Julie Bindel is the co-editor of Gaze and co-founded the women’s rights organization Justice for Women. She is an avid campaigner for women’s rights and has a long history of feminist political activism. She regularly writes for The Guardian and her articles have appeared in The Daily Mail, The Independent and The Telegraph among many other publications. Her topics range from the ruthlessness of the sex industry and the way the public treats victims to the politics of “sex work” and other mysogyny against women.
Here is her recent article about Amnesty’s call for the decriminalization of prostitution as it was published by The Daily Mail:
An Abject Inversion of Its Own Principles, by Julie Bindel
- Amnesty is known for efforts to promote human rights, says writer
- But this new initiative goes against ethos as a bulwark for people suffering abuse and exploitation, says Julie Bindel
Since its foundation more than 50 years ago, Amnesty International has gained a formidable reputation as a global campaigner against oppression.
To people living under authoritarian rule, the organisation has rightly come to be seen as a symbol of hope and a force for freedom.
As a left-leaning feminist, I have strongly supported Amnesty’s efforts to promote the human rights of women around the world.
But it is precisely because of this admiration that I am so dismayed by this new initiative, which runs counter to its entire ethos as a bulwark for people suffering abuse, exploitation and maltreatment.
The call for the decriminalisation of prostitution or what it describes, with offensive understatement, as the ‘sex work’ industry is dressed up in soothing, politically correct rhetoric about women’s rights. But the reality is that legalisation would represent official state approval of those who keep this vile trade going.
The astonishing proposal shows absolutely no understanding of the dark, misogynistic world of prostitution, where coercion is rife and brutality endemic.
Amnesty tries to pretend that women selling their bodies is similar to other forms of labour – with one passage in the document explicitly drawing a parallel between women who ‘choose to become sex workers’ and ‘miners and domestic foreign workers’.
Having researched prostitution, one woman who I interviewed described her life of seeing at least ten male customers a day as ‘a form of torture’.
That is just the sort of injustice that Amnesty is meant to be fighting. Yet Amnesty, in an abject inversion of its ethical values, has somehow persuaded itself that surrender to money-driven, masculine sexual aggression represents progress towards liberty.
Far from representing any form of advancement for women, the decriminalisation of prostitution would lead to more abuse, more violence, more subjugation.
This was made clear in Australia where legalisation of the brothel industry in one state resulted in a fourfold increase in the number of trafficked women working in legal brothels. In a dreadful euphemism, Amnesty admits that ‘the context’ of the sex work industry is ‘imperfect’.
‘Imperfect’ is one way of describing a trade built on physical abuse, rape, child sex abuse, sadism and greed. It is highly offensive of Amnesty to pretend that this is similar to other industries.
In what other job do the occupational hazards include beatings, theft of earnings, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, forcible removal of children, constant threats and even death? In fact, there can be few more dangerous activities for women. It is telling that many of Britain’s worst serial killers, like the Yorkshire Ripper Peter Sutcliffe or the Ipswich killer Steven Wright, regularly visited prostitutes.
In the same self-deceiving vein, Amnesty claims it will not support decriminalisation of prostitution where violence or coercion are involved. But that is just more confused thinking. Intimidation is at the very core of this world.
Very few women end up selling sex through their own free choice. Trafficking, menaces, drug addiction and financial pressures all play their part.
Recent research has shown that 67 per cent of prostitutes have suffered violence in childhood, 61 per cent had experienced violence from ‘clients’ and 74 per cent had endured mental and physical health problems as a result of their involvement with this trade.
Absurdly, Amnesty seems even to have accepted the notion that paying for sexual services is a basic human right for men.
By definition, men who are willing to pay for sex already have a contemptuous attitude towards women – they are not interested in an equal relationship, or a meaningful exchange with a partner.
Instead of proposing legalisation, Amnesty International should concentrate on freeing women from the clutches of these men.
The end of prostitution might be a distant ideal, but it is still far better than Amnesty’s grubby collusion with misogyny.
This article by Julie Bindel was originally published in the Daily Mail on January 24th.