Advocates for indigenous women are outraged by what they call Amnesty International’s betrayal of those caught in the murky world of sex trafficking. During its recent decision-making forum in Dublin, Amnesty International voted to create a policy decriminalizing all aspects of consensual sex work, and call on states to ensure that sex workers enjoy full and equal legal protection from exploitation, trafficking and violence.
“I am deeply disappointed in Amnesty International’s new proposal,” says Lisa Brunner, program director with the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. Brunner is a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe in Minnesota.
Catherine Murphy, policy advisor at the global human rights organization, told CNNthat the policy is being misinterpreted. “There’s lots of misunderstanding about our proposal. What decriminalizing talks about is the laws that are used to criminalize adult consensual sex work, or selling of sex among consensual adults. It does not mean the removal of all laws that deal with exploitation, abuse, trafficking, involvement of children. Those laws are absolutely needed and are still absolutely relevant within a decriminalized system. We would never advocate for that, absolutely not.”
Brunner and others complain that decriminalizing the entire sex trade makes it too easy for sex traffickers, pimps and customers to profit from the sex industry while sanctioning the brutality commonly inflicted on women in prostitution. The CATW letter notes that, “Disenfranchised women of color, including Aboriginal, Native, First Nations, African American and ‘Scheduled Castes’ women, are overwhelmingly represented among the prostituted and sex trafficked.”
Says Brunner, “Considering [Amnesty International’s] Maze of Injustice Report in 2007 that brought the world’s attention to the high rates of sexual assault for Native women, this latest policy recommendation is especially disappointing.”
According to that report, Native American and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the U.S. “They seemed to have missed the boat in connecting sexual violence and sex trafficking,” Brunner says. “Amnesty International’s proposal represents a fundamental failure to understand that prostitution is sexual violence and in most cases not a chosen profession.”
Chris Stark, a sex trafficking researcher from Minnesota, agrees. “In the Garden of Truth Report we found that 92 percent of the sex trafficking survivors interviewed wanted to leave the sex trade,” she says. “In creating this policy, it is abhorrent for Amnesty International to focus on the small percentage of women who claim sex work is a choice.”
Brunner and others support policies similar to the “Nordic model” or “Swedish model,” aimed at preventing trafficking and exploitation. In those models, people who sell themselves or are sold for sex are decriminalized while the buyers, traffickers, pimps, brothel owners and facilitators are prosecuted. Victims who wish to leave the commercial sex industry are provided with support and comprehensive social services.
“Whether Amnesty International believes it or not, their recommendation allows greater injury to vulnerable populations. This would open the doors for more pimps and more buyers, buyers who will now be more encouraged to participate in an activity they might not have tried before,” says Jeri Jimenez, sex trafficking survivor and survivor advocate, who is a member of the Klamath tribe.
“Most trafficked women have been tortured by pimps,” say Sandi Pierce, president of Othayonih Research in Minnesota and a long time researcher on sex trafficking especially among Native women and girls. “The very organization, Amnesty International, that brought the inhumane practice of torture to the world’s attention has betrayed us.”