CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — In many countries, including the United States, it’s no harder to buy a human being for sex than to get a pack of cigarettes. Now a leading human rights group, Amnesty International, is about to make it even easier to purchase sex by endorsing one of the most exploitative human rights abuses of our time.
At its bi-annual summit in Dublin on Aug. 7, “Irony International” will vote on a proposal advocating decriminalization of prostitution — not just selling, but also pimping and buying sex, worldwide. The rationale: women will be safer when all of those involved — including pimps, brothel owners, and buyers — don’t operate underground.
I’ve supported Amnesty for decades, yet I find no logical or ethical basis for the view that pimps’ and buyers’ rights trump the right not to be exploited when you’re scared, poor, and have suffered all kinds of abuse. Decriminalizing commercial sex overall isn’t reducing harm, it’s endorsing a system that exploitsuntold numbers of people worldwide.
It is certainly right to decriminalize the selling of sex, especially when we provide exit strategies to those who want to get out. (Most say that they want to leave but don’t see any choice.) But the evidence is clear: vindicating pimps and johns won’t improve the lives of “sex workers.”
Swanee Hunt is the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Advisor at the Carr Center for Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School. She founded Demand Abolition, a non-profit working to end demand for illegal commercial sex.