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Sex Work, Decriminalization and Amnesty International

"Politychna Krytyka" (Political Critique) online magazine asked for opinions of SWAN Secretariat representaive and All-Ukrainain League "Legalife" representitive on the Amnesty International draft policy.

1,5 weeks ago Amnesty International’s draft policy calling for the decriminalisation of sex work got public attention. Since then, there were letters sent to Amnesty International the organization to reconsider its position regarding sex work, petitions were created that ask Amnesty International to stand firmly on its position. The Internet got flooded with numerous articles that have a wide range of emotions: from support up to the total condemnation of Amnesty International’s position. In order to clarify the situation with the policy draft of Amnesty International. "Political Critique" asked for comments the representatives of sex workers rights organizations.

Maria Morozova, SWAN Secretariat representative

Amnesty International’s policy is aimed at ending decriminalization and protection of the rights of adult sex workers who do it because they chose so themselves. This policy was developed after two years of research and consultation, and it is in line with the views of other international organizations and institutions, such as WHO, UNAIDS, UNFPA, UNDP, World Bank, Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW), Human Rights Watch and the OSF. The most important is that sex workers took part in the consultation, and they are those who know best the realities of sex work and the way how the criminalization of sex workers, and all aspects of sex work (rental of premises, managerial activities etc.) negatively impacts them.

Numerous examples from countries where sex work is criminalized, show that the level of police violence aimed at sex workers is extremely high. Due to the fear of legal prosecution sex workers hardly ever go to the police or the court, in case they fall victims to a crime. Also, in some countries, police uses condoms that they find on sex workers, as evidence of a sexual activity. This is a strong disincentive for sex workers not to have condoms with them. That is why sex workers are at increased risk of STIs and HIV.

Therefore, decriminalization of sex workers will improve their safety, reduce the number of police abuse and violence against them, and it will improve their access to justice and health. In addition, it would reduce the stigma around sex work and help fight the exploitation.

It is also important to note that the Amnesty International’s policy is aimed at the interests of sex workers, rather than their clients or managers. Laws that criminalize activities associated with sex work, threaten safety of sex workers and worsen their working conditions, by making them work more discreetly and by doing so increasing the risk of violence and exploitation. Therefore, before making conclusions about the policy of "Amnesty International, one needs to first think about what sex workers and sex workers rights organizations would say about it. Judging by the number of signatures on a petition launched by NSWP and the number of support letters, Amnesty International needs to stand firmly on its position and to call for decriminalization of sex work.

Elena Tsukerman, Executive Director of a charitable organization All-Ukrainian League “Legalife”

Amnesty International’s policy draft was made based on a research made in various countries on how criminalization of sex work influences human rights. It is also based on a consultation that took place in 2014, where a lot of sex workers from all the world took part (representatives of All-Ukrainian League “Legalife” also took part in the consultation), and sex workers represent the community whose interests are the most affected by this draft policy.

Amnesty International’s draft policy not only is in line with "a growing body of research from UN agencies, human rights organisations and social science”, but, the most important, it is based on a 2 year long consultation and debate with sex workers. Sex workers are the ones who are the most affected by criminalization of sex work, and their voices are crucial on this matter.

We strongly condemn the statement, the open letter and the petition by the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW) which criticizes Amnesty International’s proposals. CATW’s position is stigmatising, discriminatory and misrepresents the facts, conflating sex work with human trafficking. Most importantly it ignores the lived experiences of sex workers, silences their voices and seeks to perpetuate legal systems which place sex workers at increased risk of violence, stigmatisation, and discrimination; as well as limiting their access to health and social services. Furthermore, CATW is ignoring the overwhelming body of evidence and the findings of international bodies such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, who recommend that governments should work towards the decriminalisation of sex work and The Lancet which recently published a special series on HIV and Sex Workers, which also recommends the decriminalisation of sex work and reported “Decriminalisation of sex work would have the greatest effect on the course of HIV epidemics across all settings, averting 33–46% of HIV infections in the next decade.”

We are sure that decriminalization of sex work will reduce police abuse and violence; will increase access to justice for sex workers; will help fighting stigma and discrimination against sex workers; will improve health status of sex workers by reducing risks related to HIV/STI and access to services; will help sex workers to organise and address all forms of exploitation. That is why All-Ukrainian League “Legalife” would like to express its support for Amnesty International’s Resolution and Draft Policy, submitted for adoption at the International Council Meeting on 6-11th August 2015.

Source: "Politychna Krytyka" (Political Critique)