Mon | Jan 22, 2018

Does Pro-prostitution push really institutionalise abuse?

Published:Thursday | April 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM


I write in response to Ms Shirley Richards 'Letter of The Day' in the Tuesday Gleaner. Ms. Richards wrote in light of an earlier report that some members of the business community in Negril would love to see prostitution decriminalised. Ms. Richards opens by asking the proponents of this position which of them would be proud to tell others how well their daughter is doing at prostitution? I however would ask Ms. Richards to step back for a moment and objectively examine the proposal rather than the proponents of the proposal.

My belief that adults who chose to engage in prostitution should not be criminalised does not translate into my wanting my daughter to be a prostitute. The ability to support one's position even though it is contrary to yours comes with a deep understanding, respect and regard for Human Rights that is not engendered by many. Evelyn Beatrice Hall (1868-1956) in 'The Friends of Voltaire' wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it". While this quote has its origin in the concept of Freedom of Speech it underlies the basic principle of total respect for people's rights.

On August 11, 2015, Amnesty International a world leading Human Rights Organisation announced its support for decriminalising prostitution among consenting adults; this raised outcry from organisations all over the world but in the midst of the outcry I heard:

"As a global human rights Organisation, Amnesty International has a responsibility to assess how best to prevent human rights violations. As such, it is right and fitting that we should look at one of the most disadvantaged groups of people in the world, often forced to live outside the law and denied their most basic human rights: sex workers. We have chosen to advocate for the decriminalisation of all aspects of consensual adult sex - sex work that does not involve coercion, exploitation or abuse. This is based on evidence and the real life experiences of sex workers themselves that criminalisation makes them less safe. We reached this position by consulting a wide array of individuals and groups including but not limited to: sex workers, survivor and abolitionist groups, HIV agencies, women's and LGBTI (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender & Intersex) rights activists, indigenous women's groups, anti trafficking groups and leading academics. We spent more than two years gathering evidence through meetings with hundreds of individuals and Organisation. We conducted first hand research into the lived experience of sex workers under different national and legal context. We would like to claim to be the first to address this issue, but we are not; other groups which support or are calling for the decriminalisation of sex work include the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, International Labour Organisation, the Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women, the Global Network of Sex Projects, the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and Anti-Slavery International." (Catherine Murphy, Policy Advisor at Amnesty International).


Ms Murphy reminded the detractors as I will remind you, Ms Richards, that the proposition to decriminalise sex work is not an afterthought being pushed by a wayward bunch but a well researched, well reasoned, evidence-based position supported by organisations that have a track record in research. I say yes to you, Ms Richards, we are concerned about the abuse our women face as they sell sex (not their bodies) and we remind you that this abuse is perpetrated against the background that you are doing something illegal so I can do whatever I want with you and you cannot report it to the police. In my work with sex workers I have heard firsthand the horror stories of the scant regard with which they are treated when they attempt to report abuse to some police officers and I have heard utterances from police officers that suggest that a woman who engages in prostitution cannot be raped. I have heard even sex workers themselves who believe that they have no right as the law does not recognise them. Continuing on the path of criminalisation is what will (if not already) institutionalise the abuse of our women but decriminalisation will be a step in the right direction towards providing greater protection for our women and ending the curse of violence that they face day after day.

I join you Ms. Richards in calling for help to lift our women and also our men, but making criminals of them is not lifting them, criminalising sex work between CONSENTING ADULTS is not lifting them, causing them to feel alienated under the law is not lifting them. We call on the government to listen to the cry of sex workers in Jamaica because as echoed in the United States Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and it is to secure these rights that governments are instituted among men.

Patrick Lalor

Human Rights Advocate