At the close of their Dublin meeting yesterday, delegates representing Amnesty International members worldwide voted in favor of taking up sex workers’ rights. Their vote authorizes Amnesty’s international board to adopt a policy to protect sex workers rights, including “the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”
“This is an important step for sex workers all over the world,” Luca Stevenson, coordinator of the International Committee on the Rights of Sex Workers in Europe said. The policy drew controversy in the weeks leading up to the meeting, when a draft leaked online. Opposition to the policy misrepresented its aims as legalizing or otherwise condoning abuse and violence.
“We really hope that those who have opposed Amnesty’s position in the past will reconsider their position and look at the evidence that criminalization of sex work is a key factor in our vulnerability to violence and abuse,” Stevenson told me. “We hope that this evidence-based decision by Amnesty will help other progressive organizations take a position to support sex workers’ rights.”
It’s not evident yet what power this evidence has with those who object to Amnesty’s policy because they are anti-sex work. Across social media, anti-sex work lobby groups like the Coalition Against Trafficking In Women and Demand Abolition repeated their points throughout the weekend meeting. At times, anti-sex work posts overwhelmed the Amnesty meeting hashtag, alongside posts from anti-abortion campaigners. An image of Amnesty’s candle logo circulated, the candle wrapped in barbed wire replaced by an erect penis.
Yesterday Amnesty released a short video responding directly to their opposition in a montage of headlines like “Amnesty International says prostitution is a human right – but it’s wrong” and claims that Amnesty’s decision would “make sex trafficking easier.”
“Prostitution is not a human right, but sex workers have human rights,” Amnesty’s Deputy Europe Director Gauri van Gulick replied in the video. “We know that gender inequality and other forms of inequality and discrimination are pushing, forcing people into the sex industry. We believe that you cannot punish those who are there, who are driven to sex work, by criminalizing it and in fact taking away choices. We believe we need to work on gender inequality more broadly and that’s what we stand for.”