AF3IRM Rejects the Legalization & Protection of the Oldest Oppression in the World: Prostitution | A critique of the Amnesty International Draft Policy on ‘Sex Work’

Ivy Quicho, AF3IRM National Organizing Director, [email protected]
Barbra Ramos, AF3IRM National Communications Director, [email protected], 323-813-4272
Ninotchka Rosca, AF3IRM New York, [email protected]

NATIONAL–As an anti-imperialist, transnational feminist organization, AF3IRM speaks from the legacy of anguish carried by its members who were born, raised in and connected to countries and cultures ravaged by the colonial imposition of prostitution as a way of life for women.

AF3IRM,  with 25 years of experience fighting the global sex trade through the Purple Rose Campaign,  knows full well the devastation sex profiteers create:  abandoned and ostracized children;  massive influx of drugs to keep the bought, the sold and the people around them sedated;  increased power to criminal syndicates to ensure an endless supply of young flesh for the trade, trafficking, enslavement and death; inventions of “lust” to whip up appetite including blood sport in which buyers can cut the bought; entire national economies dependent on the flesh trade and its handmaiden, corruption–the list of what makes existence in and around the flesh trade a burden is long and harrowing.

AF3IRM is therefore outraged that Amnesty International (AI), which was founded to strengthen human rights, now seeks to enshrine the business of prostitution as a “right” – ignoring the human damage that the privilege of sexual access for the dominant, the powerful and the wealthy over the bodies of the oppressed, the vulnerable and the poor,  has done to generations upon generations of women, children and marginalized genders.

Under the guise of “empowering” and “protecting” women, the AI draft policy would institutionalize the business of prostitution, formally integrating it into capitalism and globalization – just as other oppressive burdens of women against which feminism was constructed in revolt have been institutionalized by globalization and imperialism.  Such formal integration of gender- and class-based exploitation has not empowered women, nor enabled them to achieve liberation or even achieve a mode of equality within their societies and cultures.  On the contrary, women have been thrust deeper into commodification as “harm reduction” strategies seek only to reform prostitution, through such mechanisms as unionization or occupational health and safety guidelines. These serve to increase and legitimize the demand and fail to address systemic change and abolishment.  Truly, as the writer Barbara Ehrenreich writes, all things inimical to women are legitimized “for the good of the women.”

Prostitution is a system of exploitation.  It is not a “transaction between individuals,” as the AI policy paper would have us believe.  As a system, it has managed to intertwine itself with and survive within various modes of production, attesting to the masculinist foundation of class and property.  It thrives on a multi-layer ladder of oppression wherein the sold are the most powerless and unjustly criminalized.  The phrase “sex work” creates a deceptive illusion of neutrality. It hides the imbalance of power in this system of intersectional exploitation that sees women of color, especially those who are poor, transnational, im/migrant, as commodities.

Indeed, arguing that all those who are prostituted have personal agency masks the absence of choice experienced by a majority. Because of houselessness, lack of job opportunities, the need to feed their families and other material needs, women may decide to enter the sex trade precisely for lack of option.   Having a choice of no other choices is not freedom. Compelled sex, whether by physical intimidation or economic necessity, is in fact sexual violence and rape. The reduction of women’s liberation to the false model of women’s sexual empowerment, coupled with the minimizing of prostitution’s system of violence and coercion, is the insidious work of patriarchy. It is patriarchy that defines women’s bodies as objects for male gratification, subjugation and profiteering. As transnational feminists, our vision of true and genuine women’s liberation rejects these ideas.

Decriminalizing the johns and pimps and regulating the business of prostitution do not provide those who are prostituted “more decision-making power;” rather, it puts the entire industry in the hands of the oppressors to own. The john is the power; the pimp is the power; the brothel owner is the power – and this has been so, from the beginning of patriarchy. Prostitution is not about sex;  it is about power and profit – by and large male power and to male benefit.

We see extreme and yet accepted enshrinement of the privilege of sexual access visited upon forcibly marginalized sectors of the population, as with the Dalit women – two of three or about 21 million of whom are subject to sexual violence. We see in the selective abortion of female fetuses the long-term impact of this continuing devaluation of women’s worth.  We see the intersectionality of exploitation and oppression in women of color comprising 70% of the women in the U.S. sex trade, in their comprising a hefty percentage of those arrested for prostitution, compared to white prostituted women.  We see in Mexico how agency is non-existent in the sex trade – in the rampant kidnapping of girls as young as 10 years old – because, to use the colorful words of a news report, syndicates know that, unlike a drug bag which can be sold only once, a girl can be sold over and over again. The sex trade route flows despite borders and the kidnapped can end in as far from their hometowns as Queens, New York or Los Angeles, California.

AF3IRM is aware that calling for the criminalization of those in the business – as opposed to the practice – of prostitution runs the risk of enabling state coercive forces to pursue race-based policing.  The pimp stereotype purveyed by racism is designed to feed people of color into the prison industrial complex.  Tracking down the real overlords of prostitution – those who reside in well-mannered circumstances in suburbia paid for by profits skimmed off the brutal use of women’s bodies – is one social responsibility that all must bear.  

And lastly, as a globe-spanning organization, Amnesty International is aware assuredly of how prostitution continues to decimate populations of women, girls, boys and marginalized genders in the countries of the South, alongside the decimation of human, labor and women’s rights by untrammeled imperialism.  We can only conclude that it has proposed the “decriminalization,” but really legalization, of the business of prostitution as a statement of surrender to the forces of Capital which has brought so much destruction to both human society and the human habitat.

We call on our sisters to join us:  reject this proposition that sexual slavery is a viable alternative to  equality!  We call on our sisters to insist instead on social, political and economic equality and the transformation of society to ensure the reality of that millennia-old dream. No human being should have to sacrifice body integrity for survival.

Criminalize the business of prostitution;  decriminalize the practice of prostitution.  There lies the difference.

Reject Amnesty International’s proposal to legalize the business of prostitution!

End demand for paid sex!

Abolish the system of prostitution and all forms of gender-based violence!

Cease Pandering to Capitalist Patriarchy!

Onward to true women’s liberation!