Amnesty International’s (AI) consultation on the proposal to adopt a formal policy in support of the decriminalisation of sex work has attracted a lot of attention in recent months. AI explains its decision to undertake this consultation:
“We initiated the policy consultation process because we have seen evidence to suggest that the criminalisation of sex work leads to social marginalisation and an increased risk of human rights abuses against sex workers. The evidence also suggests that decriminalisation could be the best means to protect the rights of sex workers and ensure that these individuals receive adequate medical care, legal assistance and police protection.”
Each of Amnesty’s national branches is responsible for reaching their own stance on the policy before contributing to the decision-making process undertaken by the International Secretariat. The UK branch of AI recently held its National Conference and Annual General Meeting at Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh on the 12th and 13th April 2014. The sex work policy was heavily debated at the event and there was strong representation from the UK based sex worker led organisations and members of NSWP; SCOT-PEP, the Sex Worker Open University and the English Collective of Prostitutes.
Three resolutions were put forward for consideration at the AGM. The first was that “Amnesty International should adopt a policy position to support the decriminalisation of activities
related to the buying or selling of consensual sex between adults”. The second resolution instead suggested that criminalising the buying of sex (the so-called Swedish Model) was the best policy to support. The third resolution simply asked that no position be taken on the buying and selling of sexual services, which in effect would leave the policy open for further discussion at a later stage.
On the whole the results of the votes were positive and encouraging for sex worker rights. The resolution calling for support of full decriminalisation was comfortably passed by the AGM and the resolution calling for support of the Swedish model was strongly rejected. The resolution calling for no position to be taken was passed by a slim majority of just 5 votes. While it was disappointing that the resolution calling for no position passed at all it did so with such a small majority. On the contrary, the decriminalisation policy received overwhelming support. The AI UK Board will now consider both resolutions as they decide what position the UK branch will take in the consultation process. One of the sex worker activists present at the AGM had this to say about her experience:
“The presence of sex workers at the AGM of the UK branch of Amnesty International was vital in ensuring that the voices of sex workers were heard in a debate about a policy that affects them directly. It was clear that many people in the audience had not ever heard a sex worker speak for themselves and had never heard what the Swedish Model actually means for sex workers. I believe very strongly that our presence with real life examples of how the Swedish Model is bad for sex workers, was a significant contributing factor to the fact that the resolution supporting the Swedish Model was overwhelmingly defeated. It is no wonder that anti-sex work campaigners work so hard to silence current and former sex workers who support the full decriminalisation of sex work.”