The Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice supports Amnesty International’s proposed policy to decriminalize sex work. We join with many allies in the human rights, women’s rights and LGBTQI rights communities in calling on the Amnesty leadership to approve it. As Amnesty’s 32nd International Council Meeting and decision on this important proposal draws near, we voice our concurring stance. Decriminalizing sex work would further Astraea’s global vision of racial, economic, social, and gender justicea vision we’ve been working towards for 38 years.
Why Astraea Supports the Decriminalization of Sex Work
In our quest for true gender justice, Astraea knows that we must work to end sexism and transphobia simultaneously, two forms of gender oppression at the root of the violations that sex workers face. Our vision for justice would be incomplete without addressing the systemic oppression of people engaged in sex work.
Recent research states that 25% of anti-LGBTQI homicides in the U.S. were committed against sex workers,1 and shockingly, nearly 80% of South Asian male and trans* sex workers have experienced violence at the hands of law enforcement.2 LGBTQI young adults in the U.S comprise less than 10% of the youth population yet make up nearly 40% of homeless youth3, and they are eight times more likely than their straight or cisgender peers to trade sex for shelter.4 By participating in sex work and street economies when few or no alternatives exist, these individuals face profiling, harassment and arrest by police.
Furthermore, from Johannesburg to New York City, law enforcement frequently profiles trans* women as sex workers and uses this as a justification for harassment and abuse. In many countries from India to Turkey, laws that criminalize sex work are used in conjunction with other ‘quality of life’ laws to specifically target trans* women, making it impossible for them to safely venture outdoors.5 Criminalization of sex work also hinders one’s ability to secure other employment; in many instances, a prostitution, solicitation, or pandering charge on one’s record is a professional death sentence. Lastly, the criminalization of sex work is a direct barrier to public health goals. In many countries including the U.S., police use condoms as evidence of prostitution. This deters sex workers from carrying condoms and increases the risk for STIs including HIV.6
Decriminalizing sex work would have many positive benefits, including:
- Decreasing cultures of impunity that allow police profiling and brutality to flourish;
- Making it safe for sex workers to report instances of violence against them without fear of arrest or discrimination;
- Improving sex workers’ access to critically-needed health services;
- Allowing sex workers to work freely and safely; and,
- Supporting the self-organization of sex workers to demand their rights and justice.
The Difference between Sex Work and Human Trafficking
Trafficking and sex work are not the same! Astraea and our grantee partners oppose all forms of human trafficking, whether for sexual services or other forced labor, such as domestic or factory work. For some, sex work is a choi