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



(re-published with permission from Jonah Mix)

Last week, Amnesty International moved from being a human rights organization to a men’s rights organization.

Delegates from around the world met in Dublin over the weekend at the biennial International Council Meeting to vote on a policy of what they called “decriminalizing sex work.” This terminology is deceitful; what Amnesty International actually voted on was legalizing the purchase and sale of women and girls.

In response to this suggested platform, over four hundred women’s organizations and activists signed their names to an open letter condemning a supposed human rights advocacy organization for their uncritical support of the global trade in women’s bodies. The men at Amnesty International were apparently unconvinced, and went ahead with their endorsement of decriminalization against all evidence and common sense.

The debate around Amnesty’s capitulation to pimps and johns has forced the Left to confront prostitution once again. The results, as expected, have been largely pathetic. It speaks to the dismal condition of radical politics today when the concepts of “freedom” and “choice” are used to defend any system of wage labor, let alone one that feeds primarily on the bodies of poor women, women of color, and disabled women.

Anyone with sense rejects the notion that “freedom” or “choice” have anything to do with a coal miner’s decision to work fifteen-hour days in a sludge of industrial waste, or a single mother’s decision to flip burgers and stock shelves. Yet somehow we’re supposed to believe that prostitution is a unique and valuable expression of a woman’s innate desires.

It’s not shocking that many men see penetration by male strangers as the pinnacle of women’s freedom. What’s shocking is the speed at which the wider Leftist movement adopted this misogyny as a party line.

Reasoned, nuanced discussions of prostitution, patriarchy, white supremacy, and capitalism have been largely replaced on the Left with a bankrupt libertarian individualism. The pinnacle of this intentionally apolitical approach is the oft-repeated mantra, “Listen to sex workers!” which Amnesty International specifically used to deflect any criticism of their pro-pimp agenda.

“Listen to sex workers!” is a bankrupt policy position for too many reasons to count. The first problem, as Helen Lewis pointed out recently in The Guardian, is exactly which “sex workers” we should be listening to. I certainly don’t see pro-legalization liberals heeding the words of women like prostitution survivor and abolitionist advocate Bridget Perrier. “I didn’t choose prostitution,” she told me. “Prostitution chose me — because of childhood sexual abuse, racism, and colonialism.” She rejects the term “sex worker” entirely, saying, “What I did was not work. It was abuse.” Are you listening?

Other exited women — Rachel Moran, Rebecca Mott, and dozens more — rarely receive much more than derision and slander from those who claim “listening to sex workers” as their first priority. Entire organizations like SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) are routinely dismissed despite being comprised completely of formerly prostituted women.

These women are often shouted down because, having escaped the industry, they’re no longer considered to be “authorities” on the sex industry today. But Trisha Baptie, another survivor and abolitionist activist, says that’s ridiculous.

“Prostitution doesn’t just affect prostituted women. It affects communities as a whole,” she said. “Women who are out of it now are the ones who have a whole picture of who it harms — they’re not just thinking about how they’re paying their rent.” Was Frederick Douglass not “an authority” on slavery simply because he escaped his chains?

When I asked her whether or not she would have supported legalizing prostitution while she was in the industry, she laughed. “Oh, without a doubt. Absolutely… Because I was relying on it for me and my kids, I would have said I have a right to do this, and that it was my choice to do it. But it wasn’t until I was able to get out and those pressures were taken off of me that I was able to look at it and see the lack of choice I had. Women who have exited have a different view of the men who are purchasing sex. A bit like battered woman internalize all that shame, and once you’re out of it, you can see more clearly what was happening.”

Even currently prostituted women who oppose the industry are ignored in favor of the more palatable “empowered sex worker.” My friend Chelsea endures daily rapes inside the New Zealand brothels that so many Leftists hold up as a progressive example of the system Amnesty International hopes to institute. “The brothels still work the same way they did when it was illegal,” she told me. “We get the worst of both worlds.”

Laws mandating condom use are barely enforced, and women who refuse to let men ejaculate on or inside them struggle to find clients. Should a man harass, abuse, or assault a woman, management can refuse to give out their names, making prosecution impossible.

Some Leftists may think that regulation will bring prostitution out of the shadows, but Chelsea disagrees. “The laws can’t reach us here,” she said. “If we had the Nordic Model, I’d call the cops on all of them the second I get my money, before they get to rape me. If I called cops under [decriminalization] they would say, Did you accept the money? If say yes, they say, boom, consensual.” Amnesty International apparently didn’t listen to this “sex worker” when they decided to put a legal stamp of approval on her rape.

And what about the millions of women, around the globe and here in the United States, who can’t speak loud enough to even have their words dismissed in the first place? There aren’t many talk shows and newspapers interested in giving space to the traumatized indigenous women being bought and sold by South Dakota oil field workers. The immigrant women I have met who sell sex in double-wide trailers outside Seattle dairy farms are unlikely to be tweeting about “whorephobia.” Yet these women are the ones who are most likely to bear the brunt of men’s violence under the guise of “sex work.”

In practice, “listening to sex workers” most often means uncritically accepting the public statements of a small minority of women in prostitution, most of whom are likely to be white, middle-class, young, and able-bodied. This is an egregious failure of the most basic radical politics. Leftists — the ones who should be most aware of the ways our white supremacist, misogynistic, pro-capitalist media system excludes the weak and marginalized — have settled for a bankrupt method of inquiry that self-selects for privileged voices.

More importantly, even if we could somehow poll every single woman in prostitution for their thoughts on the law, a larger problem remains: There isn’t a single tyrannical system on Earth that would be abolished today through its victim’s popular vote.

Any Leftist in America should know this. After all, capitalism itself is widely supported by those who bear the brunt of its abuse — not because they are stupid, ill-informed, or evil, but because capitalism excels at artificially removing alternatives that might allow life outside of it. We understand this. Our politics are robust enough to explain why oppressed people often work to sustain the system that exploits them. So why do we retreat into rudderless libertarianism when the topic switches from wage labor in general to one specific — and specifically abusive — form?

I live now in Northern California, where there wouldn’t be a redwood left standing if the residents had their way. The rivers would be dammed to oblivion and the salmon runs would be extinguished — not because those living here hate the natural world, but because they exist inside a system that has made destroying that natural world their one stable path to rent money, food, and clothes for their children.

Does that mean any laws to save old-growth forests should be scrapped in favor of the short-term survival of lumberjacks and mill workers, most of whom are living on the hope that more trees come down? If your politics end at “listen to the loggers,” the answer would be yes.

Tax law would have to be eviscerated too, of course. The vast majority of Americans, if asked, would gut infrastructure and defund social programs in a heartbeat — again, not out of heartlessness or greed, but because the there are millions of poor people in this country that would rather have an extra twenty dollars weekly than a social safety net years down the line. That’s the hard pragmatism of poverty that capitalism depends on, and it’s a logic that Amnesty International and other supposed Leftists have uncritically transformed into policy.

Even minimum wage laws and age regulations are hardly a settled issue among many Americans. I spent my childhood in northern Idaho, among some of the most crushing poverty in the nation. You became used to seeing kids who couldn’t be more than fifteen spend their afternoons in mechanic shops, teenagers paid under the table to move hay and help with harvesting wheat instead of studying.

These children didn’t sell away their chances at an education lightly. Instead they realized the obvious truth that a high school diploma doesn’t help when your family is one paycheck from eviction at any moment. And if you asked these children and their families what they would prefer, quite a few would tell you that removing laws against hiring underage workers would make their lives safer and easier in the short term. How long until Amnesty International “listens” to them and puts children in steel mills?

I could offer a hundred more examples, but the uncomfortable reality is clear: Legislation that curbs the ruthless advance of violent and abusive market system may very well, in the short term, bring undeniable harm to some very real human beings. I know this for a fact. I’ve seen entire families have their financial lives ruined when environmentalists succeeded in shutting down logging operations. I’ve watched poor mothers and fathers burst into tears upon hearing that a Walmart’s zoning application was denied.

This shouldn’t shock anyone; after all, if workers could survive easily in the short term without capitalism, there would be no capitalism. Regardless, they are still hard truths, stories that we as radicals can’t simply wish away as we so often do. But to let them dictate our strategy at the expense of a cohesive analysis of resource extraction, colonialism, and environmental destruction is an even more cowardly cop-out.

There is a dangerous logic to the idea that oppressive systems must be sustained solely because the oppressed depend on them to survive. It sends a clear message to those in power: Exploit enough people, and we won’t try and stop you. Destroy enough viable alternatives, and your business is safe. By this reasoning, the only industries that can safely be dismantled are the ones that don’t coerce the people they bleed dry. What has happened to our movement that we are less likely to call for a system’s destruction the more exploitative it gets?

This contradictory, flawed approach is fundamentally an ideological failure. Around the issue of prostitution, the Left has made policy out of the most vicious libertarian lie: That long-term positive social change can come about solely through individuals seeking out their own individual needs and desires. The Left’s logic on prostitution isn’t just offensive; it’s indistinguishable from the latest Republican talking points. “Listen to sex workers” is the Invisible Hand of the Market repackaged as radicalism. It bases policy on the coerced decisions of the abused and then makes them shoulder the blame when their individual attempts to survive fail to end oppression.

But people in desperate situations shouldn’t be expected to have their eye on long-term social change while they daily struggle just to survive. Demanding they do so is the arrogance of privilege.

I learned this lesson firsthand years ago, when I discovered that a dear friend of mine was being horribly abused. When she disclosed this to me, I immediately offered her whatever help I could — a place to stay, a car ride to the women’s shelter, help with a restraining order. But the request I got in return was much simpler: Her boyfriend, she said, was more violent when he was under stress, and their bills were piling up. She reasoned that if I could put in a good word for him with my boss, he might be able to get work, and the beatings might become less frequent.

My friend’s request was heartbreaking, but it wasn’t stupid. Domestic abuse does, in fact, correlate with financial stress, and in the short term a new job for her abuser might have saved her life. She was a woman in a desperate situation, who decided to pursue the temporary solution that was most likely to keep her afloat. That was her right, and there was nothing weak or short-sighted about it. But how many of us would argue that domestic violence shelters should then “listen to abused women” and apply their resources to landing jobs for wife batterers, or mandatory vacation days for rapists?

Inside a system that artificially restricts opportunity for women, people of color, and other oppressed groups, oftentimes the struggle for survival will take place on the terms of the oppressor: A few more hours working for a multinational corporation, a bundle of socks sewn by children in the Third World for twenty cents cheaper, one last trick before the end of the night.

From its inception, capitalism has banked on these Faustian bargains, leveraging desperation into increased engagement with the system. The task of radicals is to break that cycle through an open confrontation with power. Instead, Amnesty International and the modern American Left have lazily rebranded that coercion as freedom, hoping that free condoms and clean needles will be enough to end the centuries-long legacy of colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism that makes the sex industry what it is. For a movement supposedly devoted to the liberation of the oppressed, this is a tragic failure.

Why Not Decriminalize Trafficking While We’re At It?

(Re-published with permission from Jonah Mix)

Most objections to the Nordic Model – laws criminalizing the purchase of sex, but not its sale – rely on one of two sets of talking points. First is the proud misogyny of men who oppose abolitionism solely because it prevents their easy access to the bodies of female strangers. But among those who consider themselves feminists, progressives, and Leftists, the greatest opposition to criminalizing pimps and johns comes from claims about the adverse effects those laws will have on prostituted women themselves. Spurred by Amnesty International’s ruling on the issue, the last month or so has seen dozens of articles, blog posts, and editorials attempting to show that the Nordic Model stigmatizes, starves, endangers, and (according to one blog post sent to me recently) “literally rapes and murders” women.

The majority of these objections are either intentionally misleading or just false.  For example, defenders of decriminalization often claim the Nordic Model leads to the deportation of undocumented prostituted women who report violence or abuse. This is, unfortunately, something that does sometimes happen. But what these prostitution apologists don’t mention is that the same exact treatment would be received by an undocumented prostituted woman in New Zealand, Germany, or Holland. This applies as well to women who use drugs or commit other crimes.

The vast majority of ills attributed by decrim supporters to the Nordic Model are, in fact, universal to all nations with xenophobic immigration law and ineffective drug policy – whereas the tragedies affecting decriminalized and legalized nations – forced drug takingtrafficking, and rampant sexual abuse – can be traced back to their neoliberal prostitution law in a far straighter line. When you avoid this dishonest conflation and measure the specific results of Nordic Model policy, a different picture emerges: Violence drops and the sex industry shrinksgender equality increases, and male attitudes towards buying sex slowly shift.

Interestingly enough, while the supposed horrors of the Nordic Model are trotted out as reason enough for its rejection, the general principle is agreed upon when it comes to explicitly coerced women and girls who are obviously not consenting. Most supporters of decriminalization would, for example, agree that purchasing sex from twelve year-olds should not be legal. And from this position, it follows that some form of punishment or preventative measure should exist to stop men from doing so – one that would, of course, not criminalize the exploited child, but instead provide her with robust exit services, trauma counseling, and other resources. In short, the Nordic Model.

The two-pronged approach of the Nordic Model – criminalization of the clients and pimps, along with social programs to aid in recovery and healing – is generally approved of in the case of trafficking victims and  children; the name may be taboo, but almost every meaningful response to sexual exploitation has fallen along its general lines. This is a serious problem for the decrim side, considering their previous position that legislating against clients makes women in prostitution unsafe. After all, it’s hard to conceive of a good explanation for why Nordic-style laws would hurt one group while benefiting the other. All of the dangers consenting women face under asymmetrical criminalization (whatever those dangers actually are) would almost certainly be equally likely for children, sex slaves, and other obviously exploited women and girls.

Consider the common objection that laws against sex buyers drives prostitution into secluded areas, where women are less able to assess clients or call for help should one turn violent. There are deeply flawed assumptions behind this argument – as Trisha Baptie once said, “Women date, get engaged to, marry, and live with men who end up murdering them. And I was supposed to figure out if a man was violent in fifteen seconds versus a minute?” The idea of moving prostitution into the open so women’s distress calls can be heard more clearly is also a callous gesture; apparently, there are large groups of people who respond to an industry wherein women routinely scream for their lives by saying, “You know, we should really make sure this screaming happens in a busy place.”

But you can put all that aside and still see the fundamental inconsistency in the decrim position. If the consenting women in prostitution have their ability to predict violence compromised, I can’t see why a prostituted child wouldn’t either. And if an empowered sex worker can’t be heard when she calls for help, why would the sounds of a trafficked sex slave travel any further? Does this mean that those who oppose the Nordic Model on these groups also support the legalization of paid child rape? If not, how do they take that position without opening themselves up to the same criticisms of endangerment that they use so often against abolitionists?

The same brute fact applies to almost every other complaint made against the Nordic Model. If consenting women will be forced into starvation as clients disappear, so too would children who depend on being purchased to survive. If those who freely choose prostitution will be marked with stigma and shame, there’s no reason to assume that burden would stay off the shoulders of the trafficked and abused. And if these reasons alone are enough to reject abolitionist law in the case of the former, why are these costs suddenly acceptable for the latter? Or, to put it another way: How does a supporter of decriminalization believe trafficking and the prostitution of children can be meaningfully addressed without providing legal cover to rape orcreating the conditions that they claim render the Nordic Model unacceptable?

When faced with this dilemma, I see three options: He can agree that the Nordic Model causes harm to both categories of prostituted woman, reject it on those grounds, and endorse men’s right to buy sex from those who are explicitly coerced, in which case he has taken a position most of us find morally repugnant; he can claim that laws against sex buyers don’t harm trafficked or underage women and girls, in which case his argument against the Nordic Model is severely weakened; or he can explain why laws against clients and pimps lead to the deaths of consenting women but somehow manage to save the exploited, in which case he is engaging in denial, dishonesty, or outright fraud.

So I ask: Which is it?

Input into Amnesty International’s Proposed Policy on Prostitution (2014)

June 25, 2014

To: Amnesty International – attention Mr. Setaram email:

Re: Input into Amnesty International’s Proposed Policy on Prostitution

We are writing to provide feedback about Amnesty International’s proposed policy on prostitution. We have a particular expertise of 21 years supporting persons who have endured non-State torture. All of the over 3000 persons who have contacted us have endured non-State torture, the majority since infancy. Many have been groomed to endure torture by their parents, and other ‘trusted’ adults in their lives, to satisfy the sadistic pleasure of torturers who request children they can torture.

We are sure that Amnesty International is aware that torturers, whether state or non-State, have the goal to destroy their victim’s sense of Self. As an infant or child victim of non-State torture develops this destruction of Self carries through into youth and adulthood. Unless a girl or woman survivor of such torture ordeals gains Self awareness making conscious informed choices about prostitution is not possible. Some women who contact us for support do not understand that they have a body, skin or even that they are persons, for example. The non-State torturers cause such devaluation of Self, dissociation, and Self-harming practices that for victimized women making choices about whether to consent to sex with another adult is an impossible expectation. Having been trafficked and pimped out by their parents, since infancy, women who endure non-State torture have tremendous survival skills and we have the utmost respect for their resilience. But it is our opinion that it is totally unjust to expect youths with histories of non-State torture to be able to keep themselves safe from the pimps who rent and sell them for profit to johns whose desire is for sexualized torturing.

To our knowledge there are scarce or no specific supportive services for survivors of non-State torture anywhere in the world. It has been our professional experience that without such services for non-State torture women tortured, since infancy or in childhood and adolescence, continue to develop into vulnerable persons to be prostituted after the age of 18 by their parents, or to be prey for pimps who lure, groom and trick such young women into a state of prostitution.

In our time of listening to women who have endured non-State torture the stories have included women who had endured non-State torture in prostitution after the age of 18. And because of the shattering of Self endured before the age of 18 it took many years into their mid and later 20’s, some even into their 50’s, before they gained the awareness that the state they were living in was prostitution and therefore not a conscious choice.

As human rights defenders we contact Amnesty International on behalf of the women survivors of non- State torture we have supported. For them prostitution after the age of 18 was not work. As persons living with very complex states of dissociation resulting from the non-State torture they endured during infancy, childhood and as youths they continued/continue to endure non-State torture after the age of 18 as vulnerable women who were prostituted. For them prostitution was/is not work – as torture is never work.

We ask you to keep women who have survived non-State torture by pimps and johns into consideration when evaluating Amnesty International’s policy on prostitution. It seems to us as an organization known for understanding torture your organization, more than any other, would be able to conceptualize that women who are non-State torture survivors are not working when being prostituted but rather are surviving and are suffering violence against women and grave human rights violations.

Linda MacDonald MEd, BN, RN & Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN, RN 361 Prince St, Truro,
Nova Scotia, Canada, B2N 1E4


Persons Against Non-State Torture letter to Amnesty International

Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN, RN & Linda MacDonald, MEd, BN, RN Persons Against Non-State Torture
361 Prince Street, Truro, NS, B2N 1E4
Email: Web:

July 29, 2015

To: Amnesty International 312 Laurier Ave, Ottawa, ON, K1N 1H9 |

Attention Members of Amnesty International Canada;

It is our understanding that at the 32nd International Council Meeting, in Dublin, Ireland, August 7-11, 2015, the “Circular No. 18 2015 ICM circular: Draft policy on Sex Work” contains a resolution asking Amnesty Council Members to support the buying, selling, and renting of predominately women and girls for sexualized victimization or ‘prostitution’ which is being misnamed as “sex work”.

Prostitution is predominately a male-based dominant position of male privilege, power and control, and wealth that is exerted to create a supply and demand for the selling, buying, or renting of women and little girls for the explicit purpose of sexualized victimization. It is a global harmful socio-cultural traditional oppressive supply and demand ‘practice’ that must be stopped.

Our perspective focuses on sexualized torture victimization that is inflicted against women in prostitution and girls who are exploited into prostitution. Over the past 22 years our professional work has been centered on non-State torture victimization perpetrated mainly against women and women when they were little girls as young as toddlers. We call on Amnesty International Canada to vote against any resolution that calls for normalizing and legitimizing “sex work” or prostitution.


Amnesty International Canada strategic plan is guided by priorities set internationally. But it also specifically works to stop violence against Indigenous women through the Stolen Sisters campaign, to defend the human rights of women and children who come under the control of human traffickers, and to mainstream women’s human rights. This latter priority requires gendered deliberations in all areas of societal development in order to achieve women and girls human rights equality as described in Amnesty International Canada’s strategic directions. To uphold these priorities Amnesty International Canada we assume is aware of:

a. The Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Aboriginal Women and Girls Literature Review and Key Informant Interviews publication that describes research findings about the severity of violence suffered as well as the traumatisation responses suffered by Aboriginal women and girls who are prostituted or trafficked or exploited into prostitution. A listing of the acts of torture victimization suffered is included in the publication (p. 54). This report also discusses research on how pornography drives the demand and supply perpetration of sexualized victimization of women and including of children. It also speaks of torture crime scene pornography.

b. The work of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection validates that sexualized torture is perpetrated against children. The Canadian Centre for Child Protection published, in 2009, an analysis of websites that hosted child sexualized violence images, images that permanently record the violation of the child person. (1) The analysis of the website crime images showed violations of:

—  i. torture, bestiality and bondage,

—  ii. necrophilia, degradation, children being urinated and defecated on,

iii. weapons being used,

—  iv. children forced to inflict sexualized harms against each other,

—  v. and, most of the victimization was inflicted on children less than eight years of age; girls (83%) were the predominate victims; newborns and toddlers were also victimized.

Furthermore, in 2015, a media report on the findings of the work of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection found that 73 per cent of the 15,000 images of young victims depicted sexualized violence including of “bondage” and “torture”. Violations were inflicted on newborns to children of eight years and these accounted for more than half of the images researched. (2)

c. The Canadian Federation of University Women (CFUW), A Shadow Report: Canada Fails to Establish Non-State Actor Torture as a Specific and Distinct Criminal Human Rights Violation (2012, April 8) was presented to the UN Committee against Torture discussing the reality that non-State torture victimization of women and girls occurs in Canada and is a distinct violation of their human rights. The Committee stated it has a responsibility to deal with manifestations of gender-based violence that amounts to torture. Amnesty International Canada Secretary General, Alex Neve, was present at the Committee’s hearing on Canada when we presented this shadow report; therefore, we are confident when we say Amnesty International Canada is aware that non-State torture occurs to Canadian women and girls. The Committee also stated that Canada, “should strengthen its efforts to exercise due diligence to intervene to stop . . . acts of torture or ill-treatment committed by non-State officials or private actors” (para. 20).

d. The fact is that the majority of traffickers use violence against those they pimp into prostitution or “sex work”. Torture victimization is described as a form of violent acts inflicted and endured by women in “sex work”, prostitution, and exploited and trafficked girls.3

e. That in 2010, Doug LePard included in his report the torture of “sex trade workers” by Donald Bakker in 2003/2004 and the sadistic torture of another “sex trade worker” in 1999, as well as serial rapes of women in prostitution.4

Therefore, if Amnesty Canada is to work to stop violence against Indigenous women, to defend the human rights of women and children—girls—who come under the control of human traffickers which are pimps and organized criminals, and to mainstream women’s human rights equality requires upholding that women and girls (children) have the specific human and legal right to be protected from torture victimization as stated in article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


As previously understood, the strategic plan of Amnesty International Canada is guided by priorities set internationally. Amnesty International‘s vision is stated to be guided by the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Amnesty International’s values include stopping torture which is article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Additionally, we are certain that you are aware that article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, ‘everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms, set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind. This non-discriminatory principle means that everyone has the right to be protected from torture victimization regardless of who the torturer is—in other words this obligation of protection is not tied to protection from a specific duty holder—it must not be considered from a State-centric perspective, that only State actors are held to account.

Amnesty International made this very clear in their ground breaking publication, “Respect, protect, fulfil Women’s human rights State responsibility for abuses by ‘non-state actors’ (2000, June). This publication clearly explains that non-State actors refers to private individuals and that States have a clear responsibility to hold non-State actors accountable and if States fail to do so the States can be considered complicit in acts that are impermissible under human rights instruments (pp. 6-7). Therefore, women and girls have the human right to be protected from torture victimization, including sexualized torture, perpetrated by non-State persons or organized groups including pimps and johns or punters, who perpetrate such violence against women and girls they buy, sell, or rent out.

CEDAW, specifically article 6, ‘requires States parties to take appropriate measures, including legislation, to suppress the traffic in women and the exploitation of prostitution in women’.

Amnesty International has, for over a decade, been clear that “sex work” is violent and involves torture and ought to be abolished. For example: In 2001, Amnesty International made the following points in, Broken bodies, shattered minds Torture and ill-treatment of women:

a. Torture of women is rooted in a global culture which denies women equal rights with men, and which legitimizes the violent appropriation of women’s bodies for individual [male] gratification;

b. Trafficked women are subjected to a wide range of human rights abuses, many of which constitute torture . . . . in order to force them into sex work;

c. Acts of violence against women constitute torture when they are of the nature and severity envisaged by the concept of torture and the state has failed to provide protection, and

d. States should prohibit in law and establish adequate legal protection against acts of violence against women . . . committed by private individuals. These include acts which take place within the community . . . . In order to combat torture, governments should periodically review, evaluate and revise their laws, codes and procedures to ensure that they do not discriminate against women.

Furthermore, in, Hidden scandal, secret shame Torture and ill-treatment of children, Amnesty International wrote that it is, “the state’s responsibility to take effective steps to protect children from all forms of violence”; this includes violence that amounts to torture perpetrated by non-State actors (2000).

Amnesty International is also aware of the General Comment No. 2 United Nations Committee against Torture (CAT/C/GC/2, para. 18), (5) which makes it clear that if a State party has;

reasonable grounds to believe that acts of torture or ill-treatment are being committed by non- State officials or private actors and they fail to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish such non-State officials or private actors consistently with the Convention, the State bears responsibility and its officials should be considered as authors, complicit or otherwise responsible under the Convention for consenting to or acquiescing in such impermissible acts. Since the failure of the State to exercise due diligence to intervene to stop, sanction and provide remedies to victims of torture facilitates and enables non-State actors to commit acts impermissible under the Convention with impunity, the State’s indifference or inaction provides a form of encouragement and/or de facto permission. The Committee has applied this principle to States parties’ failure to prevent and protect victims from gender-based violence, such as rape, domestic violence, female genital mutilation, and trafficking.

Clearly Amnesty International knows that (a) “sex work” cannot be removed from sexualized human trafficking of women and girls, (b) that women and girls who are in prostitution and enduring sexualized exploitation are subjected to torture, and (c) there is a social and legal need to abolish such supply and demand discriminatory harmful victimizing practices perpetrated against women and girls by pimps, johns, and other exploiters. For Amnesty International to do otherwise would be, in our opinion, an absolute violation of Amnesty International’s human rights vision based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.


We have briefly presented knowledge that non-State torture occurs in Canada and is a specific criminal human rights violation perpetrated against women and girls who are trafficked and exploited into sexualized prostitution. We have also presented our review of some of the Amnesty International’s literature that clearly states Amnesty International’s knowledge that non-State torture victimization is inflicted against women who are in prostitution and against girls who suffer sexualized exploitation. For us, both the Canadian and International information presents a solid base of knowledge to say that defeating any resolution that normalizes and legalizes “sex work” is an absolute must for upholding the human rights equality of women and girls.

Respectfully submitted,

Jeanne Sarson, MEd, BScN, RN & Linda MacDonald, MEd, BN, RN

Cc’ed Canada Regional Offices:
1. Toronto (GTA) 1992 Yonge Street, 3rd floor, Toronto, ON, M4S 1Z7 | Contact: |


  1. Nova Scotia & New Brunswick, Remax Building, 6009 Quinpool Road, Suite 305, Halifax, NS, B3K 5J7 | Contact: Evelien VanderKloet | Email:
  2. BC and Yukon, 430-319 W. Pender St, Vancouver, BC, V6B 1T3 | Contact:

And: Coalition against Trafficking in Women | Contact: Space International | Contact:


  1.  Bunzeluk, K. (2009, November). Child sexual abuse images An analysis of websites by cybertip!ca. Winnipeg, MB: Canadian Center for Child Protection.
  2. Cribb, R. (2015). Inside Canada’s saddest room – working to curb the trade in child porn. child-porn.html
  3. The Human Trafficking National Coordination Centre (HTNCC). (2013, October). Domestic human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Canada. Ottawa: Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
  4.  LePard, D. (2010, August). MissingWomen Investigation Review. Vancouver Police Department.
  5. Amnesty International and Redress (2011). Gender and Torture Conference Report. UK: Amnesty International.


Persons Against Non-State Torture

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Persons Against Non-State Torture will continue to promote the knowledge that women and girls suffer acts of sexualized torture in prostitution and in other forms of sexualized exploitation perpetrated against them and this must end.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all peoples have a right to be protected from torture regardless of who the torturers are. Today the women and men of Amnesty International ignored this fundamental human right when they lifted their glasses in a celebratory toast for voting to support prostitution as work.

Global knowledge informs that the prostitution of women and girls promotes a global environment of organized crime, criminal groups, human traffickers, pimps, traffickers, johns, and other exploiters.

There can never be human right equality for women and girls when they and their bodies are placed at risk to suffer torture perpetrated by non-State actors in the private sphere. Their human right to be equally protected from torture has just been eliminated by Amnesty International’s position.

The Swedish sex-work model is a success by Simon Hedlin

On Aug. 11, the human-rights organization Amnesty International voted at its International Council Meeting to adopt a policy that supports the full decriminalization of all aspects of prostitution, including both selling and buying sex. This was very unfortunate. While decriminalizing individuals who sell sex is essential to increase the protection of prostituted people’s human rights, making it easier to buy sex risks having the exact opposite effect.

There are important reasons why it is a gigantic misstep for Amnesty to advocate for the decriminalization of sex buyers. First, the empirical evidence of potential benefits from making it permissible to purchase sex is weak while the costs may be enormous. New Zealand decriminalized prostitution in 2003 and yet the country’s Prostitution Law Review Committee found in its evaluation that a majority of prostituted persons felt that the decriminalization act “could do little about violence [in prostitution].” At the same time, several studies have found that countries where buying sex is decriminalized, sex trafficking is more prevalent.

Second, decriminalizing buying sex seems to be at odds with Amnesty’s core objectives. One of the reasons that there are so many of us who have strongly supported Amnesty for years is the organization’s steadfast commitment to the fundamental rights of individuals, whether they are refugees, prisoners of conscience, or victims of torture. But buying sex is not a human right.

Instead of adopting a harmful proposal, Amnesty should have learned from Sweden’s prostitution policies. In 1999, Sweden made it illegal to buy sexual services, but not to sell them – an approach that is now often called “the Swedish model.” The ingenuity of the Swedish model is that it protects those who are most vulnerable from being arrested and prosecuted. Nobody is forced to buy sex. But many individuals are coerced, deceived or threatened into selling sex.

Read more at the Globe and Mail