There’s a long running joke in my family from my younger sister’s high school years. One of her presentations in her speech class required that the students use at least one analogy. And one of her classmates offered as his analogy, “Being in jail is like being in a cage.” It’s not that my family and I have meant to mock a teenager for the past 10 years. It’s just that that statement is perfect shorthand for someone who is trying so hard, and missing the actual meaning so bad.
And it’s the only thing I could think when I read a letter sent to Amnesty International protesting their recent proposal to decriminalize sex work. See Amnesty International believes that sex workers and people who purchase the services of sex workers should be treated like people instead of like criminals. And perhaps more importantly, they believe everyone should start drawing a distinction between sex workers/purchasers and sexual criminals.
This policy reflects a growing body of research from UN agencies, human rights organisations and social science which indicates that criminalisation, in its varying forms, exposes sex workers to increased risk of human rights abuses. The policy is based on principles of harm reduction and the human rights principles of physical integrity and autonomy.
While they acknowledge “the factors underlying sex workers’ marginalization are manifold and intricately entwined with global economic inequalities and multiple forms of intersectional discrimination and oppression,” their basic argument is that consenting adults should be allowed to enter into agreements to exchange sex for money without the state’s interference. And that by decriminalizing and regulating the sex industry, countries are better able to protect sex workers. They still maintain that forced or trafficked sex work is a violation of human rights and should remaining illegal.
It seems like a fairly well researched, pragmatic, nuanced approach to a millennia old profession rife with possible exploitation. So the best way to argue against that platform is to have uninformed movie stars sign your petition.
Anne Hathaway, Lena Dunham and our own beloved Kate Winslet, among others, all signed the letter asking Amnesty International to reverse its decision. And I’m not sure how I’ll be able to type these actual words, but, Emma Thompson, you are wrong about this.
First and foremost, did you guys all read this letter? Because in addition to the cherry picking of individual cases to support the “decriminalization increases trafficking” theory, the letter includes this gem:
However, what your “Draft Policy on Sex Work” is incomprehensibly proposing is the wholesale decriminalization of the sex industry, which in effect legalizes pimping, brothel owning and sex buying.
“In effect”? Like how being in jail is “in effect” like being in a cage? Amnesty International isn’t proposing we “in effect” legalize pimping, brothel owning and sex buying.” They’re proposing we do legalize pimping, brothel owning and sex buying.
Does it feel kind of gross to think that pimping should be legalized? Or that having sex in exchange for money should be a viable career path? Well tough shit. Your personal feelings on an immensely complicated issue like the international sex industry has fuck all to do with how it should be actually run. You know what grosses me out? High school sweethearts who get married. I know and like more than a few couples who began dating in high school and have been together for 15 or more years. I know that they have solid, loving, fulfilling relationships. And when I think about how they started dating when they we 16-years-old, my immediate response is, “So you’ve really only ever had sex with the one person? How did you not just accidentally sleep with someone else? Do they let you graduate from college like that?”
My point being that no one is arguing anyone has to like or endorse prostitution. Amnesty International has consistently argued in support of the types of programs that would increase individuals’ agency in most aspects of their lives. Reducing poverty, increasing education, protecting all human rights. These things help eliminate the situations where individuals feel that sex work is their only option. Refusing to acknowledge the facts and insisting that sex work is inherently wrong do not.