October 6, 2015

Amnesty International or Impunity International: The Decriminalized Prostitution Debate

Delegates to Amnesty International’s (AI) biennial International Council Meeting (ICM), held this past August, approved a resolution authorizing AI’s International Board to adopt a new policy calling for the full decriminalization of prostitution worldwide. Thus, new fuel was thrown on the fire of one of the world’s most intractable debates: what to do about prostitution?

According to Amnesty International’s ICM delegates, the answer is uncomplicated: Simply erase prostitution laws from books. If prostitution is decriminalized—meaning there are no laws banning or regulating pimping, sex buying or selling (for those 18 years old and above, they are quick to clarify)—then no prostitution laws are there to be broken, no crimes are committed, and all those concerned can go about the business of buying and selling sex in peace.

Whew! What a relief that’s all been settled. Thank you members of the ICM for helping rid the world of the menace of sexual abuse, violence, objectification, and degradation with one fell swoop!NoAmnesty_600x600 (002)

All sarcasm aside, we at the National Center on Sexual Exploitation take a decidedly different view on the matter. We believe prostitution is a system of sexual exploitation that requires Abolition, not social sanction.[1] It is a system whereby individuals are supplied as public, sexual commodities, which preys upon vulnerable members of society and is rife with violence against those sold for sex. Decriminalization of prostitution in no way rectifies the conditions of inequality, abuse, violence, and dehumanization which animate all forms of prostitution—it tragically assents to them.

At its best, decriminalization of prostitution may be a crude and naïve attempt to ameliorate deeply entrenched sexual exploitation. But at its worst, decriminalization of prostitution is a nefarious miscarriage of justice that “disappeas” egregious human rights abuses by use of political smoke and mirrors that authorize profiteering from sexual violence, and accede to a right of some individuals to purchase other human beings for sex. In sum, decriminalization grants impunity to pimps, magically morphing them into reputable, sexually-oriented business entrepreneurs, and mystically transforming sex buyers into respectable clients.

As part of NCOSE’s commitment to fight against the forces and institutions that seek to normalize sexual exploitation of persons[2] for various sectors of the sex trade, we will be debunking various arguments used to justify the decriminalization of prostitution in a forthcoming series of blog posts, the first of which appears here.Please read and repost these discussions as widely as possible as urgent action is needed to educate the activists in the field of sexual exploitation, as well as, the general public about the misguided promises of decriminalization of prostitution.

Thank you for joining with us in creating a world free from sexploitation!



[1] Importantly, when NCOSE decries prostitution, we are condemning prostitution as a system whereby human beings are openly bought and sold for sex, not the persons used and exploited by that system.

[2] The word “persons” should be understood to include adults (those age 18 and above), women and men, as well as male and female children (less than 18 years of age).

Further Reading