- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Women and men who engage in consensual sex work should be given the highest possible respect and protections, a panel of top human rights leaders declared Tuesday.

Their agreement — which supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of noncoerced adult sex work — was approved in a vote in Dublin, Ireland, by Amnesty International’s decision-making forum, the International Council Meeting.

The issue now goes to the group’s International Board to craft a policy that will call on states to give adult sex workers full and equal legal protections, while also combatting sexual exploitation, human trafficking, violence and gender inequality.

“Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who, in most instances, face constant risk of discrimination, violence and abuse,” Salil Shetty, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said Tuesday.

This “important decision [will] shape this area of our human rights work going forward,” Mr. Shetty said, noting a need for sex workers’ access to health care and exit strategies and employment for those who want to leave the business.

Amnesty International said it spent two years researching the issue and consulting with sex workers, prostitution survivors, anti-prostitution groups, feminists, gay rights activists, HIV/AIDS organizations and anti-trafficking groups. The new agreement was deemed “the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face,” the group said.

It also emphasized that it is not calling for “legalization” of sex work but “decriminalization” — which means sex workers will no longer be breaking the law when they engage in sex for money, goods or services.

Penalties for trafficking, violence, coercion and sexual exploitation by third parties, such as pimps, would remain. Sexual exploitation of children under age 18 would also remain criminalized.

“Red umbrella” sex workers’ rights groups, such as the Global Network of Sex Work Projects and the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers, applauded the decision.

Opponents said the decision is a setback for those who are fighting sexual exploitation of people.

“The types of abuse and brutality that comprise daily life in the sex trade are nothing short of torture,” Dawn Hawkins, executive director of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCSE), said Tuesday.

Voting for decriminalization of brothel-keeping and soliciting “is a gift to pimps, sex traffickers and sex buyers that enshrines in law a right to buy and sell other human beings,” the NCSE said.

In a July 22 letter to top Amnesty International officials, some 400 human rights advocates, faith-based groups and women’s rights leaders, as well as celebrities like Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline and Tina Brown, took the organization to task.

“It is unfathomable that a human rights organization of Amnesty’s stature is failing to recognize prostitution as a cause and consequence of gender inequality,” they wrote, adding that its policy would side with “buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters rather than with the exploited.”

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