I was surprised to be asked about my thoughts on the Amnesty decision to recommend that Sex Work be decriminalized World Wide. Not only did I not think anyone care about my opinion, I thought it would get lost in the shouting from the opposing sides. It seems as though everyone is selecting to interpret the Amnesty decision how it would best suit their feelings.
The Anti Sex Trafficking and Survivors groups are dedicated to their position that the world is teeming with pimps and traffickers who they imagine are now free to organize and exploit women at children at will. The Sex Worker Rights Organizations are declaring and celebrating a victory that has really not been won quite yet. Everyone seems to have gone to their extreme right or left of the issue and are calling for Amnesty to either deliver its head on a platter of apology or elevate it to some sort of God Like status as if it had any kind of immediate impact on local or regional policy. I have seen many of my friends on Twitter and Facebook clearly rattled that this decision didn’t immediately settle the issue, allowing us to shake hands and start working within the framework of these recommendations – within our respective positions – to create a better world for women.
The facts are that Amnesty is a respected World Wide Organization who has consistently removed the passion and prejudice from historic Human Rights issues and made recommendations for polices that create a fair and just platform for people of all races, genders, religious and political issues. They are an independent Human Rights Organization who isn’t swayed by gossipy chatter, political opinions, religious hissing or fanatical rhetoric. They assess the facts, listen to experts from a variety of perspectives and then do the right thing from a Human Rights point of view. In fact, “historic decisions” are sort of their “thing”.
I’m relieved that Amnesty has finally made decision on the subject of decriminalizing Sex Work world-wide. As a rational person, I know it is not going to have a single iota of immediate relief for literally anyone who is a victim or survivor of sex trafficking OR anyone who is a willing participant in the sex trade. Certainly not in the US. There will still be stigma. There will still be discrimination and there will still be abuse. Only now there will be no question as to whether or not it is wrong.
Regarding Sex Work, the Amnesty policy states that “Human rights belong to everyone inherently by virtue of being human — and that includes sex workers. Sex workers are particularly at risk of human rights violations, including physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, medical interventions, and exclusions from health care, housing and other social and legal benefits. The goal of this policy is to protect the rights and safety of sex workers. Existing research suggests that to fully protect and empower sex workers to defend their human rights, we must decriminalize both the sellers and the clients who buy sex.”
Regarding Sex Trafficking, the Amnesty policy states “This vote does NOT condone sex trafficking. As a global human rights organization, Amnesty International opposes all forms of commercial sex based on force, fraud, or coercion, including any sex act involving a minor. Such situations are sex trafficking, not sex work.”
To those within the Sex Worker Community, I hope that there will be a concerted effort to make sure that the information in the Amnesty decision is filtered to the people who won’t know about it because they aren’t on Twitter and Facebook and have no idea that anyone is trying to make their lives better by allowing them access to housing, healthcare and social benefits. I hope that the Sex Worker Community understands the seriousness of their responsibility to let the Sex Workers who are consistently abused and harassed and excluded from the conversation know there is relief on the horizon and the constant fear of being arrested or detained or discriminated against is something they might possibly experience in their lifetime.
To those who are in the “Rescue and Restore” community who say they work to rehabilitate those who made a choice to engage in Sex Work for whatever reason, I hope that you will take a moment to consider how you can elevate your standards of care and concern in order to achieve a new understanding of how you can infuse your rehabilitation programs with more empowerment and respect for women in general, but for Sex Workers in particular. I hope that you will set aside your moral judgement and distaste for the subject of Sex Work in order to simply understand what Rights for Humans really is and set your lofty goals on how you can influence this ideal… while Sex Work is not Sex Trafficking – the conversation is fluid and the process of social change must continue to include Human Rights for ALL the humans you discover…even the ones you disagree with or don’t really like. You will find success in any effort where RESPECT is held as an ideal.
To our Law Enforcement contingent – the gig is up. Regardless of how long it takes for decriminalization to take hold in your community, you may no longer violate the Human Rights of Sex Workers without consequences. You already know the difference between Sex Work and Sex Trafficking and it will no longer be acceptable for you to make sweeping determinations and calculated abuses as individuals or as a group. You may still be legally able to arrest Sex Workers and their clients for now, but you will be violating the code honor you swore to uphold of Protecting and Serving Humans and their Rights.
I know that my hopes and dreams for the subject of Sex Work falls mostly on deaf ears and that we are a long way from treating each other in a manner that would make Amnesty proud. I know that many people and organizations in the US will double down on their efforts to further exploit and discriminate against impoverished sex workers in particular. In reality I’m sure there are new abuses and exclusions that will take place in order to skirt the Human Rights campaigns that were so hard-fought on the behalf of Sex Workers. Discrimination is such a part of our culture, I know that I can’t rationally expect that this will be the effort that will finally bring about real conversations about poverty and what we can do to address it. But I would hope that as a nation, we would at least consider that Human Rights are for Humans. And discrimination, abuse and exclusion is not where we want to “set our hat” forever.