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Outrage Erupts Over Proposed Prostitution Policy by UK Amnesty Int'l

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In late January, the UK's Daily Mail Online reported an eyebrow-raising new "draft" policy position by UK's Amnesty International on the subject of prostitution. As UK AI's website states:

"The draft policy proposes the decriminalisation of activities relating to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults, on the basis that this is the best means to protect the rights of sex workers and ensure that these individuals receive adequate medical care, legal assistance and police protection."

A coalition of survivors of prostitution - and its inextricable partner, trafficking - have come together to petition Amnesty International UK to change their considered stance.

One critic of this change, Julie Bendel , has called this decision by the regional human rights organization "an abject inversion of its own principles." Bendel refers to the - at best naive, at worst euphemistic - portrayal of the freedoms of both sides of the prostitution transaction as the exercise of freedom of choice; ignoring the extreme destitution and coercion that often characterize prostituted persons' "choices."

Perhaps most telling is AI UK's statement - hidden in a footnote - that "sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need" - a statement that both takes the "johns'" point of view, and makes the prostituted responsible for fulfilling that need, with little regard for their own needs and dignity.

Canada, too, is experimenting with changes to its policies with regard to prostitution. Its former stance - legalization of prostitution itself, with various associated activities made illegal - has been found to have the unintended effect of making it difficult for prostitutes to protect themselves in vulnerable positions.

Catharine A. MacKinnon has long been a tireless advocate for prostituted persons, denying along with the above coalition the notion of "choice" by prostitutes, as well as the possibility of separating prostitution from trafficking, abuse, and violence against women. Contrary to the widespread rumor that she once defined all sex as rape, MacKinnon distinguishes here between sex as "its own reward," and sex for money, which is by definition coercive.

What's puzzling about the UK and Canadian experiments, is that  there seems to be wide agreement among writers on the topic that the Swedish have found the right solution: prosecute the "johns" only. This approach seems  to have drastically reduced the amount of trafficking of  the most vulnerable. Contrast that with the experience of so many prostituted children, abused, raped, and then arrested for the crimes committed against them:

"Tami pleaded with her buyers: "I'm only 15. Can you please take me to a police station?" But none did. When she finally encountered police officers, they did not rescue her; they arrested her."

Aside from its effect on trafficking, arresting "johns" turns on its head, the universal and bizarre attitude towards prostituted women: that somehow men cannot help purchasing them for sex, and that all the shame is somehow accrued to these victims, who are coerced into selling themselves. What are the chances of the Swedish model succeeding in the U.S.?


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Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism (more...)

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