of their journey, including on European soil. 

The organization interviewed 40 refugee women and girls in Germany and Norway last month who travelled from Turkey to Greece and then across the Balkans. All the women described feeling threatened and unsafe during the journey. Many reported that in almost all of the countries they passed through they experienced physical abuse and financial exploitation, being groped or pressured to have sex by smugglers, security staff or other refugees. 

But that’s sex work. Surely Amnesty views it as their right, as well as the right of the smugglers, security staff and other refugees.

A dozen of the women interviewed said that they had been touched, stroked or leered at in European transit camps. One 22-year-old Iraqi woman told Amnesty International that when she was in Germany a uniformed security guard offered to give her some clothes in exchange for “spending time alone” with him.     

“Nobody should have to take these dangerous routes in the first place. The best way to avoid abuses and exploitation by smugglers is for European governments to allow safe and legal routes from the outset. For those who have no other choice, it is completely unacceptable that their passage across Europe exposes them to further humiliation, uncertainty and insecurity,” said Tirana Hassan. 

Abuses? Exploitation? That sounds very sex-negative. How can Amnesty International call an opportunity for sex work “humiliation”?

Smugglers target women who are travelling alone knowing they are more vulnerable. When they lacked the financial resources to pay for their journey smugglers would often try to coerce them into having sex.

At least three women said that smugglers and those working with the smugglers’ network harassed them or others, and offered them a discounted trip or a shorter wait to get on the boat across the Mediterranean, in exchange for sex.

Well what’s the problem? It’s sex work, which Amnesty thinks should be totally legalized for pimps and johns as well as the sex workers.

Hala, a 23-year-old woman from Aleppo told Amnesty International,

“At the hotel in Turkey, one of the men working with the smuggler, a Syrian man, said if I sleep with him, I will not pay or pay less. Of course I said no, it was disgusting. The same happened in Jordan to all of us.”

“My friend who came with me from Syria ran out of money in Turkey, so the smuggler’s assistant offered her to have sex with him [in exchange for a place on a boat]; she of course said no, and couldn’t leave Turkey, so she’s staying there.”

But it’s just sex work. Sex work is pleasant, enjoyable work, which meets men’s inherent need for “intimacy.” How can it be disgusting? Why did her friend say no?

Nahla, a 20-year old from Syria told Amnesty International

“The smuggler was harassing me. He tried to touch me a couple of times. Only when my male cousin was around he did not come close. I was very afraid, especially that we hear stories along the way of women who can’t afford the smugglers who would be given the option to sleep with the smugglers for a discount.”

He has a need for “intimacy” like any other man. He’s just exercising his right to try to get some.

Reem, a 20-year-old from Syria who was travelling with her 15-year-old cousin:

“I never got the chance to sleep in settlements. I was too scared that anyone would touch me. The tents were all mixed and I witnessed violence… I felt safer in movements, especially on the bus, the only place I could shut my eyes and sleep. In the camps we are so prone to being touched, and women can’t really complain and they don’t want to cause issues to disrupt their trip.”

If they would just think of it as sex work, and the men groping them as potential sources of income, everyone would be happy.

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