PODCAST: Amnesty International supports legalizing prostitution & Canada strikes down their current laws. What's next?

Last month a proposal from Amnesty International advocating for the legalization of prostitution was leaked. Feminists and women’s rights organizations around the world were appalled — why was an organization that had done so much work for human rights legitimizing a violent and exploitative industry such as prostitution? Why were they advocating for men’s “right to buy sex?”

Meanwhile Canada will be drafting new legislation with regard to prostitution as the Supreme Court struck down the current ones as unconstitutional.

On January 28th, I spoke with Rachel Moran, activist and author of “Paid For:My Journey Through Prostitution;” Bridget Perrier, a prostitution survivor and co-founder and First Nations educator at Sextrade 101; and Kathleen Barry, Professor Emerita, author of Female Sexual Slavery, and founder of Coalition Against Trafficking in Women about Amnesty International’s position, as well as the situation in Canada.

For those who want to take action, a petition was launched calling for Amnesty International to reconsider their position and include prostitution survivors and organizations in their process. To find out more about this issue and follow developments with regard to Amnesty International’s position, visit Abolish Prostitution Now.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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  • kathy miriam

    awesome show. I wish more details were laid out re exactly what the amnesty proposal is comprised of.

  • Laur

    Another truly excellent show!!

    One clarification: At one point, KB says something along the lines of, “the U.N. is dominated by sex workers.” I assume she means the sex trade lobby and not actually women in prostitution. Women in the sex trade are not by any means the enemy, whether or not they label themselves as sex workers or not.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes! I believe she means those who are in the sex trade lobby. Clearly prostituted women don’t dominate the U.N. Thanks for mentioning that, Laur.

  • marv

    AI’s conception of human rights was born out of the same philosophical and structural underpinnings as those of national governments and the United Nations. Patriarchal liberal democracies are the milieu for defining rights in state constitutions. Law makers therefore won’t see the biases of that political environment. Downplaying the collective equality rights of women in favour of individual sex worker rights demonstrates how ideologically predisposed rulers are to private enterprise and male dominion.

  • anonymous

    Amnesty’s position is not surprising. They had previously shown themselves to be very confused when it comes to women’s human rights during the Gita Sahgal debacle. She was the head of Amnesty’s Gender Unit who criticized Amnesty’s public support and promotion of Moazzem Begg, a Briton with close ties to the Taliban and other Islamist terrorists. She was fired.

    Not surprising either that this is coming out of Amnesty’s London head office. There is a disturbing level of open misogyny in the UK, particularly on the left. There is widespread disdain for feminism and the common attitude on the left is that feminism is bourgeois capitalist westernizing imperialism.

    The discussion of the situation in Canada was not very clear. My understanding is that the current laws will remain in effect until December 2014. The Supreme Court gave the government a year to either develop new laws or allow the old ones to lapse, resulting in decriminalization. The government has said that legalization is not an option and is working on new laws. There are some indications that they are leaning towards the Nordic model.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Yes, they have one year to draft new legislation and it does sound like the government is leaning towards the Nordic model.

      • lizor

        I am very leery of the Cons successfully adopting the Nordic model given the way they have dismantled existing services for women and their neoliberal poor-bashing.

        They may institute some morality-based restrictions without providing support in the way of living wage, exit services, etc, in the name of the Nordic Model. If this is how they proceed, I fear the outcome will only fuel the attack on the actual programs instituted in Norway, Iceland and so on.

        • Meghan Murphy

          I share your concerns… But I also believe that if we can, at very least, criminalize men, we are then operating on a foundation that says it isn’t ok for men to buy women and that will provide us with better leverage to advocate for the services needed to support women in prostitution. If we fully decriminalize or legalize, we’re saying prostitution is fine and that it’s ‘just a job like any other’ and therefore why would women need help to exit and why would they need access to therapy/treatment for PTSD, help finding new jobs, etc…

          • lizor

            I agree with everything you have said and I would hate to have my comment misconstrued as anything resembling pro-decriminalization.

            I am simply saying that the Nordic Model in Norway, Iceland, etc, where public programs of support are not contested in the way they are here and in particular by our current ruling government is a very different institution than a program instituted by a woman-hating free-enterprise government that is barely discernible from the GOP.

            But yes, I would be very happy to see charges laid against buyers. I’m not sure I trust the Cons to enact it, as I am sure each and everyone of those dudes is up to his eyeballs in purchased sex.

          • Meghan Murphy

            Oh no! I didn’t think you were arguing against the Nordic model or for decriminalization — I really do share your concerns and agree with you completely. I’m just not sure what our alternative is under the current situation is all.

          • lizor

            Agreed. And I do hope that they criminalize buying. I just wish there was a way that we could ensure better support services so there’s no room for backlash from the pimp lobby.

      • stephen m

        Meghan, Yes it does sound like the Canadian government is leaning toward the Nordic model which would be wonderful, particularly if the government includes the social services elements that are so necessary for helping the prostitutes when and if they choose to exit prostitution. I read somewhere that in Canada, 95% would like to leave prostitution.

        We cannot just assume that this decision is a slam dunk. We have to continue to foster discussion on the web (thank you Meghan), in the popular press, and we have to write (paper and pen) to our members of parliament expressing our demand for the Nordic model. Our members of parliament will be inundated by the publications of pseudo academic articles and books that attempt to discredit the Nordic model, to say nothing of the lobbying of the sex industry masquerading as prostitutes fighting for their “safety” and decriminalization of prostitution.

        • Here is a link to the current government survey on prostitution related offences.


          • stephen m

            @lizor: Thank you very much, I missed this online form for consultation with the public.

          • I have not heard much about it at all. I have no idea what sort of coverage they are getting in terms of response.

            The article from Stockholm University that Rachel Moran mentions in the interview should be brought to their attention. The survey itself seems very general.

            Btw thanks for you posts Stephen and always thanks to Meghan. I know I come off as terse but I always feel the deepest gratitude for this blog and to the amazing people who frequent the comments.

            Just wanted to say that. 🙂

  • Morgan

    A great example here of why the term “sex worker” is so problematic – it literally encompasses anyone involved in prostitution, thereby obscuring the issue.

    • Meghan Murphy

      Exactly. If a ‘sex worker’ is anything from a pimp to a driver to a web cam girl to a madam… what does it mean? Whose interests are being represented under the ‘sex work’ advocacy umbrella?

      • Jen

        I loathe how common place this term has become. A few weeks ago I saw CNN actually used the term in the title of an article discussing trafficking and underage girls. Sex-workers, CNN, really!? Child rape victims are now sex workers? Barf.

  • stephen m

    @lizor: I really wonder about the justice.gc.ca consultation. I tested it using a virtual private network (vpn) and I was able to read and submit the consultation form from the UK and the Netherlands! This would imply that the justice department is gathering data from all over the world.

    Is this just a sop to interested parties and never to be looked at?? Does it have any validity without the constraints of being submitted by Canadians and only once per person? I would encourage everyone to fill out the questionnaire but to also send snail mail letters to their members of parliament etc too.

    • lizor

      Hi Stephen,

      That’s interesting. I also noticed that it is possible to repeatedly file responses. The whole thing kind of stinks.

      I agree. Snail mail to our members of parliament as well as emails directly to the offices are probably more effective.

  • Gear316


    Page 7: Information received by the police during 2011 showed that by far the majority of victims were girlsand women. No boys or men were identified in 2011 as victims of human trafficking for sexual purposes. The foreign girls and women recruited to Sweden for the purposes of prostitution came primarily from Eastern Europe (especially Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia and Poland), Thailand and Nigeria.

    Page 17: The increase in Lithuanian women being sold for prostitution in Sweden in 2011 was particularly noticeable in the Stockholm area where police identified five different branches of Lithuanian human trafficking networks. These groups knew each other, but did not appear to associate or cooperate.

    While the number of convictions for sex trafficking decreased, human trafficking from Lithuania to Sweden increased in 2011.

    • stephen m

      @Gear316: Yes, human sex trafficking is a heinous crime that seems to be everywhere in the world. I hope that eventually we can rid the human race of the traffickers and johns with their awful desire to exploit others at this despicable level.

      Here in Canada:
      National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking


  • Meghan Murphy

    Sorry about that! Fixed!