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[16days_discussion] Amnesty International resolution to protect human rights of sex workers

Jeanne Sarson twin2 at
Wed Oct 14 14:23:53 EDT 2015

Even though the 16 Days of Activism has not officially begun, I am eager in my concern to educate about non-State torture that women and girls endure when prostituted.  Here is a pamphlet just completed by Linda MacDonald and I titled, “Non-State Torture Inflicted in Prostitution”.  It is a 1-pager, 2-sided, tri-folded and here is the link for any one who would like it and please copy freely.  

Jeanne Sarson

From: Jeanne Sarson 
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2015 11:51 PM
To: Kathleen Sloan ; Azmina Dhrodia ; 16 Days Discussion 
Subject: Re: [16days_discussion] Amnesty International resolution to protect human rights of sex workers

For over 22 years I and Linda MacDonald have listened to the atrocities of non-State torture, including sexualized non-State torture, perpetrated against women and girls, some forced into prostitution victimization and the consequential traumatization by those intimately known to them; however, women who are of the opinion they entered prostitution knowingly have also revealed to us that they endured torture perpetrated by buyers and others—non-State actors.  

Over the years Linda MacDonald and I have had various discussions with Amnesty International in Canada, we even accompanied several women who had endured non-State torture to the Canadian Amnesty Office but they never received a response to their question about Amnesty’s position on non-State torture victimization being a fundamental violation of human rights.  

In previous years I have had repeated email discussions with a lawyer at Amnesty International in the UK, inquiring why, in my opinion, Amnesty International was not giving a clear message about their position on torture perpetrated by non-State actors.  Torture is a violation of the fundamental human right as stated in article 5 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, supported by the non-discriminatory principle stated in article 2.  Women and girls will never achieve human rights equality unless article 5 is a human right that belongs to women and girls.  

Alex Neve, of Amnesty International Canada, was with Linda and I at the UN hearings of Canada’s report to the UN Committee against Torture.  He heard the Chair of the Committee stipulate that to ignore manifestations of gender-based torture perpetrated by non-State actors would be discriminatory.  This position is also articulated in paragraph 18 of the Committee’s General Comment No. 2 which I presume Amnesty International is well aware of.  

Reading the information below provided by Amnesty International I continue to see no supportive position or statement that acknowledges that women in prostitution can suffer the human right violation of torture perpetrated by non-State actors—by buyers and others.  There is no shortage of information that women in prostitution can suffer non-State torture such as gang rapes which can lead to suicide which is related to femicide—another form of violence that I do not read in the information provided.   

In a recent study just released, August 31, 2015, found that, “men who buy sex have less empathy for women in prostitution than men who don’t buy sex ... and that men who buy sex are more likely to report having committed rape and other aggressive sexual acts.”  Why then should it be ignored that aggression can involve sexualized non-State torture as reported, for example, in the Vancouver Police Department report Missing Women Investigation Review by Doug Lepard, in August 2010.  Quotes included, “2003/2004 investigation of Donald Bakker – sexual assaults and torture of sex workers” and in “1999 beating and sexual torture of a sex trade worker”(p. 215).

So, I welcome and am appreciative of this opportunity offered by Amnesty to ask: What is Amnesty’s clear position on torture perpetrated by non-State actors as being a specific fundamental violation of human rights and a human right that belongs to women and girls?    

Jeanne Sarson 
Persons Against Non-State Torture
twin2 at

From: Kathleen Sloan 
Sent: Wednesday, September 02, 2015 3:06 PM
To: Azmina Dhrodia ; 16 Days Discussion 
Subject: Re: [16days_discussion] Amnesty International resolution to protect human rights of sex workers

As Melissa Farley of Prostitution Research & Education has absolutely correctly stated:  "Prostitution is a predatory crime against economically and ethnically marginalized women."  It is a form of violence against women and Amnesty International's loathsome, misogynistic decision to facilitate pimps, johns & brothel owners necessitates a complete boycott of the organization!   

Amnesty has stood its history and mission of human rights advocacy on its head and is utterly, utterly shameful.  As the Swedish feminist Kajsa Ekis Ekman documents in her definitive book on the subject "Being and Being Bought:  Prostitution, Surrogacy and the Split Self" the evidence is overwhelming about the damage prostitution does to women and to society.  The mortality rate and the abuse alone should suffice as reasons why prostitution cannot be accepted as "work."  AI's policy is pure neoliberalism at its commodifying, predatory worst.  Besides the physical harm and the male dominance, the psychological pathology of prostitution is ignored.   

Prostitution is an industry that profits from women's bodies.  It commercializes the basic human phenomenon of sexuality.  This is the basis of the historical oppression of women and the ongoing division of women into "whores and virgins/madonnas."  It is about POWER and how it manifests itself in relation to class, gender, age, social standing, etc.  It is based on the concept that the body of a poor woman is to be used for the benefit of men with money without limitations.  The bottom line here is that prostitution is women being sold to men.  Prostitution is an extreme, concentrated version of the general relationship between the sexes in a patriarchal misogynist world.  It is about violence, exploitation, commodification, and societal inequality.  

As Kajsa writes:  "Like all systems that accept inequalities, the neoliberal order (i.e., Amnesty) hates victims.  To speak of a vulnerable person points to the lack of, and need for, a just society and a social safety net.  Making it a taboo to talk about victims is a step towards legitimizing class divisions and gender inequality.  A consequence of this belief system is the conviction that if there are no victims, there can be no perpetrators.  The unmentionables, the men, are completely exonerated in a highly convenient, imperceptible way.    

"Whore" is more than just a pejorative; it is a cultural fantasy.  With the word 'whore,' a male desire is transformed into a female characteristic.  In spite of the fact that it is the man who creates the demand for prostitution, no label adheres to him.  The woman, on the other hand, IS labeled something:  a 'whore.'  The entire sex trade rests on this fantasy:  that women can be whores, and that the whore is a particular type of woman who is perpetually sexually available to men.  The word 'whore' is a male invention.  The 'whore' is not a female construct but a male one.  

Indigenous women are infuriated, repulsed and disgusted at Amnesty's hateful action.  As prostitution survivor and Native American Sandi Pierce perfectly summarized "The very organization, Amnesty International, that brought the inhumane practice of torture to the world's attention has betrayed us." 

Addressing "Confronting Misogyny" at Earth At Risk in Vancouver, Cherry Smiley of Indigenous Women Against the Sex Industry, stated:  "Prostitution is an act of colonial violence against indigenous women and girls.  It enforces patriarchy, capitalism and racism.  Prostitution is a hierarchical system that separates and ranks women according to race with indigenous women at the bottom.  They are subjected to the worst and most degrading forms of male violence.  Prostitution teaches women that they are disposable.  Prostitution requires systemic inequalities to exist and flourish.  

Supporting the legalization or decriminalization of prostitution is supporting a new environment-destroying pipeline like Tar Sands.  This pipeline will funnel women into an institution that has no interest in freedom, equality, justice, safety, or human rights for women.  It is no coincidence that there are high rates of prostitution in mining communities.  Commodification of land and natural resources is the same as commodification of women.  It is essential to make the connection between Mother Earth and women; we are inextricably tied to each other. 
We must end rape culture and create a culture where women have the right to say “no,” where a new definition of masculinity is created that is kind, caring, loving and respectful.  We must end the belief that prostitution is inevitable.

We reject the whitewashed “individual empowerment” rhetoric and the racist disregard for the collective worldviews of indigenous peoples this rhetoric promotes.  This individualized worldview that defines freedom as the ability to do whatever you want (and whatever you want with your body) ignores the larger structural inequalities at play and encourages some of us to enjoy the privilege of not being a prostitute (or surrogate) at the expense of hundreds of thousands of women around the world who do not have that luxury.  It assumes that prostitution has always existed (which is untrue) and that it will always exist (which is also untrue) so we might as well accept it.  What a defeatist attitude!  The abolitionist position is a hopeful one.  It looks at men’s behavior and says that men can change.  We know this because there are good men who are loving and respectful. 

Prostitution affects all of us.  It reflects how men think about women and how women think about themselves.  Men should be encouraged to believe that to use women sexually is unacceptable. 

We have a responsibility to be brave, even when we are outnumbered a million to one.  As prostitution (and surrogacy) abolitionists we are most certainly outnumbered.  We confront a multibillion dollar prostitution and pornography industry that has every reason to sustain the patriarchal status quo. 

We must reject the term “sex worker” since it conceals so many inequalities and injustices.  It is the language of patriarchy and capitalist commodification. 

We want men to change their behavior and more importantly, to change their mindset – a mindset that asserts that it’s acceptable to use pornography, that it’s acceptable to buy women for sex, that strip clubs are acceptable.  None of these things are acceptable!

The Swedish model is our best hope.  We are working for a society where men don’t exploit women’s inequality, where women have real choices and opportunities for fulfillment and are not forced into prostitution (or surrogacy) because of their poverty, subordination, and sexual & reproductive commodification. 

We can reimagine leadership in a way that truly works in our interest and is invested in our equality.  There is hope in imagining new forms of leadership.  There is no hope in fully decriminalized or legalized prostitution, no hope in putting our faith in a capitalist economy where greed comes first and profit comes at any cost, where patriarchy celebrates male violence against women and our freedom is so constrained that even talking about the possibility of a world without prostitution (or surrogacy) is considered threatening and controversial."

As a long-time feminist leader, board member of the National Organization for Women (NOW), survivor of male violence, and human rights advocate, I call on all women's rights advocates to 


Kathy Sloan  

On Wed, Sep 2, 2015 at 8:22 AM, Azmina Dhrodia <Azmina.Dhrodia at> wrote:

  Dear All, 

  Given the discussions around Amnesty International's decision to develop a policy on the protection of the human rights of sex workers through measures that include the decriminalization of sex work, I thought it would be useful to share a blog that explains more background to our position, the Resolution that was passed by our global movement, the Amnesty statement on the policy decision as well as the Questions & Answers document about  our position on sex work. 

  I hope that these documents will help answer some of the key concerns that have been raised. 

  Please note that the decision to develop a policy on sex work does not in any way mean that  Amnesty International is condoning exploitation within sex work or human trafficking or that we are ignoring gender discrimination. Amnesty will continue to urge states to take appropriate measures to realize the economic, social and cultural rights of all people so that no person enters sex work against their will, and those who decide to undertake sex work should be able to leave if and when they choose. 


  Questions & Answers: 

  Statement on policy decision: 


  If you have further questions about the resolution, please contact Ashfaq Khalfan (ashfaq.khalfan at or Kate Schuetze (kate.schuetze at 

  Best Wishes, 

  Azmina Dhrodia 
  Gender, Sexuality and Identity Programme 
  Amnesty International - International Secretariat 



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