Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Amnesty International screws the pooch

I meant to write about this last week, but life got in the way. If you haven't already see it, the New York Times has a pretty good writeup that will bring you up to speed: "Amnesty International Votes for Policy Calling for Decriminalization of Prostitution":

The proposal split human rights activists. Amnesty chapters in Sweden and France pressed the group to support a so-called Swedish or Nordic model, now followed in several Scandinavian countries, that spares prostitutes from penalties but sanctions the buyers with heavy fines and prison terms. Lawmakers in France are pushing new legislation to punish buyers that most likely will be voted on in the fall.

After the vote, the Coalition for the Abolition of Prostitution, a French organization, vowed that it would no longer work with Amnesty International. “Amnesty chooses impunity for pimps and johns and not protection from sexual abuse for all women,” the coalition’s executive director, Grégoire Théry, said.
I have to say that Amnesty International, despite the good it's done in the world and the noble causes it supports, has screwed the pooch on this call. I don't claim to be the world's foremost authority on prostitution but I have studied its history over the past couple of centuries more than the average person. The one thing that is clear across that great span of time is that men will exploit women given any opportunity to do so. By calling for the elimination of all anti-prostitution laws, Amnesty proposes giving a free pass to pimps the world over on the off chance that some women "may actually want to work with a pimp."

Look, pimps are scum of the Earth, using emotional manipulation and physical abuse to coerce women into the sex trade. No little girl grows up aspiring to be a prostitute. Most that willingly choose to enter into prostitution have few other options. I don't deny that. Hell, there are some women who actually enjoy the job, but these are in the minority.

Prostitution laws do need reform. All too often, hypocrisy in the system results in the woman bearing the brunt of the law. Don't believe me? Check out this and this. In all the great, high-profile prostitution scandals that have hit the U.S. media over the past 50 years--"Mayflower Madam" Deborah Palfrey, "Hollywood Madam" Heidi Fleiss and "Soccer Mom Madam" Anna Gristina--the women were the only people sent to jail, even though the prosecutors had ample evidence to prosecute and convict dozens, if not hundreds of their male customers. The contention is that the women "led men astray" or that "we need to protect their good reputation in the community." Newsflash: If a man is soliciting prostitution illegally, then he doesn't deserve that good reputation in the first place. The woman goes to jail, and the affluent males move on to the next Craigslist ad for illicit nookie. How is this making society safer?

I don't have all the answers. Regulation back at the dawn of the 20th century didn't work. Prohibition from the 1920s on hasn't worked. There are mixed verdicts on current legalization in Nevada, Australia and Europe. It is insane to jail women for accepting money for something that is perfectly legal for them to give away for free. In light of our species' perpetual dysfunction where sex is concerned, the so-called Swedish model--prostitution is not illegal, but soliciting prostitution or pimping is--seems the most reasonable compromise. Given enough time, women are going to migrate out of prostitution of their own accord for better opportunities. In lieu of that, decriminalization would be the next-best option, that is, reducing prostitution to a ticketable offense. Sending women to jail repeatedly with the full knowledge they'll be out on the street again as soon as they're released simply doesn't make sense.

There's a reason why prostitution is referred to as the "oldest profession." It's been with us as long as humans have had social interactions, and all the morality crusades mounted over the centuries have done little to eliminate it. It's never going to go away. The best we can do is enact policy that minimizes the negative impact it has on individuals. The Swedish model, at this point, seems the most promising course of action to accomplish this goal. Amnesty International's new position of eliminating all laws, while laudable in the abstract, is neither practical nor pragmatic considering the fact that human sex trafficking is still a major issues around the world. Likewise, that law of unintended consequences opens the door to all manner of ugly child prostitution issues.

Prostitution laws in the U.S. and the world over are in dire need of reform. But this proposal from Amnesty International does far, far more harm than any amount of good it could ever hope to accomplish.

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