Men have a right to prostitutes? Really?
Amnesty International ran a Stop Violence Against Women campaign between 2004 and 2010 to hold governments to account “for their failure to protect women” and urge them “to live up to their duty to stop this violence”.
The organisation during this time lobbied hard for governments around the world to take a strong stand on issues like domestic violence, child marriage, reproductive rights, sexual violence in war, and the history of the Japanese military ‘comfort women’.
During the same period, though, Amnesty’s international secretariat was lobbied internally by some of its own branches to take a stand on issues of ‘men’s rights’. In particular, some of its UK members wanted the organisation to stand up for men’s right to buy women for prostitution.
News of this lobbying reached members only last year when the international secretariat released a series of ‘policy background’ documents intended to, it retrospectively explained, invite discussion among members globally on the issue of ‘prostitution and human rights’. Exactly whose human right to prostitution was at issue for the organisation was, however, made clear by the secretariat in its Decriminalization of Sex Work: Policy Background Document (2013):
Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfil that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health.
The push by some Amnesty branches to recommend the organisation stand up for prostitution buyers came at a time when the ‘right’ to buy a human being for sex was being challenged worldwide. From 1999, a number of countries legislated against the buying of people for prostitution. Sweden, South Korea, Norway, and Iceland criminalised the activities of prostitution buyers, and it was looking likely that France and Ireland would similarly penalise sex industry customers. This criminalisation of sex industry customers was an historically unprecedented way of making policy on prostitution, known as the ‘Nordic’ approach. This withdrawal from men of their longstanding legal right to buy women unsurprisingly attracted resistance and criticism worldwide, including from Amnesty branches. Read more