Resistance against full decriminalisation of the sex trade just got stronger.
It started on October 23 as women protested in 50 countries, united in their opposition to Amnesty International's recommendation for full decriminalisation of the sex industry, including pimps and johns.
It continued with a groundbreaking panel at Feminism in London, in which exited women and women's rights activists rejected the "sex work" myth and told the truth about the abusive trade in women and girls.
The protest was organised by a coalition of women and women's rights groups, collectively referred to as Amnesty Action.
All these women know that where full decriminalisation or legalisation of the sex trade take place, trafficking rises. This stands to reason, because as scrutiny is removed, organised criminals are able to operate more freely.
They know that an estimated 89 per cent of women in prostitution want to get out; that about half have been raped, approximately 70 per cent have been assaulted, and that the average age of entry is 13-15 years old.
In London, police estimated the number of women outside Amnesty International's headquarters at 200. There were exited women there, with activists, researchers, journalists -- all in sisterhood. The youngest were in their twenties, the oldest were in their eighties.
They were later joined by a few men, one of whom said he'd heard about the protest in an Italian Facebook group two hours before and apologised for not having got involved sooner.
The protesters stood alongside the busy road in London's rush hour and chanted: "Lock up pimps and johns!" "Women's rights are human rights!" "Women's bodies are not for sale!"
They stayed for an hour and a half, refusing to move when asked, reminding Amnesty International staff that the pavement they were standing on was private property.
A particularly enthusiastic security guard was told off more than once for ordering the women around and pointing his finger at them.
His attempt at directing proceedings from behind a glass window was feeble and failed miserably.
London's red double-decker buses stopped in traffic, with passengers watching with interest. Drivers opened their windows to receive cards handed out by the protesters. Passers by gave their details, intending to get involved with the wider campaign.
There was one minor altercation with a passing man who made a joke about beating his wife and objected to having his path obstructed.
The Amnesty Action women were in an unexpected position; having to oppose the world's leading human rights organization in the name of women's and girls' rights. Women and girls are human, after all.
It speaks volumes that since Amnesty International agreed to the policy in August. A large number of women's rights organizations have came out in opposition of the decision and in support of the Nordic model, which decriminalizes only the sale of sex and promotes exit plans to get women out of prostitution.
Amnesty International's policy lets women and girls down, putting their rights last as it declares that access to sex is a human right.
Actually, the right not to suffer inhuman or degrading treatment is guaranteed by Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is also guaranteed under both the Palermo Protocol (the UN Trafficking Protocol) and the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), as well as the 1949 Convention, which recognize prostitution as exploitation.
The absurdity of the situation was summed up by Lisa-Marie Taylor, chair of UK women's rights charity Feminism in London.
"We cannot and will not stand by whilst a human rights organization supports, encourages, and lobbies for the prostitution of women and by extension girls. This flies in the face of the available evidence and we call for human rights organisations to review their position in the light of emerging data from areas that have implemented the model of legalization with appalling consequences," Taylor said.
It was partly because Feminism in London had already been scheduled for the 24-25 October, that a number of women's rights activists were already in town. Among them were Canadian registered nurses Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson, the world's leading authorities on Non-State Torture.
The two founders of Persons Against Non-State Torture know that trafficked and prostituted women are extremely vulnerable to acts of torture committed in the private sphere.
"I am here to share the voices of women who talk about the grave suffering they have endured in their ordeals in Non-State Torture, including the torture that happens in prostitution. I want to shout to the roof tops and to Amnesty International that torture is not work," MacDonald said.
The two women have spent 22 years supporting victims and campaigning for Non-State Torture to be classified as a specific human rights crime.
"We will never shut up about Non-State Torture," Sarson said.
Feminist writer and activist Anna Djinn was also there.
"We are already seeing the Amnesty resolution being used to justify decriminalisation of the sex trade and men buying sex, even though everywhere that has implemented full decriminalisation has seen an upsurge in sex trafficking. In Germany, 55 women have been murdered by pimps and punters in the 13 years that the country has had full decriminalisation. Only one woman has been murdered in Sweden during its 16 years of the Nordic Model. Amnesty's policy is steeped in the mindset of male supremacy and has failed to realise that women and girls are human beings with inalienable rights to live in dignity. We are here to remind Amnesty that they are wrong and must redress this terrible mistake," Djinn said.
If pimps and johns cannot be arrested and prosecuted for simply participated in an abusive supply chain, authorities must wait for them to actually harm women in the sex trade before they can act.
This is why Amnesty Action will not stop until Amnesty International sees sense and commits to respecting the human rights of women and girls, worldwide.
With thanks to Roweena Russell for the photographs.
This article was first published by Feminist Current.