Sunday, February 2, 2014

Amnesty International's Decriminalization of Sex Work Policy Report

This working document from Amnesty International opens with the following statement, “Amnesty International is opposed to the criminalization or punishment of activities related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults.”

The document covers key definitions, history, policy, conflation of terms, human trafficking, effects of criminalization, push factors, and human rights. 

Since the final version of the document isn't due until April there's time to contribute to the Twitter conversation using the #QuestionsForAmnesty hashtag, sign the petition, and share this blog with your friends.

Amnesty International isn’t the only organization to recommend decriminalization of sex work – American Jewish World Service, Human Rights Watch, WHO United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS,  the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP) The Kirby Institute and the Global Commission on HIV and Law have already done so.  Reports below.

This resource is a briefing on why the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) funds sex worker rights organizations. It covers the rights of sex workers in places where sex work is illegal, and introduces a rights-based approach. The briefing tackles the inaccurate conflation of sex work and trafficking, and points to ways that the sex workers rights movement can help to combat exploitation and rights abuses. It discusses why merely offering 'exiting' strategies is stigmatizing and unhelpful, and looks at the harms of criminalization, along with the benefits of decriminalization.

Human Rights Watch documents abuses including torture, rape, assault, arbitrary arrest, and extortion. The organizations found that the fear of abuse is driving sex workers, people who use drugs, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people away from prevention and treatment services.  HIV/AIDS policy calls for efforts to reduce stigma against marginalized groups, lessen barriers to health care and recommends decriminalization of sex work.

Human Rights Watch documents government violations of the right to health and other abuses of at-risk populations in New Orleans. It calls for changes in state and local laws and policies that stigmatize, discriminate against, and facilitate police abuse of sex workers and drug users, and interfere with health services for people at high risk for HIV, and recommends decriminalization of sex work.
The document, which details best practices and technical recommendations, was developed by a partnership of WHO, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), UNAIDS, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). 
Principal among the recommendations is decriminalization of sex work. Decriminalization, the report claims, will reduce stigma, decrease violence, and lessen barriers to accessing health care. The report also strongly advocates for community empowerment and peer-led models of public health programming. 

The study done by UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), examined 48 countries in Asia and the Pacific to assess laws, legal policies and law enforcement practices that affect the human rights of sex workers and impact on the effectiveness of HIV responses. Nearly all countries criminalize some aspects of sex work, which increases vulnerability to HIV by fueling stigma and discrimination, limiting access to sexual health services and condoms. The report clearly distinguishes between adult consensual sex work and human trafficking for sexual exploitation; and recommends removing legal penalties for sex work, which allows HIV prevention and treatment programmes to reach sex workers and their clients more effectively. .

The Global Commission on HIV and the Law report addresses sex workers rights, drug policy reform and HIV and the law. Specific to sex worker rights, it describes how more than 100 countries explicitly criminalize some aspect of sex work and how this criminalization, in collusion with social stigma, increases sex workers’ vulnerability and risk of exposure to violence and HIV. The Commission describes how sex workers are denied many legal protections that are afforded to other workers and other members of society, including protection from discrimination and abuse. The Commission specifically rejects the “Swedish approach” which is often lauded as a less punitive and more gender-sensitive legal strategy. “Based on the premise that women in sex work need protection, it regards the sex worker as the “victim” and the client as the “exploiter”. Since its enactment in 1999, the law has not improved—indeed, it has worsened—the lives of sex workers.” Based on their extensive review of sex work, health and the law around the world, the Global Commission recommends that all countries repeal laws that prohibit consenting adults to buy or sell sex, as well as laws that otherwise prohibit commercial sex, such as laws against “immoral” earnings, “living off the earnings” of prostitution and brothel-keeping. Further, they recommend complementary legal measures must be taken to ensure safe working conditions to sex workers.

This report determined that decriminalization of the sex industry has resulted in improved human rights, netted savings for the criminal justice and health systems and enhanced surveillance and health promotion programs for sex workers. Licensing was found to impose unnecessary expense and be a threat to public health.

Additional Resources:

Freedom Network's letter to the UN supporting decriminalization of sex work in response Equality Now's attempts to discredit a UN report.  

Video explaining sex worker rights:

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