Amnesty International adopts sex work decriminalization policy

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Despite calls from some celebrities, faith-based and anti-sex work organizations, the global human rights group Amnesty International adopted a policy to support the full decriminalization of sex work and protect the human rights of sex workers at the International Council Meeting, the group’s decision-making forum, earlier this month.

The policy calls on countries to ensure sex workers full and equal protection from violations sex workers can be exposed to, including physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. The resolution also calls for better access to health care and housing services, and other social and legal protection.

Amnesty International engaged in research and consultation for two years in developing this policy, and drew from an extensive evidence base from sources including the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, as well as consultation with sex worker groups, groups representing survivors of prostitution, feminist and other women’s right representatives, LBGTI activists, anti-trafficking agencies and HIV/AIDS organizations.

The news that Amnesty International initiated a consultation to address sex worker decriminalization ignited a firestorm of controversy, with journalists, celebrities, and other human rights groups criticizing Amnesty International for taking a stance they see as promoting the exploitation of women and human trafficking, and “protecting pimps.”

“Amnesty International firmly believes that those who exploit or abuse sex workers must be criminalized. But the reality is laws which criminalize ‘brothel-keeping’ and ‘promotion’ often lead to sex workers being arrested and prosecuted themselves,” Catherine Murphy, policy advisory at Amnesty International wrote in a blog post.

“Any foray into the lives of sex workers reveals so many crucial human rights issues that urgently need addressing,” Murphy wrote. “How can we reduce the threat of violence to sex workers? What can be done to ensure their access to medical care and help prevent HIV? And how can discrimination and social marginalization that put sex workers at increased risk of abuse be stopped? These questions about health, safety and equality under the law, are more important than any moral objection to the nature of sex work.”

Several Asian and African sex worker led organizations joined UNAIDS in drafting letters to Amnesty International, supporting a decriminalization policy

The policy will help shape Amnesty International’s future work on sex work, said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General in a statement.

Click here to read the resolution in full.

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