[5/26/2016 – For Immediate Release] Sex Workers Outreach Project [SWOP-USA] applauds the release of Amnesty International’s (AI) final policy
promoting the decriminalization of adult, consensual sex work. AI’s finalized policy follows over two years of research and consultations with sex workers and is a significant step in upholding the human rights of sex workers worldwide.
AI joins organizations such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organization to advance the human rights of people engaged in sexual exchange. Human rights are inalienable and guaranteed to all persons and include the right to life, health, self-determination, bodily autonomy, and safe working conditions. By initiating this policy, AI recognizes that sex workers are indeed human beings deserving of concerted efforts to address pervasive marginalization.
Last July, the draft policy announcement was met with pushback from organizations accusing AI of supporting “gender apartheid.” Arguments pushing for the suppression of sex work often assume that sex work is inherently dangerous and exploitative and conflate sex work with sex trafficking. AI’s policy draws a clear line between consensual sexual exchange and exploitation and continues to acknowledge sex trafficking as a gross human rights violation.
Furthermore, arguments for the suppression of sex work view gender oppression myopically. AI’s policy recognizes that structural conditions limit employment opportunities for many. These structural conditions, in turn, push all workers into coercive and undesirable situations and environments. Such systemic issues, not sex work itself, are the root of violence against sex workers. Infantilizing sex workers and our survival fails to recognize our agency or the choices sex workers exercise with regard to the benefits of sexual exchange, such as higher income and schedule flexibility.
AI’s policy recognizes that punitive laws and policies, structural oppression, and resource isolation compound our vulnerability to violence, stigmatization, and discrimination. By decriminalizing sex work, our demand for rights, not rescue, will be honored. AI’s policy also encourages the development of comprehensive resources for sex workers who are marginalized, living in poverty, or under exploitative conditions, that are non-judgmental, non-coercive, and meet us where we are. These resources include breaking down barriers to employment and education.
AI’s nuanced approach is a great step in the right direction. By enumerating the obligations of state parties and asserting the importance of due process and equal protection of the law, AI’s policy calls for positive interventions that provide comprehensive services and mechanisms of protection. The policy also recognizes that sex worker voices are vital. Any initiative to address the criminalization of sex work must ensure sex workers have a leading seat at the table.
We thank AI for standing their ground and standing with sex workers. SWOP-USA will continue fighting for decriminalization in the United States. Our lives and livelihoods depend on it.
Sex Workers Outreach Project-USA is a 501c3 charity dedicated to the fundamental human rights of people involved in the sex trade and their communities, focusing on ending violence and stigma through education and advocacy. We provide support to 33 chapters across the United States. For more information, visit www.swopusa.org.