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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Wed 29-Jan-14 19:31:05

Amnesty's proposal to legalise prostitution is wrong - we can't let men who exploit women off the hook

This week, a leaked Amnesty International policy document appeared to back the decriminalisation of prostitution, arguing that adults engaging in sex work are "exercising their autonomy", and should be permitted to do so "free from interference from the government".

In this guest post, London MEP and MN blogger Mary Honeyball says that 'choice' is by no means a given in prostitution - and that for Amnesty to work for the legalisation of prostitution would be a betrayal of its history.

Should prostitution be legalised? Do read the post and let us know what you think on the thread below.

Mary Honeyball

Labour MEP for London

Posted on: Wed 29-Jan-14 19:31:05


Lead photo

Should prostitution be legalised, as an Amnesty policy document suggests?

An Amnesty International document leaked this week argues for the legalisation of prostitution. It says that approaches like the Swedish Model – which criminalise buying sex, but legalise selling it – are guilty of "devaluing" prostituted women and "criminalising the contexts in which they live". In essence, the proposals say that most women who become prostitutes make a rational, informed choice – effectively , that they enter into a relationship of equals with the men who purchase their bodies.

I’m really disappointed in Amnesty. I'm a long term supporter of the Swedish Model and, for me, the idea that we should simply accept prostitution as a fact of life is totally wrong. It is particularly irresponsible at a time when it's being reported that austerity is driving many women – and in particular single parents – into prostitution.

I believe Amnesty have got it wrong. Firstly, I don’t believe prostitution is, in most cases, "consensual sex between adults", as the policy document describes it. The idea that women who go into prostitution are exercising 'free choice' just doesn’t stack up. Abuse and lack of alternatives are almost always a factor - many enter the sex trade young, and come from backgrounds fraught with suffering and abuse. Of course there are exceptions to the rule but, all things being equal, I believe most women don’t 'choose', in the true sense, to become prostitutes.

A large proportion of prostitutes say they experience aggression while working, and nearly seven in ten suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The dynamic between buyers and sellers of sex ranges from the disrespectful to the downright abusive – but there's almost always an inequality at play.

Secondly, I disagree with the idea there can be any real equality between a woman who sells her body and a man who buys it. As Amnesty admits, the conditions of the sex trade are "imperfect" to say the least. British 'prostitute review' sites like 'Punternet' – as well as the male-led 'Hands off my whore' campaign in France – show what so-called clients think of the women they buy sex from.

A large proportion of prostitutes say they experience aggression while working, and nearly seven in ten suffer the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The dynamic between buyers and sellers of sex ranges from the disrespectful to the downright abusive – but there’s almost always an inequality at play.

Of course, there'll always be some who say that prostitution is "the oldest trade" and that there's not much we can do about it. But this argument is as untrue as it’s depressing. In Sweden, for example, stopping the purchase of sex changes social attitudes, making men less likely to purchase sex and more likely to support prosecutions for others - and there’s no reason why this can’t happen in the UK. Amnesty need to aim much higher. We can do better, surely, than just make the exploitation of women better regulated.

The role of charities like Amnesty should be to lift standards up, not drive them down. Amnesty are supposed to be an ambitious organisation. They shouldn’t just shrug their shoulders and say "c’est la vie". Over the years they've done an indispensable job in ending exploitation, improving human rights, and reducing inequalities. Legalising prostitution runs counter to all these things. It has turned Germany into a "giant Teutonic brothel", as the Economist puts it - and, according to Equality Now, has "empowered pimps and traffickers" in Amsterdam.

Women at risk or in economic need require more opportunities and better protection – not to be told their only option is a demeaning last resort. For the sake of women and mothers everywhere I sincerely hope Amnesty will rethink their position.

By Mary Honeyball

Twitter: @maryhoneyball

I think we should adopt the Nordic model of legislation along with the Merseyside model of policing. I don't think the women should be punished so it's not as simple as being anti-legalisation but I absolutely do think it's wrong to pay money for sex.
I'd like to know whether Amnesty consider women to be human, or whether their commitment to human rights is an ACLU-style free-for-all where what they're actually protecting is men's rights to 'free sexual expression' which translates to a defense of rape and sexual abuse.
Amnesty did great work when Heather Harvey lobbied for changes to legislation around women leaving abusers while on spousal visas. They can do great things for women. It seems a bit hollow though given their current parroting of sex industry talking points.
I hope they're not too far gone to change their stance.

Guitargirl Wed 29-Jan-14 21:41:43

Legalisation and decriminalisation are not interchangeable terms and should not be used as though they mean the same thing. It confuses the argument.

Custardo Wed 29-Jan-14 21:44:22

The whole thing has massively damaged the reputation for amnesty. I am a great supporter of their work, i donate monthly to their charity.

They have made huge strides and put pressure internationally to get some terrific things done

and then this just blows it all away


SabrinaMulhollandJjones Wed 29-Jan-14 22:11:33

Really disappointed to hear this, and I agree with the points made in this guest post.

I'm afraid I have lost respect for Amnesty, despite their very good work previously. I actually thought it must be a hoax - it is so alien to their usual 'human rights' stance.

MmeLindor Wed 29-Jan-14 22:38:52

I was very disappointed to see Amnesty's stance on this. I have read several articles over the past year or so about the situation in Germany.It has not protected women, it has brought more and more women and young girls into horrible situations. Human trafficking has increased, with young girls from eastern Europe being sold into a life of misery.

WhentheRed Wed 29-Jan-14 23:32:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

FloraFox Wed 29-Jan-14 23:50:38

Good post Mary Honeywell!

The notion of women in prostitution exercising agency does not stand any scrutiny. Even if you say that some women are not affected by what AI calls "imperfect context" angry , each the sex involved in prostitution involves no agency on the woman's part. The NZ legislation that legalises prostitution defines prostitution as sex "for the gratification of" the buyer. Prostitution is the sale of agency, not an act of agency. The law does not generally permit people to sell their agency (you cannot sell yourself into indentured labour) or puts huge safeguards around it (e.g. around powers of attorney). Anyone who thinks prostitution is an act of agency should have a good look at these descriptions of prostitution from punters. Bear in mind this site is moderated - these are posts which have made it through the moderation process:

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 07:29:21

i think sadly we're having a great period of disillusionment where the people and organisations we looked up to as being for human rights and freedom etc reveal themselves to mostly mean 'men' when they say 'human'. whether it's left parties we expected to be for the rights of the oppressed that reveal themselves to not include women's oppression, freedom fighters who turn out to be rapists and or habitual abusers or judges otherwise committed to justice who trivialise the raping of female children.

sadly i'm not surprised amnesty turns out to be the same.

i shan't be supporting a charity that thinks it is ok for a woman just out of childhood who has been sexually abused and traumatised or who is addicted to drugs and economically ruined or who has migrated from her home country and is totally without emotional, social or financial support to be 'bought' for men's sexual/power pleasure. i'd have thought that amnesty would be better off campaigning to eradicate the conditions that force so many vulnerable women into prostitution which for very many women in the 'trade' becomes a modern day form of slavery.

if prostitution is the oldest trade it doesn't make it a good trade it makes it tragic that women have always been forced into such abject positions that the only thing they have left to use to survive is resigning to the misogyny that drives the desire to 'buy' (ergo temporarily own women's bodies).

it's the oldest trade because male entitlement and female desperation has been with us for all that time.

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 07:33:49

though i somehow expect their little heartstrings tug for young boys driven to prostitution because they still think our anatomies are somehow designed and there to be fucked whilst theirs most certainly are not.

ChazzerChaser Thu 30-Jan-14 08:02:11

Really glad to see this here. Was disgusted to see amnesty proposing this change in policy. They were an organisation I held in esteem, really saddened that they don't see women as human.

undecidedanduncertain Thu 30-Jan-14 08:03:21

If Amnesty go with this proposal I shall never give them a single penny again.

It's devastatingly disappointing as I have been a big supporter of theirs until now.

katieAashley Thu 30-Jan-14 08:22:31

Even the women's institute come out in support if legalising it so to help in protecting women if it's legalised then there have to be laws to protect the women in this industry just like on any other job

Helpyourself Thu 30-Jan-14 08:25:11

Have Amnesty responded? Organisations commission research all the time, and rightly so- the issue is whether they act on the findings.

Lottapianos Thu 30-Jan-14 08:26:08

Agree with other posters - very depressing that Amnesty are proposing this. I can never understand why so many people fall over themselves in the rush to defend women's 'choice' to work in prostitution, like putting yourself repeatedly in such an incredibly vulnerable position with strangers who just see you as a collection of holes would be a really fun thing to do

Helpyourself Thu 30-Jan-14 08:31:31

Have Amnesty responded? Organisations commission research all the time, and rightly so- the issue is whether they act on the findings.
A quick look at their website here
states, "We value debate and have not yet endorsed any particular position."
They're also asking for opinions:

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 08:40:29

the evidence suggests otherwise katie. you just get a two tier system - one expensive, legal, of age etc and next door the illegal one still catering for men who want it cheap and dirty and preferably with really young girls. those girls are still trafficked in.

prostitution is massively linked to drugs and criminal gangs - they don't suddenly turn legit and get licenses and giving a shit about the law. they continue in the exact same way abusing and exploiting the poor girls who fall into their control through addiction, trafficking or traumatic lives.

all it does is provide a nice clean regulated service for those who want to buy women's bodies without feeling seedy or coming into contact with criminals. it invites in more customers who wouldn't have gone into that seedy world but if society says it's fine and legal and is making it sanitary then woo hoo let's go buy some fucking.

so it increases demand from groups who never used to use it and does nothing to impact on those who have zero intention of ever going legit, paying taxes or opening themselves up for inspection and in fact gives them more confidence

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 08:42:21

the 'naice' legal brothel isn't going to take on the kind of women who are the rank and file of prostitution - re: illegals, underage, drug addicts, etc. they'll continue working in the same fashion and have an even worse time of it because they'll be getting the punters who want things dodgy, cheap and nasty.

LineRunner Thu 30-Jan-14 08:50:05

I've had it with Amnesty now.

A once great organisation Amnesty International focusing on human rights has become reduced to a fucking androcentric talking shop.

Helpyourself Thu 30-Jan-14 08:56:28

Please can posters stop frothing hmm
Their website states "We value debate and have not yet endorsed any particular position."

They're also asking for opinions:

katieAashley Thu 30-Jan-14 08:57:56

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 09:00:21

oh and bear in mind if prostitution is legal and sanctioned there'll be nothing to stop them telling 18yo girls they either go and work in the local brothel that has a vacancy or they'll not be able to get jsa as they've turned down work.

hell it could be a form of workfare couldn't it? go get fucked by sleazy old men for your jsa or we'll stop your benefit.


katieAashley Thu 30-Jan-14 09:19:37

The fact is lots of women not all but lots and many students are substituting there benefits by working in these kinds of places, and it is dangerous, prostitution is the oldest trade know to man, it is a part of our society not a nice one but it is going on so the least we can do is try and protect the women and girls who have found them selfs there either by illegal means or poor circumstances and have no where else to go

NumptyNameChange Thu 30-Jan-14 09:27:09

did you actually bother to read what i wrote to you katie? you haven't engaged with it or reasoned with the reality so i'm assuming your opinion is a belief based on faith rather than a reasoned look at conditions.

katieAashley Thu 30-Jan-14 09:48:10

Yes I have read what you have written my opinions are not based on faith but on the experiences I have had working as a nurse in sexual health clinics from London to the rest of the south east ! Have you read what I have written as it would seem this is not a debate but you just insisting I agree with you I like and will always support amnesty international and the Women's institute

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