Amnesty International: essential policy decision

Tomorrow Amnesty International will begin the process of adopting a draft policy that will defend the human rights of sex workers and call for the decriminalization of sex work. The Best Practices Policy Project is joining with organizations and human rights advocates to support the policy. The most important sources of information for the Best Practices Policy Project are sex workers themselves–such as a sex worker from New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance who has shared her experiences in a video–many of whom have spoken out publicly for the very first time in defense of the policy. After considering the issues, we urge you to send a letter to Amnesty International, just as the Best Practices Policy Project and our allies at Desiree Alliance and NJ Red Umbrella Alliance have, to ask the Amnesty International Council to stand firm and protect the human rights of sex workers. For those unable to write a letter, the global Network of Sex Work Projects has a petition that only takes a few seconds to sign. Representatives of Amnesty International can also show their support by ensuring that their representatives adopt the policy.
Unfortunately, a small number of campaigners who seek to criminalize and prohibit sex work are spreading misinformation about the policy and these efforts have received much more attention in the media than they deserve. Amnesty International has responded to these campaigners in the New York Times, reiterating that, “the draft policy draws upon extensive evidence, including testimony from sex workers and research from agencies like UNAIDS, the United Nations AIDS-fighting agency, and the World Health Organization, and positions from U.N. Women and other human rights groups.”

An important part of the mission of the Best Practices Policy Project is to hold the United States accountable for sex worker rights. And in this debate, we note that many of the instigators of the hysterical backlash against the sober policy discussions at Amnesty International are based in the United States. These groups are primarily anti-sex work non-profit organizations that are heavily bank-rolled by anti-trafficking funding from American billionaires, who cynically tap into a desire to “save women and do good” amongst less informed but otherwise well-meaning people and organizations. Given the debate it is now the responsibility of those–such as celebrities Lena Dunham, Kevin Kline, Lisa Kudrow and Meryl Streep–who inadvertently allied themselves with what boils down to be nothing more than ongoing support for the policing and incarceration of people in the sex trade, their families, their customers and anyone the police may profile as a ‘client’ or sex worker such as transgender women, to look behind the rhetoric and distance themselves from this. It is especially important for celebrities and anti-violence groups alike to call for an end to the policing of sex workers and their communities at a time in the United States when all are aware of the role of police in the killing of people of color as part of “routine policing” and the deaths of numerous people–including many young women such as Sandra Bland and April Brogan–in custody.

Rather than arrest and incarceration, sex workers need rights including the right to work and provide for themselves and their families. “We have this narrative of ‘victim,’ ‘pimp,’ and ‘john,’ which I think are all really derogatory, racist, classist terms,” noted Savanah Sly a board member of SWOP-USA, “I stand firm that this is business. We call ourselves sex workers for a reason, and we want to be recognized as such. We need to be recognized as a labor force.” J, an advocate with New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance who has experienced violence at the hands of the police and domestic violence, explains, “sex work enabled me to go to school, it enabled me to get my child out of an abusive situation, it got me out of a domestic violence situation.” J is adamant that those opposing Amnesty International’s policy should be awakened to the realities of the lives of sex workers and support what sex workers need. “Do we really have to weigh in on the moral values of that? Which is the bigger crime, an act of domestic violence or sex?” she said to address a NY-based domestic violence organization that is opposing Amnesty’s policy of decriminalization, “I was not going to tolerate being with a man who believed he could beat me whenever he wants. I would rather go out there and take care of my own.”

J is for Amnesty International's Policy