Amnesty International, the world’s foremost human rights organization, came out in support of the decriminalization of sex work on August 11. The announcement comes after a long debate and speculation about what their final stance would be. The move should come as no surprise to most observers, as keeping the sex trade illegal has led to one of the greatest human rights disasters in the modern era.
Last month, the organization released a study that showed how keeping prostitution, among other forms of sex work, illegal served only to create a black market. It also meant that sex workers who were victims of crimes could not go to police or ask for help, as this typically led to even further abuse by police. It has also led to a vast human trafficking network worldwide with some estimates putting the number of slaves in the world today as high as 30 million. Around 80 percent of those, 24 million, are sex slaves in one form or another. As is the case with most things, making something illegal rarely reduces demand for it, it only drives it underground and puts it into the hands of unsavory people who care little for the people they hurt, let alone laws.
When the study was first released last month, a variety of celebrities and other well-meaning, but misinformed, people came out publicly decrying it. The backlash against the letter they signed came primarily from the sex workers themselves, and they probably know a bit more about it than the likes of actors and singers. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of so-called pro choice supporters arguing against bodily autonomy and the right to use their talents, whether sexual or otherwise, in a way they see fit.
In addition to the freedom of choice issues as well as the basic threat levels, legalization would serve to make the industry much healthier. After all, if a sex worker is able to operate openly and freely, the ability to test and keep track of diseases will become much more available. They would also be able to make an income that is more likely to be able to support them and their families, as well as pay taxes.
It seems unlikely that sex work will be legalized in a widespread manner worldwide, however. Opposition is still very strong among traditionalist conservatives worldwide, mostly in the form of fundamentalist religious objections. Additionally, left leaning groups, such as the celebrities who penned the letter last month, prefer to think laws will solve the problem, despite the facts showing the exact opposite. When it comes to sex and sex work, it seems the left and right are united in denying people the right to choose, preferring to leave it up to the state to determine what can be done with one’s own body.
While it seems unlikely to be legalized soon in many areas, Amnesty International throwing its considerable weight behind such a proposal could have a major positive impact. After all, if the world’s preeminent human rights organization and the people actually in the industry are calling for decriminalization, doesn’t it at least bear a second look?