|Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance1 No Shastitala Road
Watgunge Police Station
Dear Amnesty India,
We are members of the Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance in India. We would like Amnesty International to include our right not to be prostituted in their upcoming resolution. We are from the most marginalized section of society. We are poor, female and low-caste, often from groups labeled as nomadic tribes under British colonialism and from minority religions.
We would like Amnesty to recognize that our prostitution is an absence of choice and not a choice. We request you as Amnesty India to take into account the lived experiences of the most marginalized low-caste and poor women and girls in India who want protection from our exploiters, not their impunity. We want you to call on states to invest in our basic needs. Our basic needs are our “human rights”.
Our prostitution is based on us being the most marginalized and weakest in society -the “last”- due to the fact that we are poor, female, low-caste and teenagers. We are facing the multiple inequalities of class, caste, gender and age. Our rights are violated in every way before we are prostituted and when we are in prostitution.
We are kept out of school, sold into child marriage, domestic servitude and child labour and then finally pimped into prostitution. In prostitution we live in debt bondage, with our debt increasing, not our income as we move into our twenties. We are finally thrown out when we are in our thirties and no longer commercially viable.
Our old pension is disease, trauma and the multiple wounds due to the violence done to our bodies by pimps and clients. The pimps beat us when we say no to standing for long hours on the street, or don’t want additional customers in the same night. The customers are buying violence -they stub cigarette butts out on us, push rods into our bodies, slap us, piss on us, break our arms and punch us.
Amnesty is known for protecting the rights of prisoners. In prostitution, we are imprisoned by pimps and brothel keepers. We are subjected to mental and physical torture. Our mobility is controlled by psychological abuse and brothel managers actually sitting at the door of our brothels to monitor our movements. We cannot even decide when to stand or lie down. We suffer from sleep deprivation.
We are also imprisoned by our debt bondage. Over the years our debts increases and the income earned off our body decreases. We don’t earn an income, we earn disease and trauma. It is the brothel owners and pimps who earn an income from us.
In the guise of protecting our rights from police harassment and detention, your resolution is giving impunity to our prisoners.
You will end up legitimizing our exploitation as work, and give legally acceptable status to those who torture and imprison us. You will also give states the easy way out and an excuse not to invest in ending our marginalization or looking at the violation of our human rights.
As a human rights organization we ask Amnesty the question: Do you stand for the commodification of human beings?
Asma Begum and Salma Ali, co–convenors, Victims of Prostitution and Poverty Alliance, India,
Munshigunge, Kidderpore, India
Education, Advocacy, Mentoring, Organizing
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
How can you, Amnesty International UK, claim that a person of age is able to choose
sex work as a livelihood, and also understand that they are the most marginalized group in the world?
How can the women who are being presently exploited in the commercial sex industry, that are far removed from being organized, and who remain unseen and neglected by the rest of their community, have a voice or be a stake holder when they are consistently ignored? Why are you not seeking out these exploited women? Is it because you do not see them or know they exist? These women walk the streets of my city, as sex buyers seek them out and they seek out sex buyers, in order to meet their basic needs of housing and food, and, for some, support their addiction. They are the ones right at the threshold of trafficking. They are involved in the commercial sex industry, and are being exploited daily, even though they do not meet the legal definition of sex trafficking.
“If you truly understand the marginalization of the majority of those in the commercial sex industry, and how groups that experience the most discrimination and oppression are overrepresented, you would know that calling us “a chosen at will sex worker” is most harmful. Calling this harm a “choice” prevents us from being able to access needed social services such as healthcare, housing, and long-term recovery.” No one recognizes these women, my friends in Boston, in Maine, and in Canada, who don’t fall under the legal definition of “sex trafficking,” but are still facing sexual exploitation, as anything worthy of assistance. They are the least of the least. There is no one trying to provide a service and path for them to exit the street. In the street outreach that I do, I connect with these women who are stuck at least every other day. When I have asked them, “How would you feel if we arrest the sex buyers?” they say, “Don’t arrest them, because I won’t be able to make money if you arrest them.” However, when I have asked them, “If you had another way to live, if you could be provided with everything you need to exit the street, housing, access to recovery, education, and counseling, would you still want to do this?” they say, “No, I would not want to do this anymore, I would want something different.” So, a lot of the perspective depends on how you ask the question. Along with this, it is important to recognize that for most of these women these needed services are completely unavailable, which is why they continue to remain in the commercial sex industry. It’s not a choice, it is a lack of opportunity, a lack of choice. These women are in the commercial sex industry because they are so marginalized, they have no access to anything. These women know these services are unavailable because they do not meet the legal definition of human trafficking, and they’ve told me this. They have no choice. How will legalizing and regulating the commercial sex industry provide these choices and these opportunities to these women? How are you listening to and advocating for these women?
I and my street outreach partner are friends and sisters to the women you are wanting to call “sex worker” with the sex worker definition in the draft of your policy. They are not organized, and not there by their choice, in the sense of what are the choices. I, myself, am a survivor, and like these women, I ended up in the commercial sex industry because I believed I wasn’t worth anything else. I lived out of choices created by outside influences. My family, my community, and my culture groomed me from childhood to believe that this was what I was meant for. Like these other persons, I didn’t choose commercial sex. Society and the systems around mepushed me into it. Legalizing commercial sex and calling it a “choice” ignores these societal, systemic forms of oppression-sexism, racism, economic inequality-that creates and fosters the path into this industry. You list all of these forms of oppression in your draft policy, yet continue to state that commercial sex is a choice for these women. How can this truly be a free choice? Oppression is not a choice.
I am against the criminalization of those being exploited in the commercial sex industry. I am not arguing for the arrest or prosecution of these persons. However, decriminalizing the individuals and systems that are oppressing them-the pimps, traffickers, and sex buyers-will do nothing to help these women, will do nothing to bring systemic change, will do nothing to provide them with justice. The Nordic model which was used in Sweden, which decriminalizes those who are being exploited in the commercial sex industry while still prosecuting those doing the exploitation. The Nordic model provides education to law enforcement about approaching individuals in the commercial sex industry with dignity, justice, and humanity and provides resources and services for these persons to give them more choice. While the Nordic model is not currently in place in Maine, law enforcement here has taken a stand against criminalizing these persons and are actively advocating for them to receive more services and resources. How does legalizing all forms of the commercial sex industry provide more choice and opportunity for these persons than the pre-existing Nordic model does?
Amnesty International is one of the most respected human rights organizations in the entire world. Your decisions about this policy will influence many other important actors in this field for the foreseeable future. This decision will influence policy creation and funding and other resources around the world. I am asking you to remember these women, who, like me, do not have a choice, those whose voice is not heard at the table of these policy discussions. Remember those who are not organized, who do not have advocates, who are being exploited daily, even though they do not fit within the legal definition of sex trafficking. You are speaking for them without recognizing them. I am one of these women, and it has taken years for me to find my way to the table of these policy discussions. I am only just now learning more about your organization, what you do, and the power and influence you have. After years of work and experience, I am still far removed and excluded from discussions at organizations like yours. You will never hear the voices of many of the persons who will be affected by your policies. It is your responsibility to put the needs and perspectives of these persons first in decision making. The voices of these persons may never make it to your policy table. They are the least of the least, unheard and ignored by those in power. Unless you learn who these persons are, what their daily life is, you cannot be inclusive in your decision making. You are excluding their voices and perspectives from the table. If you knew who these persons were, you would not adopt this policy and call their oppression a “choice.”
I’m sure the stakeholders that I know stuck on the street engaged in turning car tricks and trick houses here in Maine, Boston and Canada WERE NOT a part of your SOLID RESEARCH and consultation.
OPPRESSION IS NOT A CHOICE
a grass roots organization
educating advocating mentoring organizing
for systemic change for sexually exploited prostituted
victims and survivors