Amnesty International for Traffickers of Women

Translated from German.

Original published on the website of the German feminist magazine Emma on 30 January 2014.

See Amnesty protest flyers at

See Amnesty protest flyers at

Amnesty International is taking a pro-“sex work” stance, and this also includes brothel owners and pimps. Now resistance has started to form, however, and all hell is loose online. Prostitute’s organizations started an online petition against Amnesty, and Twitter is overflowing with #QuestionsForAmnesty: “Pimping is not a human right!”

The paper reads as though it was dictated by the pro-prostitution lobby: “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults,” write the London headquarters of the human rights organization in a recent position paper. Those who peruse the eleven-page document will search it in vain for demands to curb the gigantic sex trade with its rampant human rights violations.

Violence? A power differential between the sexes? Of course not, silly. “This analysis largely ignores the complexity of human sexual interactions particularly those that do not fall within the framework of the traditional heterosexual relationships”, Amnesty writes. And anyway, laws against “sex work” are shaped by “confusion, ambivalence, and fear about sex, desire, and women’s sexual autonomy.”

Traffickers? Pimps? Why, no. In Amnesty-speak, they are those who “recruit for or arrange the prostitution of others.” What they do? They “facilitate sex work through the provision of information or assistance.” And thus, Amnesty benevolently includes the profiteers of the sex industry in their decriminalization strategy: “States have a positive obligation to reform their laws and develop and implement systems and policies that eliminate discrimination against those engaging in sex work.”

Their timing is certainly not coincidental. The French National Assembly only just decided to punish johns (and to completely decriminalize the prostituted). And it looks as though the entire EU could fall into line: the European Parliament’s Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee recently voted through a report demanding that the EU countries adopt the Swedish Model. The pro-prostitution lobby is apparently getting cold feet. And they obviously have good connections in London.

But the human rights organization that evidently takes great interest in men’s rights and very little in women’s is not only being applauded by the sex worker lobby – they are also reaping massive resistance.

On the hashtag #QuestionsForAmnesty, the human rights advocates are being bombarded with questions. “Do you want girls to grow up learning they are a commodity for men?” “Why do Amnesty ignore the effects full legalization has had in Germany?” “Have you ever listened to women in prostitution? They have a lot to tell you!” Indeed.

For instance the organization SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightment): the formerly prostituted women from several countries started a petition. “We, the members of SPACE International, object in the strongest possible terms to the position of Amnesty International (AI) on the issue of prostitution.(…) It is a policy position that can only be taken if one is willing to ignore the realities of how women and girls end up in prostitution in the first place. (…) For Amnesty International to refer to it as ‘freely chosen gainful work’ is to explicitly ignore that nothing about commercial sexual exploitation is freely chosen.”

The organization Sex Trafficking Survivors United joins in: “We have been disturbed and disappointed to see Amnesty International suggest full decriminalization of pimps and brothel keepers. The general public understands (and as survivors we know) that commercial sexual exploitation is controlled by organized crime. Amnesty’s proposal will only strengthen organized crime’s hold on the exploited and vulnerable communities worldwide. (…) It is simply not credible to suggest prostitution can exist independently of sex trafficking, racism and brutal abuse.”

In the British press, the feminist writer Julie Bindel voices her outrage: “Having researched prostitution, one woman who I interviewed described her life of seeing at least ten male customers a day as ‘a form of torture’. That is just the sort of injustice that Amnesty is meant to be fighting. Yet Amnesty, in an abject inversion of its ethical values, has somehow persuaded itself that surrender to money-driven, masculine sexual aggression represents progress towards liberty.”

But Amnesty’s push is not really surprising. “What is the human rights organization’s position on women’s rights?” Emma asked already in 2010. Back then the head of the ‘Stop Violence Against Women’ campaign, Gita Saghal, had brought a scandal to light: Amnesty had used the self-declared Taliban-follower Moazzam Begg as the poster boy of its anti-Guantanamo campaign. Begg stayed, Saghal was sacked – due to “irreconcilable differences.”

Let’s wait and see whether there is anyone left at Amnesty’s London headquarters who can do any protesting.

Click here for the petition against Amnesty International

See The Invisible Men Project for a look at the men Amnesty are protecting. Warning: graphic content.