This week, after much deliberation and debate, Amnesty International made a bold move: it voted to decriminalize sex work. "Sex work," in this context, covers a lot--pimps, brothels, escort agencies, and the buying and selling of sexual services now all fall under possible decriminalization. This doesn't mean the activities are legal, but Amnesty International is trying to change the stigma held against sex workers and give them rights and equal benefits, especially those who go into the business by choice. By bringing the sex industry up from underground, AI is hoping that more decisions can be made to support sex workers and keep them safe.
Obviously, a decision as significant as this does not go unchallenged. The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women have started a petition for AI to reconsider their support. CATW recognizes that sex workers need to have better treatment from law enforcement and medical facilities, but CATW argues that the decriminalization of sex work would only benefit the pimps and johns (the people who buy sex) and that decriminalization would only enable more violence against sex workers and the violation of basic human rights. For CATW, it would be better if sex work was stopped entirely to prevent the grievances that frequently happen to women and girls.
The debate surrounding the sex work industry is an incredibly challenging one and change will not come easily. While an adult sex worker should have a choice about what to do with his or her body in a consensual situation, the solutions to this long standing problem are not easy.
What Amnesty International seems to be missing is the problem at a global scale. A large majority of sex workers do not enter by choice. Pimps and johns control and exploit them, they are the ones who have the power in so many of these situations. In developing countries, where women have less choices, sex workers need to be protected. Decriminalization would not give those women any more power or agency over their bodies. It would simply support abuse and dominance to the perpetrators.
The sentiment and need for change is critical. What we cannot afford to do is make things even more difficult for women than they already are.