The dark road to decriminalization: Why tolerating prostitution is dangerous

 Credit: Georgie Pauwels via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).
Credit: Georgie Pauwels via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).

.- In a controversial new policy move, global human rights organization Amnesty International has announced that they support the worldwide decriminalization of consensual prostitution and sex work.

While the group claims this will ultimately help women, a swarm of critics – scholars and celebrities alike – mobilized in quick and fierce opposition, arguing that the bad far outweighs the good.  

Announcing the development on August 11, secretary general Salil Shetty lauded the “historic day for Amnesty International,” while noting that the decision was not made “easily or quickly.”

This shift, according to Amnesty, marks a step towards an effort to regulate the sex industry more closely, aiming to lower the amount of exploitation and abuse that women who are involved in prostitution notoriously experience.

The new policy would also theoretically encourage better health care for women in prostitution and reduce the stigma involved with the industry.

Preceding Amnesty's decision, the New York Times published a piece on the slippery slope of the sex industry – calling it a vague, gray area, especially when it comes to its decriminalization.

“Can we really draw a bright line between a person who has casual sex, in private, with various lovers, and a person who has sex in private, with various short-term and long-term lovers, from whom she accepts monetary support?” the piece asks, arguing that private, consensual acts – whatever they may be – have a right to be protected.

However, a slew of therapists, sex trafficking survivors, and celebrities have recently spoken out against the policy change to decriminalize a criminal business – saying that there is in fact a very bright line that should be drawn to keep prostitution on the criminal side.

“It's a terrible idea,” said Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney's House in Washington, D.C.

“This has been tried and failed – in the Netherlands, in Germany – they've closed down over 30 brothels because we are talking about a criminal industry that we are trying to legalize,” Frundt said.

“Criminals think like criminals. It's a die-hard criminal business making millions,” she added.

Many brothels in Germany or Amsterdam obtain fake identification for minors and adult women who are forced over from other countries so that they can be sold in a legalized market, Frundt said.

For the underworld of prostitution, global decriminalization is the best thing that could happen.

Frundt herself is a survivor of child sex trafficking and founded Courtney's House in 2008 to help women and children heal from domestic sex trafficking and commercial sex exploitation. She sees multiple people per day who have experienced trauma and wounds from the trafficking industry.

If prostitution is tolerated globally, especially within the United States, she believes the amount of people who seek help at Courtney’s House will double – simply because trauma comes with the territory.

Frundt is not alone in her stance against decriminalizing prostitution.

Candace Wheeler is a therapist with Restoration Ministries, an organization that aims to heal and help sex trafficking survivors. She believes that Amnesty's new policy could have a dangerous effect.

“As a therapist, I don't really see a difference between sex trafficking and prostitution,” Wheeler told CNA.

She said her main job is to heal the wounds that have been caused by the prostitution and trafficking industry. Although Wheeler recognizes the need for legal boundaries, she was skeptical about what decriminalizing sex work could result in.

“There has to be some kind of accountability,” she said, and pointed to Amsterdam’s tolerant policy for sex work within the country, asserting that their model just doesn’t work.

“What they have found (in Amsterdam) is that tolerance is not protecting women who are in prostitution there, because it's mostly women who are trafficked from other countries, and they are realizing that their tolerance is a huge problem,” Wheeler said.

“If it's decriminalized, then that just opens up the door for that kind of business. We could have established brothels and red light districts, and then crime comes with that, and drugs – and I am the person that gets to see them afterwards and try and heal them,” she said.

Celebrities such as Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Chris Cooper, and Meryl Streep echoed this stance by signing a letter asking Amnesty to rethink their decision on decriminalizing an unregulated $99 billion global sex industry.

These celebrities are also joined by various survivors of the sex trade, who have experienced the “inescapable harms the sex trade inflicted,” as stated in the letter.  

Medical professionals, gynecologists and mental health professionals have also asserted that regardless of how a woman ends up in the sex trade – consensual or not – their experience can lead to long term physical and psychological harm, and in some cases, death.  

“Growing evidence shows the catastrophic effects of decriminalizing the sex trade,” the document reads, pointing to the German government who found that decriminalizing the sex industry did not make women safer or the industry more regulated.

Instead, it's tolerance only increased the amount of human trafficking and expanded “legal brothels” within the country.

The signed letter also states that decriminalizing the industry will only transform brothel owners into businessmen and women into “deals.” In addition, lifting the ban on prostitution will do nothing to separate the difference between the women who have a choice in the trade and the women who are forced into it – it will only give the industry a green light to continue forward.

“Amnesty's reputation in upholding human rights for every individual would be severely and irreparably tarnished if it adopts a policy that sides with buyers of sex, pimps and other exploiters rather than with the exploited,” the letter read.

“By so voting, Amnesty would blow out its own candle.”

Tags: Trafficking, Amnesty International