Sex work decriminalized in historic Amnesty International vote

Escort girls in Berlin
(Image credit: Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)

A historic vote by delegates of Amnesty International at the Dublin International Council Meeting on Tuesday calls for decriminalizing consensual sex work and protecting the rights of sex workers globally. "Sex workers are one of the most marginalized groups in the world who in most instances face constant risk of discrimination, violence, and abuse," Salil Shetty, the secretary general of Amnesty International, said in a press release. "Our global movement paved the way for adopting a policy for the protection of the human rights of sex workers which will help shape Amnesty International's future work on this important issue."

The vote was contested by many, with Nicholas Kristof writing last week in a New York Times op-ed that, "Amnesty International will consider a proposal in the coming days that would call for full decriminalization of the sex trade, including for johns, on the theory that this would benefit sex workers. Nice theory, but a failed one. It has been tried repeatedly and it invariably benefited johns while exacerbating abuse of women and girls: A parallel underground market emerges for underage girls."

However, Amnesty International holds that keeping sex work in the criminal sphere only encourages human rights violations, including physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing, and medical interventions. The organization remains staunchly against human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and maintains that they should be criminalized internationally.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.