Two high-profile organisations that support victims of sexual violence have condemned Amnesty International for voting in favour of decriminalising prostitution, and one has cancelled its membership of the human rights body.
The Sexual Violence Centre in Cork has withdrawn its support from Amnesty following a decision by director Mary Crilly to email the organisation yesterday cancelling its membership.
Ms Crilly’s criticism of the Amnesty move was echoed by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, who said it “goes against everything Amnesty ever stood for”.
Both women predicted that other members of the Turn Off The Red Light campaign to end prostitution and sex trafficking would also come out against Amnesty. The campaign has the support of approximately 70 different bodies as diverse as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, the Labour Party, and the Union of Students in Ireland.
Ms Crilly said decriminalising sex in Germany in 2002 was supposed to give prostitutes more access to benefits by registering, but the reality was they hadn’t registered and there were now “mega-brothels” that were not being monitored. This made sex trafficking easier, she claims.
“I think it’s open house for everyone where it’s not criminalised. I am totally disappointed and angry with Amnesty’s stance.”
Ms Crilly said she had spent decades working with women victims of sexual violence and that if she thought decriminalising prostitution would empower them, “I’d be all for it”.
“But the reality is the women are sex workers, the men are ‘clients’, and they can ring up and order a woman like a takeaway. Size, nationality, whatever they want,” Ms Crilly said.
“You can’t say on the one hand that sex trafficking is bad [Amnesty considers human trafficking ‘abhorrent’] and prostitution is OK, because the reality is the pimp sees the woman as a piece of merchandise. It’s modern-day slavery.”
Ms Crilly said she had met very few women over her lifetime who chose prostitution as a career. She said for many it meant “sexual violence, rape, and abuse” or men “asking them to do things they would never ask their wives to do”.
Ms O’Malley Dunlop said she was “extremely disappointed” with Amnesty’s stance and felt the vote was “not in their remit”.
“People in prostitution are not there because they want to be. We should be helping people to exit,” she said.
The Amnesty vote took place last week at the charity’s 32nd International Council Meeting in Dublin.
The resolution means the meeting calls on Amnesty’s international board to “adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work”.
This sentiment is at odds with Government plans to criminalise the purchase of sex, as per its Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2014.
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