Image for The Downfall of Amnesty International (Part 1)

*Pic: NorMAC’s election campaign banner which will be used at our launch today at Franklin Square ...

Image of John Dockerty and Douglas Fox, previously Christony Companions ‘escort agecy’

Sex trade Abolitionists protest in Hobart on 5th October for International Day on No Prostitution ramp up campaign against Labor and Greens brothel push.

The 5th of October is a day to mark International Day of No Prostitution and a day to celebrate the work of the global abolitionist movement against prostitution.

In Tasmania the abolitionist movement is growing steadily as a result of effective community outreach campaigns and it is encouraging to hear from many people in the community that the voices of Survivors are impacting on and changing people’s views on the global sex trade including in Tasmania.

Voices like Chelsea Geddes - currently in prostitution in New Zealand who has had this to say:

“I’m a prozzie myself and I have never met another one who wants our pimps and johns to be decriminalised, or who want to be made to pay tax on top of what the pimps already take. We are given zero social services that would help us to exit; rehabilitate ourselves; get an education and a real job for the future.  Instead we are told it’s perfectly acceptable for us to stay right where we are.  None of us want that, even those who are here by ‘choice’, because we need the money.  We all want it to be temporary.  We would all leave immediately if we could.  Most of us are uniformed about government policies and have never heard of the Nordic Model.  We might support decriminalisation but only because we think the alternative is for us to be criminalised and arrested along with our abusers.  Everyone who knows about the Nordic Model supports it.  I would give me life to bring the Nordic Model to my country – not that it’s much of a life to give.”

At the 2016 ALP state conference held in Queenstown a motion to support full decriminalisation of the sex trade was voted in favour of. During this debate Amnesty International’s policy on decriminalisation was used to back the motion but at no time was there any discussion about the 600 human rights groups that have both condemned and opposed Amnesty’s policy.

The 2017 UK Trades Union Council Congress and the British Medical Association Annual Meeting opposed motions in support of full decriminalisation - of pimps, punters and brothel keepers.

Again at both meetings of the UK TUC and BMA,  Amnesty’s policy was used to push for decriminalisation.

So let’s have a look at the background to Amnesty’s policy as it is apparently not new for Amnesty International to ignore the plight of women in the sex trade.

The internal machinations of this global human rights giant are illuminating. After she was fired, the former head of the gender unit in the organisation, Gita Sahgal, told the Observer that an “atmosphere of terror” prevailed within the organisation.  That ‘debate is suppressed” and staff are cowed into accepting the party line.  She also called the leadership “ideologically corrupt” saying “there is a deep misogyny in the human rights movement and the kinds of issues that women have to face tend to bring that out.”  (Raquel Rosario Sanchez)

UK based journalist Julie Bindel’s forensic investigation into the development of Amnesty’s “sex work” policy provides essential background to understanding why Amnesty International came to develop its retrograde policy on “sex work” and how this was implemented. In a recent article about ‘sex worker’ front groups she wrote:

‘Britain’s third biggest union, the GMB, which was formed in 1889, had been persuaded by lobbyists for legalisation of the sex trade that prostitution is a job, and that those selling sex deserve “worker’s rights.” In January 2002, to a fanfare of publicity, the Adult Entertainment branch was officially sanctioned by the GMB.

The Adult Entertainment branch began life as the International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) - the brainchild of two academics who were not involved in prostitution. The IUSW - now operating mainly as a website - has never been a union, but a lobbying group for the decriminalisation of pimping. Academics, sex buyers and pimps were welcomed as members of the IUSW, which eventually led one of its more leftist members to break ranks and spill its secrets to me. 

In the early days, two gay men were the main spokespeople for the IUSW, making their rather unrepresentative voices dominant in the “sex worker’s rights” debate. One of them, Douglas Fox, a Conservative Party activist and co-owner of a large “escort agency” based in northeast England, was also an activist for Amnesty UK. In 2008, Fox proposed a motion for blanket decriminalisation of the sex trade at the Amnesty International (AI) Annual General Meeting, a proposal that became international AI policy seven years later.’

Background to Amnesty’s ‘sex work’policy proposal

Phillip Bradfield exposed more of Douglas Fox’s activities:

Sex trade ‘was asked to join Amnesty and lobby internally’

‘In 2008, he unsuccessfully proposed a resolution at the Amnesty UK AGM calling for backing for legalised prostitution. But in Saturday’s Newsletter, he claimed credit for Amnesty’s new draft policy in favour of legalised prostitution, saying he started the internal debate and research. 

Yesterday, he confirmed he wrote a report in 2008, telling his supporters that Amnesty’s internal “violence against women campaign group” was the key opposition to a legalisation policy, adding that he had “caused a rumpus” at their AGM stall.  In that report he asked his supporters to join Amnesty and lobby this group from within.  “We need to pursue them mercilessly and get them on side,” he said.  However Amnesty responded yesterday that Fox has not been a member for some years and had “zero” input regarding their new draft policy on legalised prostitution.’

Anna Djinn explains more about Amnesty’s denial about Douglas Fox’s role in the policy process:

‘Here is an excerpt from the Official Hansard Report of the 30 January 2014 session of the Northern Ireland Assembly Committee for Justice. (NB: Ms Teggart is from Amnesty International and Mr Wells is a committee member)

Mr Wells: Who else is Douglas Fox? Ms Teggart: I will look to you for that. Mr Wells: I think that you know who Douglas Fox is, do you not? Ms Teggart: I think that, after your e-mail inquiry, based on what my colleague Googled, he came up as an International Union of Sex Workers (IUSW) activist. Mr Wells: Douglas Fox runs the largest prostitution ring in the north-east of England. He has been on the front page of ‘The Northern Echo’ and is quite proud of that fact. Douglas Fox was running the largest prostitution ring in the north-east of England, he was a member of Amnesty International, in one of your north-east branches, and he proposed the motion at your AGM in Nottingham in 2008. Is that correct? Ms Teggart: He did not propose the motion. The motion was proposed by the Newcastle upon Tyne group. Mr Wells: But he was instrumental in that motion, which went before your group. Ms Teggart: He was a member of the group that brought forward that motion. Mr Wells: You allowed a person who ran the largest prostitution ring in the north-east of England to have major input in your policy development.’

Anna expands on convictions for sex trafficking of key members of ‘sex worker’ front groups which either worked with or were funded by UNAIDS and also advised Amnesty on its ‘sex work’ policy:

15 October 2015 Alejandra Gil, the Vice President of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), was exposed as having been jailed for 15 years for trafficking by Kat Banyard. In 2009 the NSWP was appointed co-chair of UNAIDS and advised on their prostitution policy. Both NSWP and UNAIDS were referenced by Amnesty in its draft policy. See: A Human Rights Scandal for more information.
5 November 2015 Claudia Brizuela, a former leader of Asociacion de Mujeres Meretrices de Argentina (Association of Women Prostitutes of Argentina) (AMMAR) and a founder of the Latin American-Caribbean Female Sex

Workers Network, was arrested and charged for sex trafficking a year ago. The latter network was also represented by Alejandra Gil in Mexico, also found guilty of sex trafficking this spring. See: Ex dirigente de Ammar procesada por liderar red de trata.

Minutes from an Amnesty International UK meeting held in 2013 show that the International Secretariat had set in motion a fast track process to push their pre-determined ‘sex work’ policy through regardless of the enormous predicted opposition from members or AI sections:

Saturday 16 November 2013 10.00am-4.00pm
Conference Room
Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA
3. Consultation on policy relating to sex workers
3.1. Background The Board Chair has asked IISC to conduct consultation on this policy with AIUK members. IS strongly advocating. Note: All to be aware that it is International focus policy, not a specifically UK issue
3.2. Initial Feedback:
• Clarification needed on who authored which document
• Should consult other sections doing policy consultation
• Should be aware of potential controversy (relations between IS and AIUK, religious groups who might have moral issues with this argument) NOTE: AI does not take position on morality
• Should be mindful of terminology especially when broadening out on international level • Need a clear timeline
• How to ascertain distinct transaction? Issue of exchange for food and shelter is hard to track.
• Would decriminalisation be sufficient to allow some of the arguments to become realised, or would it take legalisation? (* Only two options given. No THIRD WAY, ie Nordic Model)
• Need to look into present state of law on this and the overlap between trafficking, slavery and forced labour
3.3. Response from IISC:
• Broadly supportive of decriminalisation
• Decriminalisation of both demand and supply side are part and parcel of achieving whole objective • Suggest consultation with other similar sections.
• Karen to consult other sections. Lucy to ask Swedish section.
• Fiona to ask about autonomy issues
3.4. Consultation and resolution:
• Objective: consulting in order to be able to feed back to IS (deadline end of March to be discussed at Chair’s forum). This will lay ground for support of potential AGM resolution to go forward to 2014: giving board mandate to pave way for AIUK support. Deadline for Resolution: 10th Feb
• IISC members to take responsibility for getting in touch with key stakeholders (Youth Advisory Board, Student Groups
• Wider membership: • Give info in advance, with clear documents with a few points to consider
• Something will go out in advance to groups in New Year (Will keep Paisley group informed.)
• Look at ways to engage with existing parts of the structure
• Flag up that it may be on agenda at AGM
• Get additional fringe meeting built into AGM to add debate. Pre-working party working party - incorporate 10 Reasons to Decriminalize Sex Work - give people access to further reading - give two sides to story, but clear question whether they support Amnesty developing a policy on decriminalisation of sex work (*Again only two sides, no third option)
• Main question: Do you support Amnesty International adopting a policy to support the (Note MAIN QUESTION! Misleading. Does NOT ask members if they should have a policy to decriminalize pimps and johns.) decriminalisation of Sex Work?
• Group mailing to be done centrally. Staff time allocated to this
• Karen to work out doc and q and a. Fiona to help in editing. Agree draft Pre-Christmas approve it. Ready to send out mid-January
• Karen to talk to Liz to identify external stakeholders for risk analysis
• Karen to do mapping and send round to allocate responsibility (Karen: Women’s action network, Fiona: Disability rights groups, Raj and Fiona: Women’s’ organisations). Staff to help where possible.

Darren Geist has identified five reasons why Amnesty’s policy should be questioned:

‘1. It will increase sex trafficking.  Under Amnesty’s approach, prostitution would not be made legal and then regulated. Instead it would be decriminalised, with limited government regulation or oversight. Decriminalisation has not reduced sex trafficking or criminal activities and, in fact, drastically increases the demand for prostitution by reducing the associated stigma and costs. Even Amsterdam had to impose greater restrictions on its prostitution industry to deal with rising crime. In Denmark, where prostitution was decriminalised in 1999 the demand for prostitution rose by 40%.  It has four times as many sex-trafficking victims as nearby Sweden, even though Sweden’s population is 40 percent larger.  Consequently, pimps resort to sex trafficking to keep their customers supplied with unrestricted sex. (Ed. Even where legalisation occurs it shows an increase in trafficking/harms to women.)

2. It will reduce the quality of life for prostitutes, and hinder efforts to provide protection and improve health care.  Amnesty’s assertions that decriminalisation will improve access to health care and allowing prostitutes to get employment contracts and form labour unions are not supported by the weight of the evidence.  In fact, because of the increase in trafficking and worsening “work” conditions, prostitutes’ health is likely to be at even greater risk. Prostitution’s decriminalisation typically has a race-to-the-bottom effect where prostitutes are pressured by men to offer more for less - including unprotected sex, anal sex, group sex, BDSM and acting out torture or rape fantasies. Prostitutes in Germany, for instance, often put in 18-hour days and live in the rooms out of which they work - hardly a healthy environment. Because the trade is socially sanctioned, there is no incentive for the government to provide exit strategies for those who want to get out of it. These women are trapped. Attempts to form labour unions have failed in the Netherlands, and according to a German government study, very few prostitutes have employment contracts. All of this results in increased exploitation and abuse of prostitutes. 

3. It ignores complicated issues of consent in prostitution, where most prostitutes are victims of exploitation.  Over the past several years, consent to sex has been a hot topic of debate - but Amnesty largely ignores its complexities. What counts as voluntary prostitution is highly contested. We know that prostitutes are predominantly from disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. We know that entry into prostitution is often preceded by prolonged and repeated trauma, that rape was the first sexual experience of most prostitutes, and that a majority of prostitutes were victims of child sexual abuse. We know that many sex traffickers groom their victims, fostering romantic relationships with them before leveraging those attachments into commercial exploitation. We also know women who enter into prostitution do so at a very young age.  While exact numbers are impossible, several controversial studies have put the average age of entry between 12 and 14; others have found that the majority entered prior to 18, and an international study found that 47 percent entered before age 18. Under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act, any minor - person under 18 - in prostitution is a victim of sex trafficking. Yet in Amnesty’s framework, regardless of a prostitute’s history of exploitation or age of entry into sex work, prostitution is considered consensual from the day she turns 18.  Amnesty’s relies on a troubling report by the United Nations Development Programme Global Commission. The UNDP report is so radical that even the sale of sex to feed a drug habit failed to raise any red flags: “Sex work is not always a desperate or irrational act; it is a realistic choice to sell sex - in order to support a family, an education or maybe a drug habit.”  Though not all these cases entail sex trafficking, it is irresponsible to not consider regulation in an area so rife with exploitation and abuse. Even consensual prostitution must be viewed within a context of the prostitutes’ history of sexual exploitation and of an industry preying upon the insecurities and vulnerabilities of predominantly young girls.

4. It will fuel a rape culture.  Amnesty’s embrace of commercial sex feeds rape culture by trivialising sex, weakening gender equality and treating sex as something that can bought and sold. But sex is - and should be - treated differently from other activities. It is a uniquely personal and private act. Rape is categorically worse than other forms of assault precisely because it is a more intimate violation.  The human rights push against anti-sodomy laws was also grounded in a belief that sexual activity deserved special protection. Decriminalisation of prostitution will lead to bizarre (and morally troubling) legal problems. If a client and prostitute reach an agreement for services and the client “exceeds” those agreed-upon services, is that theft of services or rape? If police are investigating the incident, should they, at first instance, treat it as a contract dispute or a sexual assault? These problems are created by Amnesty’s framework, in which sex is treated as just another commodity.

5. It is promoting a form of economic libertarianism, typically anathema to the human rights left.  Amnesty frequently criticised restrictions on prostitution as paternalistic, as regulating the private conduct of primarily women. Yet it is Amnesty’s proposal that moves sex from the private to the public sphere. It is one thing to interfere in the private, personal actions of a person, and quite another for the government to regulate the public sale of goods and services.  The government prohibits a wide range of economic activity, and groups like Amnesty usually advocate for robust regulation because of concerns about labour-right violations, work conditions and abuse of workers. But in this case, Amnesty proposes a decriminalisation of an industry known to be highly dangerous, rife with corruption and violence, frequently if not by definition sexually exploitative and at a high risk of sex trafficking.

Instead, Amnesty should have adopted the Swedish or Nordic model, which has had great success in reducing sex trafficking and prostitution, while also expanding the services for victims of sexual exploitation.

Amnesty’s proposal perverts human-rights and women’s-rights principles. It sacrifices the concerns and welfare of the vast majority of prostitutes, who are caught in an exploitative and brutal industry.  As a result, Amnesty has staked out a position that will be a boon to pimps and sex traffickers, and will do great damage to the human rights of the men, women and children caught in the sex industry.

• Tassie public not hoodwinked over pimp front groups ....“it’s just a job”

Today in Hobart a group of abolitionist activists launched their campaign in the lead up to Tasmania’s state election next year.  The protest targeted Labor and the Greens over their pro pimp, punter and sex trade policies. Members of the Nordic Model Australia Coalition are continuing with their community outreach program and have welcomed the amount of support they are getting from people in the streets The community at large have not been hoodwinked by pro pimp/red umbrella front groups misinformation that prostitution is just a job and understand it for what it is - the most dangerous method for disadvantaged and poor women to earn money.

At the protest today, the people I spoke with had no questions to ask about the link between pornography and prostitution and the escalating levels of violence towards women.  There is a common understanding that the commodifciation and pornification of girls and women is leading to a growing demand from men to exploit and abuse women. What people were surprised about was that Labor and Greens are pro pimp!

It’s certainly time for Tasmanian politicians to take notice of community thinking on sexploitation of girls and women and that stopping demand from men is the only way to stop the violence to girls and women exploited and abused in the sex trade.

*Isla MacGregor is radical feminist, abolitionist and social justice advocate in Tasmania and was instrumental in establishing the Tasmanian Coalition for Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in 2003. Isla considers that the links between international organised crime groups, sex trafficking, the sex trade and the violence to women inherent in the prostitution market must be remedied by laws that criminalise the purchase of sex while decriminalising all those who are bought for sex. Isla considers that pornography and the commodifiication of women is a major driver in the escalating global crisis of violence against women.