© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Amnesty Gets Slammed For Its Sex Trade Proposal


Should it be a crime to buy or sell sex? That's the question at the heart of a growing debate in the human rights community. It's kicked off because of a decision by Amnesty International. The human rights group adopted a resolution recommending full decriminalization of the sex trade. The announcement last week won praise in some quarters, including from some sex workers. But it also provoked a fierce backlash. Catherine Murphy is a policy adviser at Amnesty, and we asked her to explain the new recommendation.

CATHERINE MURPHY: There are some misunderstandings about what our resolution that we adopted means. What it means is the decriminalization of sex work - and that is consensual sex work. However, the states can and should still criminalize exploitation within sex work, right up to the very serious cases of exploitation, which qualify as trafficking.

MARTIN: So you're saying that there is still a role for criminal law. But, you know, earlier this week, I spoke with a woman who herself is a survivor of the sex trade, Rachel Moran. She now works for an anti-sex trade organization. And I'd like to play a clip from our conversation.


RACHEL MORAN: Amnesty are saying that they have no objection to prostitution when coercion is involved. And they are blank ignoring the fact that coercion is almost always involved. I spent seven years in prostitution in Ireland, and I never came across a woman who was voluntarily - in any sincere sense of the term - being prostituted.

MARTIN: What's your response to that?

MURPHY: Many people have very strong feelings on this issue, and it is a very emotive issue. And a number of people around the world believe very strongly that prostitution is inherently violence against women. And as an organization, we respect that viewpoint. However, the fact remains that many, many sex workers - and this includes the global sex workers' rights movement, which is a very large movement across the world - states very clearly that people can and do consent to sex work and that when they are in sex work, that their safety would be greatly increased by the decriminalization of sex work.

MARTIN: How so? What will practically change for women - but men, too - who are working, as you say, voluntarily in the sex trade?

MURPHY: Well, regardless of which aspect of consensual sex work is criminalized, the end result is that sex workers have to operate in the margins of society, and this has an impact on their safety. And most importantly, they are viewed either as criminals by the police and society or as accessories to crime. And what this means is that they have a very antagonistic and difficult relationship with the police. And very often, the police do not see it as their priority to protect sex workers, but rather to clamp down on sex workers as a mechanism to eradicate sex work.

MARTIN: So is that the goal, to eradicate sex work?

MURPHY: Many people think that because we are calling for decriminalization that we do not see any problems whatsoever in sex work around the world, which is not the case. Where the difference of opinion comes from is that many people who want to abolish sex work - or prostitution, as they would refer to it - they think that the criminal law is largely the answer to that problem. And what we believe at Amnesty International is that it is a much more complex problem. We do want to see an end to the degree to which people around the world have to rely on sex work as a means to get by. But we think the answer to that is addressing the socioeconomic safety net that's in place, addressing discrimination against marginalized groups and a raft of other measures. We don't see the criminal law as a silver bullet to end prostitution. We don't think that's realistic.

MARTIN: Catherine Murphy is a law and policy adviser with Amnesty International. Thanks so much for talking with us.

MURPHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.