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Icelandic Opposition Towards Amnesty’s Sex Trade Decriminalization

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Icelandic Opposition Towards Amnesty’s Sex Trade Decriminalization

Photo: Páll Stefánsson.

Seven Icelandic women’s organizations issued a joint statement expressing disapproval of human rights group Amnesty International’s proposed policy on the decriminalization of sex work last week, echoing concerns from other rights groups around the world.

The Left Greens political party in Iceland was also outspoken in their disapproval of the policy.

Earlier today, Amnesty International approved its controversial policy at the International Council Meeting of Amnesty International in Dublin, Ireland, rejecting the international concerns. Amnesty’s decision is important because it will lobby governments to accept its point of view, ABC reports.

Amnesty International reasons that the buying and selling of sex should be decriminalized, as well as the intermediation of prostitution, i.e. pimping and brothels. The organization claims that this will protect the human rights of those involved in prostitution.

The seven Icelandic women’s groups to release the statement last week, however, disagree. “Prostitution is abuse, and the selling of people is not consistent with our definition of human rights. Furthermore, it is impossible to clearly separate prostitution from human trafficking. The buyer of prostitution has no way of knowing whether the sex s/he is buying is provided by someone who is doing this of their own free will, or whether that person is a victim of human trafficking. If Amnesty International is serious about eradicating human trafficking, they need to realize that this can only be accomplished by eradicating the demand for prostitution. At the same time, we need to provide institutional resources and social support for those who engage in prostitution and want out,” the statement reads in part.

The Icelandic organizations point out that different countries have dealt with prostitution in different ways and argue that where prostitution has been legalized, in Germany and the Netherlands, for example, the sex industry is booming and human trafficking is thriving under the shelter of legalization and that “pimps, brothel owners and buyers of prostitution are now considered respectable businessmen and customers.”

Where the purchase of sex has been criminalized, they argue, research indicates that prostitution has decreased. In Norway, it has decreased by 25 percent since 2009, when the country passed legislation criminalizing the purchase of sex, the statement reads. Iceland passed similar legislation the same year while Sweden did so in 1999. Canada and Northern Ireland have also implemented similar legislation. In 2014, European Parliament’s Committee on Women Rights and Gender Equality reviewed various legislations that have been used to combat prostitution and human trafficking, and, subsequently, the European Parliament passed a resolution recommending that the member countries of the European Union enact the ‘Nordic model’ of criminalizing the purchase of sex.

The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women has also argued that while it agrees with Amnesty that those who are prostituted should not be criminalized, full de-criminalization would make pimps "businesspeople" who could sell the vulnerable with impunity.

In its statement today, Amnesty said, in part: “The research and consultation carried out in the development of this policy in the past two years concluded that this was the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face. The violations that sex workers can be exposed to include physical and sexual violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extortion and harassment, human trafficking, forced HIV testing and medical interventions. They can also be excluded from health care and housing services and other social and legal protection.”

The seven Icelandic organizations are Femínistafélag Íslands – the Feminist Association of Iceland, Kvenfélagasamband Íslands – the Federation of Icelandic Women‘s Societies, Kvennaathvarfið – the Women‘s Shelter, Kvennaráðgjöfin – the Women‘s Counseling, Kvenréttindafélag Íslands – the Icelandic Women‘s Rights Association, Stígamót – Education and Counseling Center for Survivors of Sexual Abuse and Violence, and W.O.M.E.N. in Iceland – Women Of Multicultural Ethnicity Network in Iceland.

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