FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SWOP DENVER COMMENDS AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL DECISION CALLING FOR THE FULL DECRIMINALIZATION OF SEX WORK
Denver, Colorado – SWOP Denver commends Amnesty International for calling today for the full decriminalization of sex work, including the removal of criminal penalties against “prostitution,” “soliciting,” “patronizing a prostitute,” “promoting prostitution,” “loitering with intent” or “prostitute making display,” “brothel-keeping,” and more. The vote was finalized on August 11th at the 2015 International Council Meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Amnesty International joins several other international human rights and health groups including Human Rights Watch, the World Health Organization, and UNAIDS in calling for the full decriminalization of sex work. The decision has been lauded by the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, which includes 237 organizations in 71 countries, including SWOP Denver, and whose petition in support of Amnesty’s draft policy garnered over 10,000 signatures. The resolution did not contain any recommendations for removing criminal penalties against forced or coerced labor or trafficking, and encouraged governments to take steps to ensure protection against the exploitation of children.
“We want to offer our sincere gratitude to Amnesty International for voting to uphold our human rights,” said Rachel Carlisle of SWOP Denver. “Decriminalization is essential to our efforts to fight for our rights and against violence, stigma, discrimination, and mistreatment.” SWOP Denver is a group of current and former sex workers and allies who are organizing for rights and justice. SWOP Denver’s activities include the maintenance of a “Bad Date List” of violent clients and holding events such as the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers on December 17th of each year.
The purpose of the resolution is to “adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers” and it is the result of two years of consultation with members and human rights advocates, including Amnesty’s own independent research into the impact of legal models on the rights, health, and safety of sex workers in Argentina, Norway, Hong Kong, and Papua New Guinea. This research confirms the findings of many other researchers and human rights groups. Amnesty notes, “[s]ex workers are criminalised and negatively affected by a range of sex work laws—not just those on the direct sale of sex.” In Norway, laws against “promoting” prostitution make sex workers working together for safety into criminals, and police interventions such as “Operation Homeless” “ led to the systematic and rapid eviction of many sex workers from their places of work and homes.” The name of this intervention calls to mind the US DOJ’s “Operation Chokepoint,” in which the personal bank accounts of sex workers and other groups of people were seized.
The medical journal The Lancet, in their 2014 series on HIV and sex workers, concluded that the decriminalization of sex work in all settings would avert 33-46% of HIV infections in the next decade. The Lancet also states that criminalization increases the risk of violence and abuse by clients, police, and the public, and decreases sex workers’ access to human rights such as healthcare. The conflation of sex work and trafficking is common but “clouds the issue of safety for sex workers” and leads to “difficulties with definition and harm to sex workers on the ground” as well as “conflicts that undermine HIV prevention.” They also note that the “self-regulatory board (SRB) developed by the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (Sonagachi, India) and replicated by Ashodaya Samithi (Mysore, India) reports better antitrafficking and antiviolence results at every stage—identification, protection, case management, and follow-up—compared with the raid and rescue model.”
In a letter of support for Amnesty International’s draft policy, UNAIDS director Michel Sidibé wrote, “It is Peter Benenson, the founder of Amnesty International, who reminded us that “the candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed.” Sex workers are among those whose rights we have failed to protect. I urge you and the Amnesty International Council to keep the candle burning for them until their rights are upheld and their humanity fulfilled.”