Liberty and Justice for All

Post written by: Alicia Weigel

I believe all people should feel empowered to make their own decisions. I believe all people should have access to health and safety as basic human rights. I believe all women have a right to life. I believe all women must be treated as full members of society.

Most feminists would agree with the above statements. Replace “women” with a more specific subgroup, however, and the statements become problematic.

I believe all sex workers should feel empowered to make their own decisions. I believe all sex workers should have access to health and safety as basic human rights. I believe all sex workers have a right to life. I believe all sex workers must be treated as full members of society.

Although not all sex workers are women, this community includes some of the most marginalized women on our planet. Many face legal repercussions for their line of work in places where it is defined as criminal behavior. They all face stigma in their daily lives, preventing them from accessing sufficient healthcare.

Regardless of one’s feelings on the profession – whether or not they would partake in the industry themselves – it is not my, or anyone’s, right to make this decision for another human.

Here’s why:

Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is not effective.

Sex work is the oldest profession in existence. Many historical attempts to persecute those who participate in this ancient industry have not erased it. They have, rather, pushed it further into the margins of society where it cannot be regulated, putting the safety buyers and sellers at risk.

In environments where sex work is illegal, workers fall victim to abuse, often by those who are meant to protect the wellbeing of all citizens: the police. A U.S.-based voluntary sex worker confirms, “I’ve had to provide services more than once in exchange for not being arrested.”

GG_Liberty and Justice_2

Bringing sex work into the open actually decreases trafficking and child exploitation.

Because prostitution is illegal in most countries, the most reliable data on the proportion of underage sex workers comes from places where the industry is legal and it can be studied openly, like New Zealand – where estimates put the figure of underage workers at only 3.5%. After legalizing prostitution in 2003, a study by the New Zealand Ministry of Justice found “no incidence of trafficking” five years later.

Voluntary sex workers are also natural allies in the fight against trafficking, based on their knowledge of the local network of individuals involved in sex work and the systems in which they operate. They often, thus, are able to refer trafficking victims to appropriate services. I can vouch for this firsthand.

In Cape Town, South Africa, I volunteered for SWEAT, a South African sex worker advocacy organization. In my time with the organization, I saw SWEAT service users identify a sex worker who had been trafficked from Zimbabwe. They subsequently brought her to the Saartjie Baartman Center for victims of violence and abuse, where she was able to take control of her and her daughter’s lives in a safe environment. She ultimately left the world of sex work, a profession she had not chosen for herself.

Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is in no one’s best interest.

Sex workers operating in a criminalized environment cannot legally declare their occupation at most clinics. As a result, they often end up receiving insufficient care or inadequate sexual health education, leaving them unable to protect themselves and others from sexually transmitted infections.

Working in the absence of a regulated system also means sex workers cannot legally enforce condom use with their clients, which further facilitates the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and diseases amongst the community in which they operate.

Promoting the abolition of sex work via criminalization is not ethical.

GG_Liberty 3Engaging in sex work is the choice of the consenting individuals involved. If it is not consensual, then it should not happen. Voluntary sex work and sex trafficking are two different concepts, and should be treated differently – just like consensual sex vs. rape.

Fenton PostHuman rights should apply to all people regardless of age, sex, gender, occupation, sexual orientation or HIV status. It is my belief that one cannot be considered a true feminist if one is advocating against the rights of arguably the most marginalized women in most global societies. Whether viewed from a lens of compassion for others, or the preservation of personal freedoms, sex worker rights are human rights and should be upheld as such.

 

*Editors Note: Views expressed in this post aren’t representative of Girls’ Globe but rather the individual author.

France’s Prostitution Ban: One Step Forward or Two Steps Back?

The French have a long history with prostitution. From Madame du Barry to the paintings of Degas and Picasso, prostitution has been celebrated as an inherent, and even glamorous, part of French culture.

But in 2016, the reality of the practice is starkly different. Now, the majority of prostitutes are trafficked, often immigrants fleeing political or economic hardships only to find themselves at the mercy of an often abusive sex trade.

In response, France has criminalized sex work. The law takes a more modern approach: the guilty are no longer the workers, but the clients. Someone caught buying sex can now be fined a whopping $1,500 euros (USD $1,700) and repeat offenders can be slapped with a $3,750 (USD $4,260), according to Vocativ.

Criminalizing the sale of sex is a moral minefield. On the one hand, the women’s empowerment movement advocates a woman’s right to do whatever she wants with her body; that means the right to say no as well as the right to say yes, for compensation or not.

Sex workers are protesting the decision, publicly rallying with signs declaring that their work is legitimate, and the new law will have negative consequences for their safety and social standing. Indeed, in other countries, criminalizing sex work has pushed it to the darker underground, and legally working prostitutes now face a hard decision about staying or continuing in their field.

At the same time, the problem of human trafficking is so widespread and devastating that it is difficult to oppose efforts to cripple the market that drives it. Lawmakers have been clear that the main motivation behind the bill is to curb the sexual exploitation of women. France’s thriving sex trade has increased demand for a steady stream of sex workers: willing and unwilling.

Sex trafficking is one of the most degrading forms of modern slavery. Rachel Lloyd, the founder and CEO of Girls Educational and Mentoring Services in New York City, wrote in The New York Times:

There are an estimated30,000-37,000 sex workers in france.“As a teenager, I worked in Germany’s legal sex industry. I was, like many girls in the club, underage; most of us were immigrants, nearly all of us had histories of trauma and abuse prior to our entry into commercial sex. Several of us had pimps despite working in a legal establishment; all of us used copious amounts of drugs and alcohol to get through each night.

Violence is inherent in the sex industry. Numerous studies show that between 70 percent and 90 percent of children and women who end up in commercial sex were sexually abused prior to entry. No other industry is dependent upon a regular supply of victims of trauma and abuse.”

There are no easy answers to problems of violence against women, and no one way to empower women. France is taking a holistic approach, not stopping at punitive measures, according to Thomson Reuters. Those caught soliciting prostitutes will be required to take a course which raises awareness of the sex trade. Additionally, prostitutes who want to leave the profession will be given temporary residence status and financial support.

At a time when Europe is struggling with the moral and financial implications of taking in refugees and citizens are increasingly hostile, it is heartening to see France embrace not only the rights of its women, but every woman.

Feature photo: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, Picasso

Amnesty’s Policy Decision Makes Their Human Rights Stance Questionable

In August, Amnesty International made a u-turn in terms of protecting the rights of women and girls around the world with their policy decision to endorse the decriminalization of prostitution and all aspects of the sex trade – despite the global outcry of women’s rights organizations.

Along with several survivors, organizations, and the European Women’s Lobby, the Swedish Women’s Lobby calls out Amnesty International to no longer stand for human rights as the global organization now stands behind the trade of humans.

Julie Bindel, who exposed the internal plan of Amnesty to campaign for the decriminalization of the sex trade and forced the organization to oversee their decision, writes that some women inside the organization were unable to convince men within Amnesty that decriminalization of the sex trade would harm women in prostitution. She writes,

“The right of men to buy sex appears to be paramount according to Amnesty.”

Amnesty International has addressed the critique by stating that through decriminalizing the sex trade, they will be able to support the health and rights of sex workers who no longer would be forced to go under ground to do their work.

There are several serious concerns about Amnesty’s approach to the sex trade. Amnesty’s policy to decriminalize the sex trade…

  • promotes impunity for those who financially and sexually exploit women, making it close to impossible to hold any traffickers, pimps or purchasers accountable.
  • leads to an increase in trafficking of human beings. This has already happened in states that decriminalized procuring of prostitution (Germany and Netherlands).
  • legitimizes a patriarchal structure that makes women’s bodies available for men’s sexual use.

Furthermore, this decision by Amnesty International takes a strong turn against many existing and established women’s groups and human rights organizations at the local and international levels that work against all forms of sexual violence, including rape, trafficking, sexual harassment, female genital mutilation and forced marriage.

Here are a few things you can do today:

Wake Up! Prostitution is Violence Against Women

Blog post co-authored by Mari Wiklander & Julia Wiklander

Today, thousands of feminists, activists, politicians, researchers, authors and others are convening in Malmo, Sweden for Nordiskt Forum 2014, to discuss new action on women’s rights.

When it comes to gender equality, many look up to the nordic countries – where a Nordic Model has been enforced, including through legislation against the purchase of sexual services. In terms of prostitution, several of the nordic countries (except for Denmark) have laws that aim to protect victims of the sex trade, while penalizing those who buy women and children.

Yet, the world judges and criticizes women who have been subjected to prostitution. Many women experience stigmatization and see prostitution itself as shameful. Women fear that talking about their experiences and the stigma that prostitution implies, will lead to rejection. Although the purchaser of sexual services in Sweden is breaking the law, he (as in the vast majority of cases the purchaser is a man) is not stigmatized. In general, men’s purchase of sexual services is “merely” an expression sexual frustration.

Put the responsibility where it belongs – with men!

During a plenary session at Nordiskt Forum, Jackson Katz, educator, author and activist, spoke about putting the responsibility where it belongs.

 

Annelie Siring, a doctoral student at the institution of social work at University of Gothenburg, informs in her study Prostitution i Norden (“Prostitution in the Nordics”) that one reason that men buy sex is that they have lost their power due to greater equality between the sexes.

Seriously, we have a major issue here! Violence against women is often an expression of male-dominance and power over women, and prostitution fits into that category, as women are bought as commodities, where men believe to have the right to do what they want with their bodies. This culture is reinforced throughout society, in popular culture, media and especially the porn-industry. The porn-industry and the sex-trade are enormous, global, capitalist industries that have a huge effect on social norms.

 

In order to create change, we must turn our attention to men, and the underlying culture that glorifies women as sexual objects and essentially normalizes violence against women.

 

Let’s show solidarity and provide the right support!

It is time to pay attention to the stigmatization that women in prostitution face and take action against violence. Government, politicians, NGOs and civil society need to provide better support and services to ensure that existing legislation will actually help the vulnerable people as it aims to. Although the nordic societies have taken a step forward in comparison to other countries, we stop here. The purpose of the law is to protect the women and decrease the demand, yet women in prostitution do experience violence in their everyday lives.

We believe that change is possible, and will only be possible as we continue to talk, but also start to act.

 

Here are a few things you can do to prevent violence against women:

  • Highlight these issues at your school or workplace – ask your school to host a course in feminism and gender equality
  • Are you a man? Find good role models and be one yourself. Get engaged through organizations like: Män för Jämställdhet, MenCare, MenEngage, Promundo, and Sonke Gender Justice Network
  • Start a discussion with friends and family, and dare to question gender stereotypes
  • Join a movement in your country!

Women Who Inspire: Meet Dr. Grace

When I think about the women who inspire me many faces and names come to mind. I value the opportunities I have had to work alongside some of the greatest change makers around the world. These women embody humility, love deeply and dare greatly to bring change to their communities and the world.  It is a privilege to serve and learn from them.

This month, as we continue to highlight Women Who Inspire I cannot help but think about Dr. Grace. I first met Dr. Grace while in Indonesia last June. Since that time I have had several opportunities to serve and learn alongside her. One of the first things I noticed about Grace was her determination and heart to bring healthcare to the most vulnerable. This is a woman who is creating far reaching change both among her colleagues and those to whom she provides care.

When I met Grace she was serving by providing medical assessments to women and girls who had been trafficked into forced prostitution.  Dr. Grace has provided reproductive health training and awareness for women and girls who have been rescued out of forced prostitution.  She has offered medical care and counseling to these vulnerable groups of women and girls.  I know that many women and girls’ lives have been changed because of Grace’s commitment to their emotional, physical and spiritual well-being.

She is determined. Bold. Strong. Courageous.

Grace also has a heart for rural communities in Indonesia. This energetic woman cares for women, children and communities living in rural areas. Illiteracy, child marriage, and chronic diseases are some of the issues that communities face in the regions where Grace works. Alongside a team of people, Grace has traveled to rural areas to educate people on healthy living and the importance of proper nutrition.  She dedicates a portion of her time to teach mothers how to cook healthy meals for their children. Grace provides maternal health care and checkups to mothers and their babies.

“The women in this community are super women.” -Dr. Grace

Grace sees potential in each of the women and children that she meets. She has facilitated dialogues among community members in order to help them identify their own problems as well as their resources to meet the needs in their community. As a result, change and healthcare practices become sustainable.

Grace continues to inspire me with her heart and diligence to bring hope and healthcare to some of the most remote places in Indonesia. It is women like Dr. Grace that inspire, motivate and challenge me in my work to empower women and girls around the world. I am privileged to have worked with Grace and to call her a friend.

She is truly inspiring!

The Nordic Model: Swedish legislation against buying sex

Göteborg by night. Photo Credit: Linus Ekenstam, via Creative Commons on Flickr
Göteborg by night. Photo Credit: Linus Ekenstam, via Creative Commons on Flickr

Sweden has been seen as a role model in dealing with prostitution as a human rights matter, where it is illegal to buy sex, but not criminalized to sell sex – protecting prostitutes and criminalizing perpetrators.

There is one question I keep asking myself: “if it is illegal to buy sex, why are so few convicted for it?”

The difficulty to convict the buyer of sexual services in Sweden can be explained by the fact that it is of course not illegal to have sex, neither is it illegal to circle around a specific area by car and it is also not illegal for a girl to jump into a man’s car.

However, what is illegal is the act of buying sex, which in many cases is impossible to prove. It may require witnesses or someone filming the whole process. Many professionals who work to combat prostitution in Sweden are convinced that the Swedish law against the purchase of sex is weak and emphasizes that the law must be complemented by greater support for women in prostitution.

The Swedish legislation was aimed to protect women and prevent men from buying sexual services. However, the law may only prevent a minority of men from buying sex. As I wrote in a previous post, the climate of prostitution in Sweden today has become more cruel and brutal. Professionals and women in prostitution state that the law does not have a frightening effect on men, nor does it prevent them from buying sex.

Employees at organizations that support women in prostitution in Sweden assert that the only benefits the law brought for the target group is that women can threaten the customers of reporting to the police, and that the law may contribute to boost women’s self-confidence to say no. To be blunt, these are not good reasons for how the law helps women in prostitution. In other words, Swedish legislation is inadequate.

In the vulnerable positions that sex workers find themselves in, where they are dependent to raise money to pay off a debt in order to avoid being tortured, raped, or subjected to even more violence from a pimp, what are the options? How will it help her to threaten the costumer to report to the police? Who is going to pay the price?

The taxi industry also plays a big role in the sex industry. A criminal inspector in Gothenburg, Sweden asked some men who were caught buying sex how they got in touch with the women? A common answer, not surprisingly was, “I got the number from a taxi driver.” Some taxi drivers seem to have a secret agreement with sex workers to bring in new costumers.

Prostitution is a huge industry, that is linked to trafficking and violence against women. In line with what the European Women’s Lobby states, I believe that Sweden needs to take the law one step further to challenge the complexity prostitution implies.

What steps do you think Sweden needs to take to improve its legislation on sex work?

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