More than 400 national and international women’s rights groups, including the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), human rights advocates, medical doctors, actors and directors, fashion designers, faith-based organizations and concerned individuals from over 30 countries signed an open letter to Amnesty International expressing their dismay at its policy proposal calling for the decriminalization of the sex industry.
If passed at Amnesty’s International Council Meeting in Dublin from Aug. 7–11, this policy would in effect advocate the legalization of pimping, brothel owning and sex buying — the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry.
Within 24 hours of learning about Amnesty’s proposed policy, scores of Hollywood stars and prominent individuals began to join an international grassroots campaign urging Amnesty to stand with those exploited in the sex trade, who are mostly women, rather than with their exploiters. Among the signatories are Oscar-winning actress, Meryl Streep, chef and activist, Alice Waters, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Anna Quindlen, author, Hannah Pakula, poet and human rights activist, Rose Styron and 2008 Amnesty International Human Rights Award winner, Lydia Cacho. Others include: Angela Bassett, Emily Blunt, Jonathan Demme, Grace Hightower De Niro, Lena Dunham, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Jones, Kevin Kline, Lisa Kudrow, Kyra Sedgwick, Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Eve Ensler, Marcia Gay Harden, Carey Mulligan, Ali Wentworth and many more.
The response to the open letter issued by CATW was so exceedingly positive that it is now a campaign on Change.org and is open for more signatures.
As the letter states, campaigners firmly agree with Amnesty that those who are prostituted must not be criminalized or brutalized by law enforcement and governments. However, full decriminalization of the sex trade renders pimps “businesspeople” who sell vulnerable individuals, overwhelmingly with histories of poverty, discrimination, homelessness and sexual abuse, to buyers of sex with impunity.
“I hope and believe that Amnesty will understand the parallels with other forms of economically compelled body invasion — for instance, the sale of organs,” added Gloria Steinem. “The millions who are prostituted experience trauma and shortened lives. Legalization keeps pimps, brothel keepers, and sex-slavers in freedom and riches. Criminalization puts the prostituted in prison. What works is the ‘third way,’ the Nordic model, which offers services and alternatives to prostituted people, and fines buyers and educates them to the realities of the global sex trade.”
Extensive evidence shows the catastrophic effects of legalizing or decriminalizing pimping and brothels, demonstrated in Germany and the Netherlands, for example. With impunity for the commercial sexual exploitation of marginalized populations comes an increase in sex trafficking to satisfy the demand for prostitution. Studies and survivors’ testimonies demonstrate that the sex industry is predicated on dehumanization, degradation and gender violence that can cause life-long physical and psychological harm.
“A vote calling for legalizing pimping would in effect support gender apartheid, in which some women in society can demand protection from rape, discrimination and sexual harassment, while others, the most vulnerable among us, are instead set aside for consumption by men and for the profit of their pimps,” said Taina Bien-Aimé, CATW’s executive director. “This is far from what Eleanor Roosevelt envisioned for the world when she penned the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”