One of the world's leading human-rights organizations has come under fire for its proposal to oppose criminalizing the buying or selling of sex between consenting adults.
Amnesty International says its proposed policy "is based on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference".
It cites many examples in which criminalization increases risks to sex workers. They include two studies that showed "most instances of harassment, assault, rape, kidnapping, and murder of street-based sex workers in Vancouver and New York City were not reported to police".
"This policy does not change Amnesty International's longstanding position that trafficking into forced prostitution should be criminalised as a matter of international law," the proposed policy states. "Amnesty International considers children involved in commercial sex acts to be victims of sexual exploitation, entitled to support, reparations, and remedies, in line with international human rights law."
The organization's response to the purchase and sale of consensual adult sex has prompted a letter of protest from more than 400 groups and individuals.
The signatories including actors Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway, Angela Bassett, Kevin Kline, Emma Thompson, Lisa Kudrow, Lena Dunham, Kyra Sedgwick, and director Jonathan Demme.
"Decriminalization of the sex trade renders brothel owners 'businessmen' who with impunity facilitate the trafficking of very young women predominantly from the poorest countries of Eastern Europe and the Global South to meet the increased demand for prostitution," the letter states.
Amnesty International's proposed policy mentions that "legitimate restrictions may be imposed on sex work if they comply with international human rights law".
"This policy is also based on principles of harm reduction: on balance, the available evidence indicates that the criminalisation of sex work is more likely than not to reinforce discrimination against those who engage in these activities, to increase the likelihood that they will be subjected to harassment and violence, including ill-treatment at the hands of police, and to lead to the denial of due process and the exclusion from public benefits such as health services, housing, education, and immigration status," the document states.
The proposed policy will be addressed at Amnesty International's international council meeting next month in Dublin, Ireland.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has called upon countries "to work toward decriminalization of sex work and elimination of the unjust application of non-criminal laws and regulations against sex workers".
Amnesty International has not taken a position on whether sex work should be regulated.
"However, if a state does regulate sex work, Amnesty International would call for any regulation to aim at guaranteeing that individuals who undertake sex work do so voluntarily and in safe conditions and are able to stop engaging in sex work when and if they choose to," the proposed policy states.