Laurie Penny: Let’s not abolish sex work. Let’s abolish all work

Let’s not abolish sex work. Let’s abolish all work
Laurie Penny, NewStatesman, May 26, 2016

To describe sex work as “a job like any other job” is only a positive reframing if you consider a “job” to be a good thing by definition.

Is sex work “a job like any other” – and is that a good thing? Amnesty International today officially adopted a policy recommending the decriminalisation of sex work around the world as the best way to reduce violence in the industry and safeguard both workers and those who are trafficked into prostitution.

“Sex workers are at heightened risk of a whole host of human rights abuses including rape, violence, extortion and discrimination,” said Tawanda Mutasah, Amnesty International’s senior director for law and policy. “Our policy outlines how governments must do more to protect sex workers from violations and abuse.

“We want laws to be refocused on making sex workers’ lives safer and improving the relationship they have with the police while addressing the very real issue of exploitation,” said Mutasah, emphasising the organisation’s policy that forced labour, child sexual exploitation and human trafficking are human rights abuses which, under international law, must be criminalised in every country. “We want governments to make sure no one is coerced to sell sex, or is unable to leave sex work if they choose to.”

The proposal from the world’s best-known human rights organisation has caused uproar, particularly from some feminist campaigners who believe that decriminalisation will “legitimise” an industry that it is uniquely harmful to women and girls.

As sex workers around the world rally for better working conditions and legal protections, more and more countries are adopting versions of the “Nordic Model” – attempting to crack down on sex work by criminalising the buyers of commercial sex, most of whom are men. Amnesty, along with many sex workers’ rights organisations, claims that that the “Nordic Model” in fact forces the industry underground and does little to protect sex workers from discrimination and abuse.

The battle lines have been drawn, and the “feminist sex wars” of the 1980s are under way again.

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