Submission to the consultation on the Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill from the Nordic Model Information Network

The Nordic Model Information Network is a global alliance of researchers with deep and systematic expertise in researching the dynamics of prostitution and the sex industry, trafficking and violence against women. We write in response to the consultation on the Prostitution Law Reform (Scotland) Bill, and we argue for the adoption of the Nordic Model. We do this in accord with the 2014 Resolution 1983 of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly “Prostitution, trafficking and modern slavery in Europe”, and the (Honeyball) Resolution of the European Parliament, “Sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact of gender equality”, both of which recommended by overwhelming majorities the approach of addressing demand as best legislative practice throughout the European Union.

Our research is grounded in contemporary evidence including, importantly, the testimony of survivors of the prostitution system, as well as drawing on historical and philosophical inquiry. Many of us have worked directly with prostituted women. We have individual and collective links with a wide variety of organisations working for the abolition of prostitution as an institution of gender inequality and exploitation. We believe it is important to signal very clearly that our position on prostitution is not grounded in a moralistic approach, or in any kind of hostility to women in the prostitution system. Nor is our position linked to considerations about maintaining ‘public order’. Our concern is centrally with the human rights of women in protecting the dignity of all women equally, and with an end to all forms of the subordination and degradation of women.

We unequivocally support the removal of criminal sanctions for women who solicit sex and the strengthening of laws against coercion in the sex industry. On this basis we are in support of law reform that decriminalises solicitation and that focuses on women’s safety. We do not, however, support the general aim of the Bill to reform the law on prostitution in Scotland along the New Zealand model. We set out our reasons for this below. We think it is


important from the outset to clarify and correct some of the misinformation, in particular about the Nordic Model, noted in the Consultation Paper.

Misinformation about the Nordic model

The Consultation Paper asserts, without any supporting evidence, that the model pioneered in Sweden and now known as the Nordic Model (criminalising the purchase of sex, while decriminalising its sale and providing support for women to exit) is a ‘failed model from [an]other jurisdiction’ (p 3). This is simply inaccurate. On no measure can prostitution law in Sweden be described as having failed. Since the law was enacted in 1999, the proportion of men in Sweden who buy sex has fallen from 12.7% to 7.6%.1 Independent evaluations have found that street prostitution markets – the most dangerous for women – have been reduced and there is no evidence that prostitution has been displaced into other spaces.2 Studies suggest the overall number of people involved in prostitution has declined, and that the prostitution market is considerably smaller in Sweden, per capita, than in neighbouring Denmark where prostitution is legalised.3 The proportion of the general public in favour of the approach has increased from 45% of women and 20% of men to 60% of men and 79% of women.4 The enactment of the law has been adjusted several times since 1999, in part to ensure that the safety of women who remain in prostitution continues as a primary goal of equality. The Swedish government defines prostitution as violence against women, and hence less prostitution means less violence in the ‘ordinary course’ of transactions; violence associated with the industry has also fallen, with the only fatality a woman in prostitution (Eva Marree Smith Kullander) murdered by her ex-boyfriend during a custody visit (a domestic violence murder).

New Zealand

The New Zealand reform is held out in the Consultation Paper as preferable to the Nordic Model. However, the following points from the 2008 Prostitution Law Review Committee Report about women’s safety in NZ are omitted, despite their relevance:

  •   the majority of women perceived that the law reform ‘could do little about the violence that occurred’ (p 57);
  •   ‘few’ women across all sectors of the sex industry had reported violence to the police (p 122).

    1 See data and analysis in the synoptic research of Max Waltman (2011) Sweden’s Prohibition of Purchase of Sex: The Law’s Reasons, Impact, and Potential Women’s Studies International Forum 34: 459-460.
    2 Ibid.
    3 For more detail, see Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia (2013) Demand Change: Understanding the Nordic Approach to Prostitution Melbourne: CATWA

    4 See data and analysis in Waltman, M. (2011) Sweden’s Prohibition of Purchase of Sex: The Law’s Reasons, Impact, and Potential Women’s Studies International Forum 34: 459-460.


The Report does not provide evidence that the decriminalisation of all aspects of prostitution in New Zealand has reduced violence against women in prostitution. To endorse this model is to accept that women in prostitution, often the most socially marginalised, will inevitably be subject to violence and the best the law can hope for is to enable them to seek support in its aftermath. Endorsement of the NZ approach (also ‘from another jurisdiction’, we note) would place Scotland firmly at odds with approaches to eradicate all forms of violence against women and girls. It is unacceptable to stipulate ‘harm minimisation’ as the best we can do.

At least four women involved in prostitution are known to have been murdered in New Zealand by sex buyers since the introduction of the Prostitution Reform Act: Suzie Sutherland, 2005; Ngatai Lynette Manning, 2008;


Sweden since the 1999 law reform was her ex-partner.

In terms of the safety of women, we note that the consultation paper (p 13) cites Hilary Kinnell as hoping ‘that those with direct influence over prostitution policy would recognise the lessons of Ipswich’, where five women in prostitution were murdered in 2006. The policy lesson from Ipswich is that approaches that decriminalise women and provide specialist support to exit, while simultaneously tackling men’s demand for buying sexual acts, are effective. Alan Caton OBE, Detective Superintendent at the time of the Ipswich murders, oversaw the introduction of a policing strategy on street prostitution based on the principles of the Nordic Model. This involved a multi-agency initiative to provide support to women to exit, together with robust enforcement against men who kerbcrawled. According to an independent evaluation of the initiative, the strategy led to the elimination of kerb crawling and enabling women to exit, again with no evidence of displacement.5 There are indeed, then, policy lessons from Ipswich. The chief lesson is that making women’s lives safer requires a focus on ending demand.

Decriminalising the purchase of sex normalises men’s entitlement to sexual release in/through women’s bodies, the same dynamics that underpin sexual violence and trafficking.

Trafficking for sexual exploitation

New Zealand is identified by the US State Department Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report as a ‘destination country’ for trafficking for sexual exploitation. Yet the Consultation Paper refers only cursorily to trafficking for sexual exploitation, noting that separate legislation is being considered by the Scottish Parliament. To dismiss the implications of decriminalising

5 Poland, F, Boswell, G, Killett, A, Jarrett, J, Fordham, R, Houghton, J, Varley, A and Laura Seebohm (2012) Evaluation Research Report for Ipswich/Suffolk Prostitution Strategy 2007-2012: Evissta 2 University of East Anglia.

Anna Louise Wilson, 2005;

Vaikaew, 2009. In contrast, the perpetrator of the only murder of a woman in prostitution



all aspects of prostitution in this way flies in the face of strong evidence on the link between trafficking and prostitution. For example, a recent study exploring the trafficking flows into 150 countries found sex markets were larger in countries where prostitution was not subject to criminal sanctions, and established a positive correlation between ‘the legal status of prostitution and inward trafficking’.6 The study concluded that ‘legalising prostitution will therefore almost invariably increase demand for prostitution’. The Nordic Model recognises this evidence in addressing prostitution and trafficking within the same framework.

A requirement to address demand for commercial sex is enshrined in a number of human rights instruments on trafficking. Article 9 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (The Palermo Protocol) requires States Parties to ‘adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking’. The UN Recommended Principles on Human Rights and Human Trafficking (2002) specify that ‘strategies aimed at preventing trafficking shall address demand as a root cause of trafficking’.7

Decriminalising the purchase of sexual services weakens imperatives to discourage demand, and runs counter to human rights obligations to address trafficking.

The countries with the highest levels of gender equality in the world have recognised prostitution as incompatible with equality between women and men.8 In 2014, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of a Resolution sponsored by MEP Mary Honeyball to recognise prostitution and sexual exploitation as cause and consequence of gender inequality, and as contrary to the principles of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, including the goal and the principle of gender equality. Member States are called upon to reduce demand as part of ‘an integrated strategy against trafficking’.9 Mary Honeyball herself noted that by the passage of the resolution, ‘We send a strong signal that the European Parliament is ambitious enough to tackle prostitution head on rather than accepting it as a fact of life.’ The EP resolution adopts the approach of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women10 that see forms of violence such as prostitution and sexual exploitation as ‘a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women’, and in no sense as natural or biological phenomena.

6 Cho, S-Y, Dreher, A & Neumayer, E. (2013) Does Legalized Prostitution Increase Human Trafficking? World Development 41: 67–82.
7 Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (2002) Recommended Principles and Guidelines on Human Rights and Human Trafficking, addendum to the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (E/2002/68/Add. 1), p 1.

8 For example, Iceland, Sweden and Norway.
9 See TEXTS ADOPTED PART III at the sitting of Wednesday 26 February 2014. 10 See


The EP Resolution was followed by the adoption on 8 April 2014 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of the Resolution Prostitution, Trafficking and Modern Slavery in Europe, based on the Report prepared by the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination.11 The PACE Resolution noted that ‘[f]orced prostitution and sexual exploitation should be considered as violations of human dignity and, as women are disproportionately represented among victims, as an obstacle to gender equality.’ The Resolution noted the intimate connection of trafficking and prostitution, and cited the ‘Swedish approach’ in noting that ‘policies prohibiting the purchase of sexual services are those that are more likely to have a positive impact on reducing trafficking in human beings’. The Resolution called, inter alia, for states to consider criminalising the purchase of sexual services, to ban the advertising of sexual services and to criminalise pimping, along with the establishment of holistic exit programs to safeguard the health, safety and security of those in the prostitution system.

On the basis of our research expertise, we endorse these measures as recommended for implementation by the EP and PACE Reports and Resolutions.

For Scotland to remain a beacon of gender equality, attempts to decriminalise the purchase of sex must be resisted, while support for the safety of women involved in prostitution must be increased, and criminal sanctions for activities related to selling sex removed.

  1. Dr Maddy Coy, Reader in Sexual Exploitation and Gender Equality, London Metropolitan University, UK
  2. Dr Helen Pringle, Senior Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia
  3. Dr Meagan Tyler, Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow, RMIT University, Australia
  4. Dr Esohe Aghatise, Visiting Lecturer, United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), Turin and Faculty of Law, University of Turin (Master of

    Laws in International Crime and Justice Programme), Italy

  5. Professor Kathleen Barry, PhD, Professor Emerita, Penn State University, US
  6. Janine Benedet, Director, Centre for Feminist Legal Studies, The University of British


  7. Ciaran Benson, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University College Dublin, Ireland
  8. Professor Karen Boyle, Co-Director of the Centre for Gender and Feminist Studies,

    University of Stirling, UK

  9. Catherine Briddick, doctoral researcher, University of Oxford
  10. Dr Oona Brooks, Lecturer in Criminology, The Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice

    Research, University of Glasgow, UK

  11. Dr Heather Brunskell- Evans, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Medical Humanities,

    University of Leicester, UK

  12. Professor Michelle M. Dempsey, Professor of Law, Villanova University School of

    Law, US

11 See 5

  1. Dr Gail Dines, Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies, Wheelock College, Boston, US
  2. Gunilla S. Ekberg, international human rights lawyer, PhD in Law candidate, University of Glasgow, UK
  3. Dr Elizabeth Evans, Faculty of Social Sciences and Law, University of Bristol, UK
  4. Dr Matthew Ezzell, Associate Professor in Sociology, James Madison University, US
  5. Dr Melissa Farley, Prostitution Research and Education, US
  6. Maria Garner, doctoral researcher, London Metropolitan University, UK
  7. Professor Aisha K. Gill, University of Roehampton, UK
  8. Dr Kieran McGrath, Visiting Research Associate, Department of Social Studies, Trinity

    College, Dublin, Ireland

  9. Professor Marianne Hester, Chair in Gender, Violence and International Policy,

    School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol, UK

  10. Dr Miranda A.H. Horvath, Associate Professor in Forensic Psychology, Middlesex

    University, UK

  11. Donna M. Hughes, Professor & Eleanor M. and Oscar M. Carlson Endowed Chair,

    Gender and Women’s Studies Program, University of Rhode Island, US

  12. Professor Sheila Jeffreys, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of

    Melbourne, Australia

  13. Professor Liz Kelly, Director, Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London

    Metropolitan University, UK

  14. Dr Julia Long, Lecturer in Sociology, Anglia Ruskin University, UK
  15. Jo Lovett, Senior Research Fellow, London Metropolitan University, UK
  16. Professor Kathleen Lynch, UCD Professor of Equality Studies, Head of the UCD School

    of Social Justice, University College Dublin, Ireland

  17. Dr Finn Mackay, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, University of the West of England, UK
  18. Catharine A. MacKinnon, Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law, University of Michigan,

    James Barr Ames Visiting Professor of Law (long term), Harvard Law School, Special Gender Adviser to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, 2008-2012 (affiliations for identification only)

  19. Kristina Massey, Lecturer in Criminal Psychology, Canterbury Christchurch University, UK
  20. Andrea Matolsci, doctoral researcher, University of Bristol, UK
  21. Dr Melanie McCarry, University of Strathclyde, UK
  22. Professor Hiroshi Nakasatomi, University of Tokushima, Japan
  23. Dr Caroline Norma, Lecturer in Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University,


  24. Dr Monica O’Connor, Independent Researcher, Ireland
  25. Professor Keith Pringle, Professor in Sociology with a specialism in social work,

    Uppsala University, Sweden; Adjungeret Professor, Aalborg University, Denmark; and

    Honorary Professor, University of Warwick, UK

  26. Charlotte Proudman, doctoral researcher, University of Cambridge, UK
  27. Dr Kaye Quek, Lecturer in Political Science, University of Melbourne and RMIT

    University, Australia

  28. Jody Raphael, Visiting Professor of Law, De Paul University College of Law, US
  29. Professor Janice G. Raymond, Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts,

    Amherst, US


  1. Diane L. Rosenfeld, Lecturer on Law, Director, Gender Violence Program, Harvard Law School
  2. Dr Emma Rush, Lecturer in Ethics and Philosophy, Charles Sturt University, Australia
  3. Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Research Fellow, London Metropolitan University, UK
  4. Dr Olivia Smith, Lecturer in Criminology, Anglia Ruskin University, UK
  5. Dr Jackie Turner, Research Fellow, London Metropolitan University, UK
  6. Max Waltman, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Sweden
  7. Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, Leverhulme Research Fellow, Durham University, UK
  8. Professor Nicole Westmarland, Professor of Criminology, Durham University, UK
  9. Dr Rebecca Whisnant, Associate Professor in Philosophy and Director of Women’s

    and Gender Studies, University of Dayton, US

  10. Nusha Yonkova, doctoral researcher, School of Social Justice, University College

    Dublin, Ireland


Submission to Amnesty International’s Global Policy Consultation on Sex Work

March 2014

  1. About the End Violence Against Women Coalition

End Violence Against Women (EVAW) is a UK-wide coalition (1) of women’s organisations, frontline service providers, survivors, human rights organisations, academics and activists who came together in 2005 to campaign for strategic approaches to all forms of violence against women and girls in the UK. We work to the UN definition of violence against women and girls (VAWG) as “violence directed at a woman because she is a woman or acts of violence which are suffered disproportionately by women”. (2)

Our members campaigned successfully for the Westminster, London and Wales Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strategies and we run a network of experts on preventing VAWG. We campaign to end the prejudicial and sexist treatment of women across the media, and gave evidence to the Leveson Inquiry in 2012 with other women’s groups.

We are proud that Amnesty UK was a founding member of EVAW during the global Stop Violence Against Women campaign. We are grateful to Amnesty UK for providing us with the opportunity to respond to their consultation on a proposed ‘sex work’ policy and we hope that this is helpful in formulating such a policy. This response is from the EVAW Board and has been prepared by Dr Maddy Coy. (3)

  1. Starting points

EVAW supports the ‘Nordic Model’ of tackling the harms of prostitution and unequivocally supports the decriminalisation of those who sell sex, in order that support, including sexual and reproductive health care, can be legally and efficiently provided and security and dignity protected. Addressing the safety of women who sell sex is essential. As women involved in prostitution experience disproportionately high levels of sexual and physical violence and emotional abuse, specialised support services must be available and adequately resourced. Enabling women to leave prostitution is also crucial; one global study of 854 people in prostitution found that 89 per cent wanted to stop selling sex, but had no way of doing so. (4) UK research has also highlighted the importance of specialist support in creating options for women to exit prostitution. (5)

However, decriminalising the prostitution system, including the purchase of sexual acts, does not protect women’s human rights. The prostitution system as an institution of inequality and violence against women is incompatible with human rights, and is indefensible in the context of human rights provisions and values. Our submission is not based on a moralistic approach, but concerns human rights and particularly the human rights of women.

  • The prostitution system as cause and consequence of gender inequality

We consider the understanding that the prostitution system comprises ‘the selling and buying of consensual sex between two adults’ to be a flawed premise. Prostitution is not a myriad of individual acts of transactional sex. It is a highly organised industry, and the reality of that industry globally is that men are overwhelmingly the majority of those who buy sexual acts, and women and girls those whose bodies are bought. It is not an exchange between ‘similarly situated individuals who are making complementary choices: one to buy sex and the other to sell it’. (6)

Prostitution is a reminder of continuing inequalities between women and men: the gender pay gap; the sexualisation of female bodies in popular culture; histories of violence and abuse in both childhood and adulthood that underpin many women’s entry into the sex industry. The persistence of these economic and social inequalities around the globe is well documented in a wealth of research. Together these layers of disadvantage experienced by women mean that so-called ‘free’ choices – ‘consensual’ choices – in prostitution are actually decisions made in conditions of already existing inequality and discrimination. Women’s choices should not be measured simply by where they end up (in prostitution), but by the circumstances in which these choices must be made. Choices made in conditions of being unequal cannot be considered ‘free’. Recognising the discrimination and inequality of the system of prostitution means that it can be viewed as a violation of women’s human rights because it is built on and perpetuates women’s social, economic and cultural inferiority to men. Accepting the inevitability of prostitution means accepting the fiction that it is natural for men to buy access to women and children’s bodies for sexual release. The longevity of the institutions of prostitution should not be confused with inevitability. As the great liberal writer John Stuart Mill recognised 150 years ago, prostitution is not a profession but a system of violence and inequality, which is analogous to slavery, and is sustained by the acceptance of male sexual entitlement as natural. (7)

Decriminalising, and thus legitimising, the purchase of access to women’s bodies sends a powerful social message to women and girls that they are sexual commodities. The consequences of such a move affect the status of all women and girls.

  • Prostitution and human rights

The recent resolution adopted by the European Parliament on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender inequality (8) drew on a number of human rights instruments. This resolution called on member states to recognise prostitution as cause and consequence of gender inequality and a violation of women’s human rights. It echoed an earlier European Parliament resolution which rejected the idea that ‘working as a prostitute can be equated with doing a job’. (9)

One of the earliest human rights formulations also recognised prostitution as problematic; the 1949 United Nations Convention on ‘the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others’ states that ‘prostitution and the accompanying evil of the traffic in persons for the purpose of prostitution are incompatible with the dignity and worth of the human person and endanger the welfare of the individual, the family and the community. (10) This therefore defines prostitution as incompatible with the UN Declaration of Human Rights 1948 which guarantees human dignity and integrity to all.

More recent human rights approaches refer to trafficking and ‘forced’ prostitution, but as many have argued, ‘force’ need not be coercion from a third party, but can also describe a lack of alternative means to support oneself and family. Article 6 of UN General Recommendation 19 on Violence Against Women recognises that poverty and unemployment ‘force many women, including young girls, into prostitution’. (11) If force or coercion can be exercised as conditions of poverty and unemployment, which disproportionately affect women and girls throughout the world, then gender inequality itself can be described as ‘force’. This cannot be described as ‘consent’ to sell sexual services. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Trafficking pointed this out in noting that ‘it is rare that one finds a case in which the path to prostitution and/or a person’s experience does not involve, at the very least an abuse of power and/or an abuse of vulnerability. Power and vulnerability in this context must be understood to include power disparities based on gender, race, ethnicity and poverty’. (12)

Intersecting inequalities of gender and race/ethnicity are also hugely significant in women’s entry into, and experiences of, the prostitution system. Studies consistently demonstrate the over-representation of women and girls from minority communities in the prostitution system and particularly in its most abusive contexts. (13) The Aboriginal Women’s Action Network on Prostitution in Canada has led a high profile campaign against proposals to decriminalise prostitution on the basis that disparities in socio-economic resources which make selling sex a gendered survival strategy are deepened for indigenous women. (14) Decriminalising the buying of sexual acts, which serves to legitimise the sex industry, fails to acknowledge these contexts of inequality that mean limited economic options – poverty and unemployment – disproportionately affect women of colour. In addition, racist stereotyping in the sex industry is pervasive.

Article 8 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and Article 6 of the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW) both require states to combat and suppress ‘all forms of traffic in women and exploitation of the prostitution of others’. While ‘exploitation of prostitution’ is not ‘prostitution’, those who exploit the circumstances which put women in prostitution (e.g. poverty, discrimination and abuse) are those who buy sexual acts, whose demand fuels the global sex industry. (15) Sweden, where the purchase of sexual services is criminalised on the basis that prostitution is incompatible with gender equality and the integrity of the person, describe their model as evidence of compliance with Article 6 obligations. The CEDAW committee have also applied this interpretation. (16)

Furthermore, commentary from the Committee on Articles 2 and 3 of General Recommendation 19 state that ‘attitudes by which women are regarded as subordinate to men or as having stereotyped roles contribute to the propagation of pornography and the depiction and other commercial exploitation of women as sexual objects, rather than as individuals’.17 Here again is an explicit link in a human rights framing which makes it clear that the depersonalisation of women both in the prostitution system and in each commercial sex encounter18 violates women’s human rights.

There is a great deal of evidence about the multiple harms that women who sell sex experience: sexual and physical violence; increased likelihood of murder; negative impacts on sexual, mental and physical health from living with risk, threats and the actuality of violence, including post-traumatic stress disorder; problematic substance misuse as a psychological survival tactic. (19) Given this evidence, and the gendered asymmetry of the sex industry, it is possible to view prostitution as meeting the definition of violence against women in the 1993 Vienna Declaration, as ‘gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women’. (20) In CEDAW’s formulation, such gender- based violence is a form of discrimination that ‘impairs or nullifies the enjoyment by women of human rights and fundamental freedoms under general international law or under human rights conventions’. (21) This places Amnesty International’s proposal at direct odds with international human rights obligations on violence against women and tackling gender discrimination and inequality.

Research also shows that significant proportions of those in the prostitution system were under the age of 18 at entry. (22) Young people are not exploited in separate sex markets to those of adult women, but within the same ones, specially where youth is eroticised and valued either as an aesthetic ideal and/or as a misguided ‘cure’ for HIV. Thus any approach which normalises prostitution and leads to an increase in sex markets is likely to be counter to obligations under the Conventions on the Rights of Child, which requires State parties ‘to protect the child from all forms of sexual exploitation and sexual abuse.’ (23)

In addition to these binding obligations, there are other precedents under which the prostitution system can be viewed as a violation of human rights.

  • The Declaration and World Plan of Action adopted by the first world women’s conference held at Mexico City in 1975 called on women all over the world to unite to eliminate sexual violence and prostitution as well as other violations of the human rights of women. (24)
  • Addressing demand

The approach of abolishing prostitution through addressing the demand for commercial sex is enshrined in a number of human rights protocols, e.g.:

  •  Strategic objective d.3 of the Beijing Platform for Action requires states to ‘take appropriate measures to address the root factors, including external factors, that encourage trafficking in women and girls for prostitution and other forms of commercialized sex’. (25)
  •  Article 9 of the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children (The Palermo Protocol) requires States Parties to ‘adopt or strengthen legislative or other measures, such as educational, social or cultural measures, including through bilateral and multilateral cooperation, to discourage the demand that fosters all forms of exploitation of persons, especially women and children, that leads to trafficking’.
  •  The UN Recommended Principles on Human Rights and Human Trafficking (2002) specify that ‘strategies aimed at preventing trafficking shall address demand as a root cause of trafficking’. (26)

Decriminalising the purchase of sexual services will not only weaken imperatives to discourage demand, but research shows that ‘legalising prostitution will therefore almost invariably increase demand for prostitution’. Attitudes shift where the purchase of sexual acts is criminalised, with surveys in Sweden for example consistently showing that a large majority of both men and women now think that the purchase of sexual acts is unacceptable. (27) Law is a powerful tool in defining and changing what is, and is not, socially acceptable behaviour.

Finally, there is universal consensus that trafficking is a grave violation of human rights. Systematic research that examined prostitution policy regimes and patterns of trafficking concluded that legalisation ‘leads to an expansion of the prostitution market and thus an increase in human trafficking’; ‘on average countries where prostitution is legal, experience larger reported human trafficking inflows.’ (28) In contrast, countries where the purchase of sexual acts has been criminalised have seen sex markets shrink, and trafficking reduced. (29)  Amnesty’s proposed approach to prostitution is also therefore at odds with binding human rights obligations to tackle trafficking for sexual exploitation.

We reiterate here that we wish to see the decriminalisation of those who sell sex, but support measures that criminalise others in the prostitution system: those who exploit including the buyers of sexual acts.

1. Members include Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, Object, Rape Crisis England and Wales, Amnesty UK, Women’s Institute, Imkaan, Women’s Aid, Eaves, Zero Tolerance, Equality Now, Fawcett, Platform 51, Respect, Refuge, Rights of Women, TUC and others.

2 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, General Recommendation No. 19 (eleventh session, 1992).

3 We are also grateful to Dr Helen Pringle, University of South Wales, for contributing.

4 Farley, M, Cotton, A, Lynne, J, Zumbeck, S, Spiwak, F, Reyes, M.E., Alvarez, D & Sezgin, U. (2003) Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries: Update on violence and posttraumatic stress Journal of Trauma Practice 2(3/4):33–74

5 Bindel, J, Brown, L, Easton, H, Matthews, R & Reynolds, L. (2013) Breaking down the barriers: A study of how women exit prostitution London: Eaves and London South Bank University (LSBU)

6 Leidholdt, D. (1993) Prostitution: A Violation of Women’s Human Rights Cardozo Women’s’ Law Journal 1993-1994: 133

7 Pringle, H. (forthcoming 2014) ‘Equality of Rights in Civil Life: Mill and the Prostitution of Women’ in Biswas, S. & Mallick, S. (eds) De-Coding the Silence! Reading John Stuart Mill’s the Subjection of Women Jaipur: AADI Publishers; McGlynn, C. (2012) John Stuart Mill on Prostitution: Radical Sentiments, Liberal Proscriptions Nineteenth-Century Gender Studies 8(2)

8 European Parliament resolution of 26 February 2014 on sexual exploitation and prostitution and its impact on gender equality (2013/2103(INI)).

9 European Parliament resolution of 2nd February 2004 on current situation in combating violence against women and any future actions (2004/2220(INI)).

10 See Turner, J. (2012) The Means of Delivery: the trafficking of women into prostitution, harms and human rights discourse in Coy, M. (2012) (ed.) Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality: Theory, Research and Policy Farnham: Ashgate.

11 General Recommendation 19, paragraph 15.

12 Huda, S. (2006) Report of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights aspects of the victims of trafficking in persons, especially women and children Geneva: United Nations E/CN.4/2006/62

13 See Farley, M. Lynne, J & Cotton, A. (2005) Prostitution in Vancouver: Violence and the Colonization of First Nations Women Transcultural Psychiatry 42(2): 242–271; Sepowitz, D.E. (2012) Juvenile Entry Into Prostitution: The Role of Emotional Abuse Violence Against Women 18(5): 562–579

14 See; abolish-prostitution;

15 MacKinnon, C. (2006) Pornography as Trafficking in Are Women Human? And other international dialogues Cambridge: The Belknap Press

16 Ibid

17 See Turner, J. (2012) The Means of Delivery: the trafficking of women into prostitution, harms and human rights discourse in Coy, M. (2012) (ed.) Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality: Theory, Research and Policy Farnham: Ashgate.

18 For a discussion of research, see Coy, M. (2012) ‘I Am a Person Too’: Women’s Accounts and Images about Body and Self in Prostitution in Coy, M. (ed) Prostitution, Harm and Gender Inequality: Theory, Research and Policy Farnham: Ashgate

19 Ibid

20 Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, Article 1.

21 General Recommendation 19, paragraph 7.

22 See for example, Cusick, L. (2002) Youth Prostitution: A Literature Review Child Abuse Review 11: 230-251; Farley, M, Cotton, A, Lynne, J, Zumbeck, S, Spiwak, F, Reyes, M.E., Alvarez, D & Sezgin, U. (2003) Prostitution and trafficking in nine countries: Update on violence and posttraumatic stress Journal of Trauma Practice 2(3/4):33–74

23 Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 34.

24 Leidholdt, D. (1993) Prostitution: A Violation of Women’s Human Rights Cardozo Women’s’ Law Journal 1993- 1994: 133

The Guardian view on Amnesty International’s call to decriminalise sex work: divisive and distracting

Amnesty International is one of the great organisations of the modern world. Few can have done more to establish the simple propositions that human rights matter and that they matter for everyone. It has exalted the lowly and brought down the mighty from their seats. And it is poised to make a serious mistake.

The organisation’s international council meeting in Dublin which starts on Friday this week will consider a motion urging that sex work be decriminalised. This is in itself a contestable position. There are many feminists who recoil from it. The letter signed by film actors who are normally reliable allies of Amnesty shows how damaging it is. On the other hand there is a body of professional opinion quoted in the Amnesty proposal, which argues that decriminalising sex work minimises the harm done to sex workers and allows it to be more effectively regulated.

The Amnesty proposal is carefully framed to avoid the obvious evils. It is not as silly or immoral as headlines can make it appear. It would only apply to adults over 18 who were working without coercion, deceit or violence. It addresses a real, global problem, which is that sex workers are almost everywhere treated as outcasts who may be exploited at will. Their rights are routinely violated, in part because they are sex workers. Nonetheless, the organisation should reject the policy.

Read more at the Guardian

The Framing of Gender Apartheid: Amnesty International and Prostitution by Taina Bien-Aime

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise…

Maya Angelou

What would happen if every country decriminalized prostitution? Not just the few that have already disastrously done so, but what if every government legitimized pimps and brothel owners and failed to hold men accountable for purchasing human beings for sex? Would the United Nations and its member states launch a #2050 Agenda for Investing in the Sex Trade as a Solution and Sustainable Development for Women and Girls, Especially the Most Indigent?

What marketing slogans would ensue? Might public agencies launch poverty alleviation campaigns? “First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal, African-Americans and Global South Populations: Are you Poor, Young, Incested, Transgendered, Homeless? With our help, the Sex Trade will provide you with shelter, food, free condoms and the opportunity to contribute to your (or a foreign) country’s Gross National Product. No experience or education required.”

These are not teasers for Margaret Atwood’s next novel, but a concept set forth by Amnesty International, one of the most prominent and respected human rights organization in the world.


Read more at the Huffington Post

A Human Rights Scandal – by Kat Banyard

On Thursday 12th March 2015, 64 year old Alejandra Gil was convicted in Mexico City of trafficking and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Gil reportedly controlled a pimping operation that exploited around 200 women. Known as the “Madam of Sullivan”, she was one of the most powerful pimps of Sullivan Street, an area of Mexico City notorious for prostitution. Gil and her son were connected with trafficking networks in Tlaxcala state – site of Mexico’s “epicenter for sex trafficking.”

Madai, a twenty-four year old woman who was trafficked to Mexico City, was one of those who gave evidence against Gil. Speaking to a reporter in Mexico she said, “[Gil’s] job was to watch us from the car. Her son or her took us to hotels and charged us fees. She kept records. She had a list where she kept records of everything. She even wrote down how long you took”. Madai met her trafficker when she was 19 years old. “He wooed me, made me fall in love, and I believed everything he told me. That I would go live with him, that he was going to marry me… He was the one who took me to Alejandra Gil and her son”. Héctor Pérez, the lawyer representing the victims in Gil’s case, told me Gil was handed a fifteen year sentence because “she received trafficked victims and deceived to exploit them through the exercise of [prostitution].”

Read more here.

Full Sex Industry Decriminalisation Puts Women’s Rights Last by Janie Davies

Prostitution is in the spotlight since Amnesty International joined a number of large organisations in recommending decriminalisation of all aspects of the sex industry. 

That’s not the Nordic model, which reduces demand by decriminalising only the sale of sex and promoting supported exit plans. Full decriminalisation would allow pimps and johns to proceed with their exploitation and abuse of women and girls, with a stamp of human rights compliance.

Full decriminalisation is defeatist, at best.

Our society is trying to normalise a concept of safe, happy “sex workers.” I don’t buy it and neither should you.

A study by Prostitution Research & Education shows that an estimated 89% of women in prostitution want to exit, that more than 70% have been assaulted and more than half have been raped.

It is estimated that the average age of those recruited into prostitution is 13-14 years old.

Still, Amnesty International’s policy has enthusiastic support from those who claim it would benefit prostituted women, protecting them from abuse by enabling regulation.

Instead, decriminalisation would empower the abusers. Research also shows that where decriminalisation takes place, trafficking rises.


You can read the rest of the article on the Huffington Post UK

Buying Sex Should Not Be Legal by Rachel Moran

DUBLIN — HERE in my city, earlier this month, Amnesty International’s international council endorsed a new policy calling for the decriminalization of the global sex trade. Its proponents argue that decriminalizing prostitution is the best way of protecting “the human rights of sex workers,” though the policy would apply equally to pimps, brothel-keepers and johns.

Amnesty’s stated aim is to remove the stigma from prostituted women, so that they will be less vulnerable to abuse by criminals operating in the shadows. The group is also calling on governments “to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.”

The Amnesty vote comes in the context of a prolonged international debate about how to deal with prostitution and protect the interests of so-called sex workers. It is a debate in which I have a personal stake — and I believe Amnesty is making a historic mistake.

I entered the sex trade — as most do — before I was even a woman. At age 14, I was placed in the care of the state after my father committed suicide and because my mother suffered from mental illness.

Within a year, I was on the streets with no home, education or job skills. All I had was my body. At 15, I met a young man who thought it would be a good idea for me to prostitute myself. As “fresh meat,” I was a commodity in high demand.

For seven years, I was bought and sold. On the streets, that could be 10 times in a night. It’s hard to describe the full effect of the psychological coercion, and how deeply it eroded my confidence. By my late teens, I was using cocaine to dull the pain.

Read more here at New York Times