After Amnesty, what’s next? A call to global action

I was in Europe doing research for Female Sexual Slavery in 1977 when I met with the Executive Director of Amnesty International in London. I had thought, naively, that in following their mandate to address state torture, Amnesty would have had documentation of the traffic in women and children. Instead what I got was: Sexual slavery? Traffic in women? Never happened. That was a fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. And of course this was capped off with the tiresome “sex between consenting adults,” mantra that excuses and enables men who buy women. Even then, as they have done in their latest campaign to promote prostitution through decriminalization of pimps and buyers,  in the words of own Meghan Murphy, “they are just making shit up and stating it as fact!!?!?”

A few years ago, Julie Bindel broke ground by exposing and publishing a secret draft of Amnesty International’s proposal to prostitution. Within a few weeks of Bindel’s exposé, Abolish Prostitution Now launched campaigns on several continents and many countries to sway the national Amnesty general meetings within countries, proposing the Nordic Model instead, which criminalizes pimps and men who buy women and children for sexual use and abuse. Then we heard that Amnesty International would be voting on it.

All of a sudden, as if from everywhere, human rights and women’s rights activists including the painfully powerful voices of survivors began a global mass movement to stop Amnesty’s sex industry supported proposal. In campaigns against Amnesty’s now adopted policy, we have raised national and global consciousness about the sexual exploitation of prostitution. In just weeks, we have sparked a massive movement.

Now this is our time to SEIZE THE MOMENT.

Here is what I propose: We defeat Amnesty by building global actions that will introduce the Nordic model in every state, every municipality that we can reach. We will win human rights for women every time the Nordic model is adopted. We desperately need buyers arrested, fined and jailed in developing countries. We must extend the Nordic model to every part of the globe. Every moment we engage developing countries in changing their laws to protect women not buyers, every time we gain support for women in poverty where misogyny drives masses of desperate women into the sex industries, every time a buyer of women’s bodies for sexual use and abuse is held to account we will have won against Amnesty, but more importantly, women’s rights to human dignity and peace will expand exponentially.

But even winning the Nordic model in state after state is not enough. Amnesty International and the sex industries have severely eroded universal human rights in their promotion of prostitution. Feminists, by contrast, are working to expand human rights for women. The Convention Against Sexual Exploitation is a draft United Nations treaty which would make all forms of sexual exploitation — including prostitution and pornography — a violation of human rights, would contest the power men exert through their sexual control and domination of women, would require protection for women in the migrating process, and calls for state funding for support programs for survivors.

In addition, Linda MacDonald and Jeanne Sarson have formulated a human rights model for non-state torture. Instead of confining guarantees of human rights protections only to victims of state torture, in their approach to United Nations human rights law, prostitution and all forms of violence against women would be considered “non-state torture.”

Mounting a global campaign to make sexual exploitation a violation of human rights would give strength and support to state campaigns to bring down the heinous legalization of prostitution which India and other less developed countries are considering. Former President Jimmy Carter also speaks to the need for this Convention and calls upon the United Nations to adopt it. Under the direction and with the human rights commitment of the Carter Center’s Karin Ryan, a meeting of activists adopted these recommendations at a May 2015 World Summit: Ending Sexual Exploitation 2025 which supports the Convention Against Sexual Exploitation.

At no other time in history have we had the voices of survivors speaking out about the repeated harm done to them when they were bought by customers. Amnesty’s August 11, 2015 decision to adopt a pro-prostitution policy is a slap in their faces, a call to send them back to the streets and brothels. It also calls for the deprivation of global human rights adopted by United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after World War II. Amnesty joins other sex industry driven organizations who have colonized the world of global human rights. UN AIDS, UN Development Programs and UN Women now, like Amnesty, recognize the “rights” of “sex workers” — the chief promoters of and fronts for the male/misogynist sex industries.

If we are to retain global human rights and if women are not to be reduced to men’s sexual objects, then we must bring our global outrage over Amnesty’s promotion of the sex industry to the United Nations, demanding the Convention Against Sexual Exploitation which shall include formulations of non-state torture — that which men do to the women they buy for “sex.”

We have the commitment, we know what needs to be done. Let us see who in the human rights community will step forward with the support to enable us to mount this campaign. The alternative is to leave women, globally, to live with sex industry’s continued colonization of women’s bodies and continued erosion of human rights.

We dare not let that happen.

Postscript: While I was writing this article yesterday, I heard the news of former President Jimmy Carter’s cancer. He stood strong with us and in global leadership against Amnesty. Let us honor him, a true champion of human rights, by raising our campaign to bring the Convention Against Sexual Exploitation to the United Nations.

Kathleen Barry, Professor Emerita is the author of Female Sexual Slavery and The Prostitution of Sexuality: the Global Exploitation of Women, cofounder of CATW, and originator of the Convention Against Sexual Exploitation also working against militarized masculinity in Unmaking War, Remaking Men. Find her online:

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