28 May 2016
The International Secretariat of the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women welcomes Amnesty International’s ‘Policy on State Obligations to Respect, Protect and Fulfil the Human Rights of Sex Workers’, developed after two years of in-depth research and consultations with sex workers and various other stakeholders.
GAATW was launched over twenty years ago in order to challenge the dominant discourse on trafficking as occurring exclusively in the sex industry and of the women in the sex industry as pitiful victims of exploitation. As feminists, we have stood in solidarity with women in both the formal and informal economy, including the sex industry, and have maintained that even in the most difficult situations, women demonstrate extraordinary power, agency and resilience. Sex workers’ struggle for rights is the same struggle as that of women, migrants and workers around the world.
Amnesty’s policy acknowledges this struggle, as well as the multiple rights violations that sex workers experience, often not by traffickers or clients, but by states and, unfortunately, all too often in the name of combatting human trafficking. We, too, have documented these rights violations extensively, often in partnership with sex workers organisations, and have repeatedly stated that the fight against human trafficking should not result in ‘collateral damage’. But as the Amnesty research on sex work in Norway, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea and Argentina points out, nothing has changed over the past decade and sex workers still face multiple discriminations and denial of many of their human rights.
We are pleased that Amnesty recognises GAATW, along with our friends from La Strada International and the Freedom Network USA, as anti-trafficking organisations that stand up for sex workers’ rights. Sex workers have the most interest in a clean and safe industry, free from coercion and exploitation. Sex workers and their clients are uniquely positioned to detect cases of exploitation and human trafficking. The work of our members and allies in the sex workers rights movement is a testimony to that. But the criminalised status of sex workers or clients in many countries means that they would implicate themselves if they report cases of abuse. Indeed, as Amnesty points out, the decriminalisation of sex work can have a positive impact on the fight against human trafficking and this needs to be recognised by governments and other anti-trafficking stakeholders.
We hope that Amnesty’s policy will give sex workers and their organisations new impetus to demand their rights from their governments and that the slogan ‘nothing about us without us’ will finally become reality.