On Thursday 26 May 2016, Amnesty International formally adopted a policy that calls for the full decriminalisation of the sex trade.
While we at Nordic Model Now! welcome Amnesty’s call for the full decriminalisation of all prostituted women, children, men and transgendered people, we very strongly disagree with Amnesty’s call to decriminalise pimps, procurers and brothel owners and those who buy human beings for sex.
Under a veneer of concern for the human rights of the marginalised human beings who make up the vast majority of those in prostitution, Amnesty’s policy document is riddled with logical inconsistencies, omissions of key information and flawed reasoning.
For example, the policy calls for the tackling of gender inequality and the objectification of women but is oblivious to the fact that prostitution and related practices, like lap dancing and pornography, are key mechanisms by which gender inequality is maintained and through which women are objectified.
Absent also is any mention of how that objectification impacts on women and girls. As Elizabeth Hungerford wrote recently, “No one can meaningfully consent to sex when their human value has been reduced to their body’s capacity to sexually gratify someone else. Humans aren’t objects or tools, they are sentient beings with feelings and complex emotional needs. Treating sex like a transaction is inherently dehumanizing.”[i]
Amnesty’s policy insists that “sex work” and trafficking should not be conflated, but it redefines the internationally agreed definition of trafficking to omit its most relevant purpose: the exploitation of the prostitution of others.[ii] Exploiting the prostitution of another human being is the essence of pimping. And most pimping also satisfies the other elements of trafficking.
Another key piece of information that Amnesty left out is that the vast majority of women and children in prostitution worldwide have a pimp.[iii] Together these pieces of missing information explain why Sigma Huda, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking 2004–2008, said: “Prostitution as actually practised in the world usually does satisfy the elements of trafficking.”[iv]
What then is the meaning of Amnesty’s instruction to not conflate “sex work” and trafficking? And how in practice does Amnesty expect them to be separated? And how does Amnesty justify redefining pimps as “organisers” of prostitution and calling for their decriminalisation, when most fit the international legal definition of human traffickers?
The policy calls for laws that protect the health and safety of those in prostitution as if prostitution can be made reasonably healthy and safe. The dangers to women’s and girls’ health and safety do not stop at STIs and HIV (which would be bad enough) but include unwanted pregnancy, stabbings, broken bones, permanent damage to sphincters and internal organs, PTSD, anxiety, depression, suicide, and murder – all caused by the actions of pimps and punters and not by the stigma that the policy is so concerned with. What legislation or regulations can protect against such damage when violence is inherent to prostitution itself?
The policy relies on the research conducted in 2012 by Bjørndah on behalf of Pro Sentret to discredit the Nordic Model approach[v]. This research has been withdrawn by Pro Sentret[vi] who now admits that the data actually shows that violence in prostitution in Norway has decreased since the introduction of the Nordic Model. Unfortunately those who rushed to translate the original report have not shown the same zeal about translating its retraction. That Amnesty conducted so-called research in Norway without discovering that this report has been retracted suggests that they only spoke to people who agreed with their pre-decided position. Which does call into question the validity of all of the research they conducted.
In fact Amnesty’s policy retains the flaws of the earlier drafts, which is not surprising given the way that Amnesty went about drafting it, and consulting and researching the issues, as documented in What Amnesty Did Wrong.
Perhaps the most bizarre fact is that Amnesty did not conduct research in any of the countries, such as New Zealand and Germany, that have implemented legislation consistent with its recommendations. If it had conducted such research, Amnesty would know that the approach it recommends invariably leads to an unmitigated human rights disaster.
Beneath the veneer, Amnesty’s policy is like a Male Rights Activist treatise in its disregard for the human rights of women and girls to not be prostituted, and the suffering that prostitution causes, and in its sense of entitlement and narcissism that does not question men’s right to build up their egos through the exploitation and debasement of women and children.
Amnesty is wrong. The Nordic Model is the human rights-based solution to the ancient and oppressive institution of prostitution.
[i] Elizabeth Hungerford social media post 27 May, 2016