Motion Asking Amnesty to Reconsider its Prostitution Policy


Dr Anna Cleaves has proposed a motion to Amnesty International UK (AIUK) asking the International Secretariat to re-evaluate its policy on prostitution. The resolution has been accepted and it will be debated at the AIUK Conference in Nottingham on 8 and 9 April 2017.

Click to download motion

Note: This article is two years old. The motion was debated and rejected, as described in Controversy over Prostitution at the Amnesty UK AGM.

This is not the first proposal from a national Amnesty section calling on the international organisation to reconsider its prostitution policy. A similar resolution was adopted by the French section.

Please pass on the word and encourage support for the motion. If you are a member of AIUK, please come to the AIUK Conference and vote for the motion.

Please disseminate this proposal to local AI groups. Nordic Model Now! is developing a slideshow on the evidence about prostitution  and the different legislative approaches. Please contact us if you would like to take it to a local AI group to form the basis of a presentation about this motion.

Motion to AIUK Conference, April 2017


Amnesty International policy on ‘Sex work’


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.


Evaluating decriminalisation (1999) in Denmark the Danish Social Agency (2012) reported an increase in the prevalence of prostitution. Decriminalization did not curb the high levels of violence that prostituted individuals experience, demonstrating that prostitution is inherently violent and abusive (New Zealand Law Review Committee, 2008). The majority of prostituted persons are female whereas the majority of sex-buyers are male (Dank et al 2014).

Empirical analysis for a cross-section of 150 countries shows that on average countries where prostitution is legal experience larger reported human trafficking inflows’, (Neumayer 2013). None of the objectives ( to destroy the stigma of prostitution; end trafficking; improving safety and generating tax revenues) of legalisation introduced in Holland in 2000 was achieved (Raymond J. 2013)

The Swedish Sexual Purchases Act (1999) in which buying sex becomes a criminal offence is adopted in France, Northern Ireland, Norway, Iceland, Canada, Lithuania and Israel and supported by the European Parliament. Prostituted people are decriminalised, criminal records wiped clean and Exit programmes offered. In Sweden street prostitution has halved, and murders of women in prostitution have dropped.

In evaluating the Swedish law Justice Skarhed (2010) submitted that on a gender equality and human rights perspective, shifting focus away from those who are exploited in prostitution to demand, i.e. traffickers, procurers and sex purchasers, the distinction between voluntary and non-voluntary prostitution is irrelevant. As survivor Moran R. (2013) states, ‘To depict prostitution as chosen, with the prostitute in control, is to sanitise the true nature of prostitution: the commercialisation of sexual abuse.

The 1949 UN Convention on the Suppression of Trafficking in persons, declares that prostitution and trafficking are exploitative and ‘incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community.’ The 2000 UN Palermo Protocol against Transnational Organised Crime states that any form of force, coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, or of a position of vulnerability or the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve consent nullifies the apparent consent. Hence there is no such thing as consensual prostitution.


‘Harm reduction’ in slavery to reduce the weight of shackles, limit lengths of slave voyages and tax slave ships in port ignored the fact (now taken for granted) that slavery as an institution needed to be abolished. Similarly prostitution is not an inevitable institution, but a harmful cultural practice (Raymond J. 2013)

Download a PDF version of this motion.


For an account of what happened next, see Controversy over Prostitution at the Amnesty UK AGM

15 thoughts on “Motion Asking Amnesty to Reconsider its Prostitution Policy

  1. What does “following paragraph deleted” mean? What was it deleted from? And which agency (AI or NMN) deleted it?

    I like that paragraph, I think it makes an inarguable statement about the inherent weakness of Reform versus the power of Abolition.

    1. The motion was not written by NMN but by Dr Anna Cleaves, supported by various Amnesty members, and we have posted it here in solidarity with them and to help publicise it. I therefore do not have the information you ask for but will ask someone to clarify. However, I suspect that AIUK rejected the paragraph during the approval process.

    2. I read it as meaning:
      The paragraph about shackles etc was deleted from the 2009 protocol, because it implies that slavery can be mitigated and tolerated if harm reduction strategies are applied.

      This note has been included in this brief, in order to showcase the inherent contradiction in harm reduction strategies such as the ones advocated by those who want state sponsored prostitution.

      1. Ahh. Cancel that. Having read the explanation and re read the original.. I understand it 😉
        I really am better at maths that all tis lawyer speak…

  2. Yes, I like that paragraph too. My friend Dr Anna Cleaves asked me to respond on her behalf and explain that the section was deleted by Amnesty UK on the grounds that a motion to the AGM has to be purely factual and not contain any persuasion or argument. I can see the point of this in a way – if there are a lot of motions then the summary should be short, clear and factual.
    Anna Cleaves can make the point which was deleted when she speaks to propose her motion. She has found the work of Janice Raymond who drew the detailed parallel between the Harm Reduction approaches to Prostitution and Slavery in ‘Not a Choice, Not a Job’ extremely helpful.

    Thanks for asking – it’s a good question.

    Some of us have rejoined Amnesty (having formerly resigned in protest) and have booked to go to the conference (it’s free!) at Nottingham Uni on April 8th or 9th to support Anna. If you area member or can bear to join then please consider doing the same. And let us know.
    Also Nordic Model Now has a slide show about prostitution which it is happy to bring to Amnesty or other groups who would like to hear this side of the story as well as the one which currently constitutes Amnesty policy.

  3. will sex workers voices be allowed to be heard? or will they be silenced?
    They are after all, the ones who should be listened to rather than just those who want to povertise sex workers

    1. Many women in prostitution and survivors of it reject the term “sex worker” because it implies that prostitution is benign and wholesome, is work like any other, when nothing could be further from the truth. In addition, many pimps and other profiteers of the sex industry style themselves as “sex workers.” But Amnesty didn’t listen to the women survivors and those still in prostitution who reject the “sex worker” term. We do.

      For more on this, and the history of Amnesty’s policy and how it came about, we recommend the following articles:

      1. If you read the motion you will see that Dr Cleaves is asking Amnesty to look at evidence – academic works which have been published and peer-reviewed, and published government reports. Any responsible organisation would do this.
        The term ‘sex worker’ is misleading because it implies that prostitution is a normal job. It is not. As Janice Raymond points out in her authoritative study ‘Not a Choice, Not a Job’, when the debate over slavery was raging, it was proposed to rename the field slaves in the US ‘assistant planters’. This was not any kind of a solution, and nor is it a solution to the violence and degradation of prostitution to call the people exploited in it ‘sex workers’.

  4. This is really heartening news. As a frontline worker in the field of violence against women I was shocked at the policy decision taken by Amnesty International. I will share this information as widely as I can.

    1. Many thanks for your support. Proxy voting is now open so please encourage as many members as possible to cast their vote on this. If you are coming to conference please come and say hallo.

  5. The background notes section to this superb motion need tightening up or I fear the movers will wither under the heat of the prostitution lobby cross-examination. Those research notes that have been peer-reviewed should be highlighted as the excellent eithophel suggests, I think, otherwise your typical ‘Farley mocking’ will ensue. And the attributions should be complete – for example the killer evidence from Neumayer 2013 that legalisation results in increased trafficking should be attributed to Cho, Dreyer and Neumayer and the take down arguments addressed.
    A good motion to put forward though, and if passed and implemented it could save a good few human relationships in the future.

  6. Thanks for the kind words Andrew, and for the useful suggestion. I am not sure that the pro-prostitution lobby is ready to actually look at the evidence, but possibly Amnesty may be. Dr Cleaves is coming over tomorrow to go through the comments so I will pass your suggestion onto her.

  7. I would like it to be known that I was an active member of AIUSA for 39 years, and was Group Coordinator of local Group 49 (Providence, RI, USA) for more than 10 years. On December 28, 2016, I was expelled from AIUSA, with my membership in my local group rescinded, along with my role as Group Coordinator. My expulsion came after our local group invited a survivor as the Guest Speaker at our annual Write-a-thon for Human Rights (“Write for Rights”), in observance of International Human RIghts Day. I expressed the views of our group in favor of the Nordic Model, and opposed to the new Amnesty policy on “sex work” that was adopted at the ICM in Dublin in August, 2015. I was also expelled for making my views known publicly. The letter expelling me was signed by Ann Burroughs, Chair of the Board of AIUSA. I appealed and was told that I must wait one full year, after which I can re-apply for membership. Amnesty members should know about this. In the meanwhile, my group and I have become interested in the Peter Benenson Society, which does not take a position like that of Amnesty on the sex trade, and which unlike Amnesty International, does not have a gag order against public speech or public writing.
    Marcia R. Lieberman, Providence, RI (Rhode Island), USA

    1. Dear Marcia, this is so terrible. We did read about Amnesty’s treatment of you in the press at the time and were horrified. We send you our support and solidarity. Warmest wishes from all at Nordic Model Now!

  8. I should have added that the Guest Speaker whom we invited to our Write-a-thon is a member of Space International.
    Marcia R. Lieberman

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