Thursday 25 May 2017

Former prostitute urges Amnesty International not to vote to decriminalise sex trade

Former prostitue Mia de Faoite . Photo: Tony Gavin
Former prostitue Mia de Faoite . Photo: Tony Gavin

Cormac Fitzgerald

A campaigner and former prostitute has spoken out against Amnesty International's campaign for the decriminalisation of all sex work.

Up to 500 members of the international human rights organisation will meet in Dublin this weekend for Amnesty’s 32nd International Council Meeting, where they are expected to vote in favour of the decriminalisation of sex work.

The organisation has said that its draft policy on the issue is the result of two years of research and consultation.

Under the policy, Amnesty International will call for countries not to penalise those who buy or sell sex. It also states that some 'operational' aspects of sex work, such as brothel keeping, should be decriminalised. 

The proposed policy is highly controversial and has been slammed by Irish and international women’s rights groups, who support punishing the buyer of sex, but not the seller.

However, those in favour of decriminalisation, including members of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, have said that it will protect sex workers by no longer forcing them to operate underground.

Mia de Faoite (45) from Dublin said that decriminalising all prostitution would "bestow a life sentence of sexual exploitation and rape to many around the world."

Ms de Faoite, who worked as a prostitute for eight years and is now an advocate for sex workers' rights, described how she and her female friend were raped by a group of men while they were working in December 2005.

Mia de Faoite says that de-criminalising all sex work won't help prostitutes
Mia de Faoite says that de-criminalising all sex work won't help prostitutes

Speaking to Independent.ie, Ms de Faoite said that she couldn't let a vote calling for the decriminalisation of sex work pass without letting people know of her own experience.

Ms de Faoite described the night she and her friend Jenny, who later died from a drug overdose, were picked up by eight men, brought to a hotel room and brutally raped.

“Maybe you have to witness the rape of another with your own eyes, be in the same room, be less than ten foot [sic] away from your friend as she is being violently abused and you can do nothing to help her because you are held down,” she wrote.

“I can find no justification for those crimes and I believe that no one is able to justify such human wickedness.

“Amnesty would agree with me I am sure, and would fight alongside me to find justice if I asked," said Ms de Faoite in her blog post on Wednesday.

“This is confusing to me and it makes no sense because on the other hand they are prepared to sanction the behavior that led to this crime.”

Ms de Faoite said the rape occurred in City West hotel, the same place where the Amnesty vote will take place this weekend.

“To think that the vote is happening where that happened is just crazy,” she said.

 Proposal

Sarah Benson, CEO of Ruhama, an organisation that works with women affected by prostitution, told Independent.ie that while there is major disagreement on de-criminalisation of all aspects of the sex selling industry, there is widespread agreement that those selling sex shouldn’t be criminalised.

“Nobody wants the person selling sex to be criminalised… there’s no dissent from any cohort on that,” she said.

“The issue is that the policy [to decriminalise sex work] is one which will benefit those who profit from prostitution far more than the vulnerable persons in prostitution.”

Amnesty’s vote comes as Ireland is close to passing legislation which will see buyers of sex criminalised, but will protect those selling. The new legislation will follow the Swedish model and Northern Ireland, who brought in similar laws at the beginning of June.

Amnesty International has said it realises that the proposed policy is contentious.

“This is a divisive, sensitive and complex issue and it is important that we get it right,” they said in a statement.

“That is why we have been working for the last two years to develop a proposed policy to protect the human rights of sex workers based on solid research and consultation with stakeholders.”

However, a number of Irish women’s groups have signed an open letter condemning Amnesty International’s proposal. The group has also faced criticism from celebrities including Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, who've called on it not to endorse the decriminalisation of the sex trade.

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