Editor’s note: This piece by Amnesty International USA’s interim executive director was written in response to a recent article on RollingStone.com critical of the group’s policy on decriminalizing prostitution.
As one of the largest human rights organizations in the world, Amnesty International’s mission is to promote human rights for all and to protect people wherever justice is denied. Sex workers are among the most vulnerable populations in the world, at risk of abuse not only at the hands of clients or members of the public but by the police as well.
With that in mind, Amnesty International spent nearly three years conducting research and interviewing sex workers and their advocates in order to formulate a policy that calls for states to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of sex workers and to address any discrimination or inequalities that limit their choices in life. The policy includes decriminalizing sex work as one crucial step toward those goals.
We know that there are those who disagree with this policy. In our research, we made it a point to not only speak with current and former sex workers who support decriminalization and are engaged in sex work by choice but also with those who oppose it. We weighed all of this input seriously with the understanding that everyone we spoke with felt strongly about the safety of those engaged in sex work and the need to address the social and economic conditions that make some feel as if they have no other choice but sex work.
Here are five reasons why decriminalization is a crucial component of protecting the human rights of sex workers.
1. Criminalizing buyers does not protect sex workers.
Our research included an examination of how the “Nordic model,” which criminalizes the buying of sex, actually plays out. Such laws wound up putting sex workers in even more dangerous situations. Sex workers are often forced to put the protection of their clients above their own well-being. This pushes sex work further underground, making it difficult to seek help when needed. Sex workers are also forced to meet clients in hidden places where the risks to their safety are higher, rather than places where they know they will be safe.