Letter to Amnesty International by Resistenza Femminista
We are a group of activists and survivors of prostitution (www.resistenzafemminista.it), who have signed the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women’s letter against Amnesty’s proposal to decriminalise profiteers, brothel owners and sex buyers (https://www.resistenzafemminista.it/lettera-aperta-della-catw-ad-amnesty-international/).
The international movement of survivors and activists who have been in the sex industry, which includes SPACE International, Sex Trafficking Survivors United, Survivors for Solutions and many other groups with whom we work together, (a list of signatories can be seen here: https://www.change.org/p/amnesty-international-vote-no-to-decriminalizing-pimps-brothel-owners-and-buyers-of-sex) upholds the Nordic Model, the only model that does not criminalise persons in prostitution but penalises those who exploit, rape, and very often kill people in prostitution – that is, traffickers, profiteers, brothel owners and sex-buyers. We are writing to you to express our profound disagreement with your document “Draft Policy on Sex Work” which represents a true and proper insult to women who have lived the violent reality of prostitution, to all those women who are still forced to undergo abuse from pimps and buyers, to all women, above all those who live in precarity, who are unemployed as many of us are, to those who, because of economic violence find themselves in a situation of extreme vulnerability and who are therefore exposed to sexual exploitation (https://www.resistenzafemminista.it/femministe-precarie-vs-sistema-prostituente/).
In Italy, in the majority of cases it is women and minors who become prostituted, especially those who enter it from conditions of socio-economic disadvantage and from impoverished nations such as Nigeria, Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, the Ukraine, and China. Many of them are victims of trafficking and all of them are continually exposed to high-risk situations which lead them to risk their health and their very lives. They are women and girls, much like our comrades-in-struggle, Adelina and Heaven. Taken from Albania, Adelina had been forced to sell herself on the streets of Italy for four years. When she was a street prostitute, Adelina had never met a single woman that was there of her own choice: all the women accompanying her were in the hands of pimps or traffickers. Each time she was deported from Italy, Adelina was seized and again sent to Italy by traffickers; in one of those instances she had been sold by an Albanian customs official. When she finally managed to escape from her traffickers, Adelina had the courage to report them, and 40 of her traffickers ended up in prison. Heaven instead is Italian, who had been a victim of sexual abuse since infancy. At only 14 years of age, a woman who she trusted had exploited her vulnerable state and pushed her into selling herself in a brothel. From there, gradually, that woman disappeared and in her place was a violent pimp who had control of the brothel, and the exploitation and abuse continued for years. In your document it is evident that trafficking has been rigidly split from prostitution, which you consider to be “free”, this latter category would include women in poverty, immigrant women, women without any qualifications, homeless women without a roof over their head, women with drug addictions. Heaven and Adelina do not recognise themselves within this division, they have lived their own reality of violence and nobody had given them a way to escape that horror. Heaven and Adelina strongly oppose the decriminalisation of profiteers, brothel owners and buyers of sex.
These are their testimonies:
Hello, my name is Alma Sejdini but I have since assumed the name Adelina as a name to fight against this racket. I read Amnesty International’s proposal and tears fell from my eyes. I who cry while I read the proposal to decriminalise the exploiters, the brothel owners and the buyers of sex, I am a woman who has undergone kidnappings, rapes and torture and have scars on my body that I carry with me every day, today I still have these signs that forever remind me of what I have lived through. For this I ask you, I beg you not to support the legalisation of prostitution, not to stain yourself with so great a crime, but instead that you ask that real opportunities are given to women who have escaped the violence of prostitution, dignified opportunities, concrete help to those who fight against this racket, like myself: thanks to my report, 40 people were arrested and all were sentenced to 15-20 years in prison. I admit that only the police had helped me in giving me trust and kindness, but on the level of opportunities I didn’t receive any kind of help, help which was truly needed. I repeat: real and dignified opportunities as the most fundamental thing in all this. Do not forget then, that traffickers hold women’s families from their home countries hostage and it is why trafficking victims do not fight back and are prostitutes out of the fear that their families may be killed, and therefore if you become upholders of the global legalisation of prostitution, those women in their silence will pay taxes to the state that exploits them and the trafficking syndicate will give them a pittance as they are afraid of rebelling. In Germany where prostitution is legalised, trafficking has almost become invisible, the women don’t report and the police cannot intervene. I say a very strong ‘no’ to any sort of proposal for the legalisation of prostitution and to the decriminalisation of exploiters. The language that you use to describe it is an insult that I cannot sustain: the women on the street are not workers that provide sex, ‘sex workers’, but are women who have been made slaves! I have never met a woman who became a prostitute out of free choice in all the years I have been a prostitute! So in god’s name I ask you to cease with this horrible proposal, I ask you to listen to me together with other victims of trafficking, I want you to take with you my testimony, defend our human rights which have been trampled on, not the rights of those who have committed violence against us!
My name is Heaven and I am 21 years old, and as a survivor of prostitution, I am completely against the proposal of Amnesty International that wants exploiters, brothel owners and sex buyers to be decriminalised.
In the document “Draft Policy on Sex Work” you have desired to defend the freedom of individuals to buy and sell sex inasmuch as they are negotiating, consenting adults, and you regard sex as a human right that must be respected as such. This defence of the human rights of the purchasers of sex is unacceptable. Indeed, we must defend the freedom of persons who profit from the vulnerability of persons who “offer” themselves to be sold, the freedom of those who profit from despair, from destroying human lives? Besides, this discourse is clearly constructed for the benefit of men, because even though there may also be men in prostitution, men remain the largest purchasers of sex.
Unfortunately there are people who have neither the physical nor the psychological capacity to have sexual relationships, but it is not the task or DUTY of prostitutes or women in general to take upon themselves the “mission” of saving them by placing their lives at risk.
Another myth contained in your document is that the decriminalisation of brothel owners makes prostitution safer, that it protects people from violence. REALLY? I was in prostitution for about three years, in a brothel run by a pimp. It wasn’t at all safe. I endured beatings, violence of every kind, satisfied every kind of perverted desires without the remotest possibility of getting out of that car and running away on my own two legs. To sell women in a brothel (even if at the hands of a pimp state) is like locking them in a cell and throwing away the key.
The language used in your document offends me and all survivors, and women who still find themselves in prostitution. You call prostitution “Sex Work” – SEX AS A JOB, SEXUAL LABOUR? According to an old stereotype prostitution is “the world’s oldest profession” when in reality to speak of it as work is to normalise this barbaric system. Even Amnesty, like the media, films, and certain books that disperse lies and myths about prostitution, considers prostitution to be on par with an office job. All of this is unacceptable and does not hold up in any account that survivors have recalled in having undergone prostitution! It does not make any reference to the testimonies of survivors, it does not listen to our stories, it seeks to shut us up, it is a wilful hiding of the reality of facts because neither I nor any other woman that has lived prostitution would ever define themselves as a sex worker.
I was convinced that, being an organisation that is active all over the world in defending human rights, you would have defended the rights of people who live through every type of violence in prostitution! And I regret paying you 11 Euro every month!
Your philosophy of harm reduction is another offence to us all!
The abolition of prostitution is what we want and you need to listen to us!
You tell yourselves that you want to improve the conditions of those who are in prostitution. You do not understand that those women who stand on the street to sell themselves short do not expect that you give them a coat when winter comes, but they expect you to bring them to a safe place, give them clothes and give them the security that that will no longer be their life… they wait, and have waited only that ‘someone might save me’. But still you dare to hide yourselves behind the rumour that they are prostitutes that CHOSE it! I would like to speak with at least five of them, we are many, and all of us recount a similar version… so are we liars? Lying that we have undergone the worst forms of violence? We who have seen exploitation, use, and degradation? We who have sustained upon our bodies the obscene violence of men who you want to protect? Another unacceptable point is that about underage prostitution. The prostitution of minors should be treated in the same way as that of adults for a simple and logical reason, because these adults… were once underage! It is not incidental that most survivor testimonies recall having begun prostitution at around fourteen, fifteen years of age. Do you not know what to say? We are “fresh meat” for buyers and brothel owners who are like butchers. The younger you are the more you are asked for, I would say that the clearest testimony, is also the most discounted: Thailand, where fathers of families from all over the world come and stay there to “try” prostitutes whose ages start at FOUR!!!! I was fourteen years old: being the smallest, I was the most sought after, because men must have the conviction of being strong and large otherwise they do not feel pathetic enough already looking for sex by themselves from someone that has to be paid in order for him to have any. Prostituted women are alone, unfortunate and unhappy and this does not say that only one woman has felt that way, but tens and hundreds of stories from all over the world have said so, stories posted on sites such as SPACE International. THERE ARE NO SEX WORKERS. Prostituted women are not in a position to choose their own circumstances, they are people on the edge of suicide, they struggle with self-harm for a long time. Besides, dear Amnesty, prostituted women ARE VICTIMS, of their life circumstances, of their past, of their culture, of their families, and of this fucking system that you should be fighting against instead of endorsing! Victims who resist and become survivors!
So I ask you, are you truly convinced that we must not criminalise the “managers”? That is, those who we in Italy call PIMPS? SLAVE-DRIVERS? Dear Amnesty, I want to tell you a story about a “manager” by the name of Marcus, a man of 35 years, a sad, lonely and awful person, with a very dull and problematic life. A cocaine addict of violent consequence. Well, this gentleman who you don’t want to criminalise, had abused a fifteen-year-old for months, in every way you could possibly imagine: verbally, physically and psychologically, while continuing to peacefully manage one of those brothels that you want to protect because PROSTITUTES WOULD BE SAFER… It’s something that doesn’t square with me. If you pay so much attention to the human rights of those who find themselves in prostitution why don’t you use some of your global funding to build houses where women can rebuild their lives without the violence they must pay for housing with by themselves, without the need for someone who manages them in throwing them into the violence of prostitution that you call “work”, the human rights of those who you leave in the hands of profiteers and buyers? Maybe because that owner of the largest escort agency in London had this fantastic idea come into his head? Exploiters and sex-buyers profit from the vulnerability of women who do not know any other way of life, from women who dream of dying because they cannot go through another day of this life. These absolutely low power games do not serve anyone, I believed that an organisation of this level of esteem would have held the RIGHTS of women to heart, an organisation that might have actually looked at reality… and instead as usual we must push a boulder uphill… but we shall not give up, we are survivors, we are warriors.
Listen to survivors!
Translation in English by Jasmine Curcio. Thank you so much sister!!