It seems that almost everyone has an opinion about prostitution and sex work.
But with Amnesty International’s recent unflinching policy recommendation to decriminalize all adult consensual sex work – including their take-down of the Nordic model which claims to punish only clients – it is becoming increasingly difficult for naysayers to ignore the well-documented ways that sex workers are harmed by criminalization.
Amnesty’s position is based on many years of empirical research by leading health and human rights researchers, as well as calls by sex workers and advocates.
While much of the debate on sex work focuses on what is best for “women,” an enormous diversity of individuals trade sex at some point in their lives.
This includes not just cisgender women from a range of age, racial, religious, dis/ability and sexual identities, but also transgender women, cisgender men and GLBTQ youth.
Yet even when taking into account the diversity of individuals involved and the many settings in which sex is traded and policed, Amnesty studied the accumulating body of evidence and concluded: to protect the rights of sex workers, it is necessary not only to repeal laws which criminalize the sale of sex, but also to repeal those which make the buying of sex from consenting adults or the organization of sex work (such as prohibitions on renting premises for sex work) a criminal offense.
As Amnesty explains:
Such laws force sex workers to operate covertly in ways that compromise their safety, prohibit actions that sex workers take to maximize their safety, and serve to deny sex workers support or protection from government officials. They therefore undermine a range of sex workers’ human rights, including their rights to security of person, housing and health.
Will Amnesty’s recommendation lead to a change in U.S. policies?