Owen Lloyd: Rape is Not a Human Right

By Owen Lloyd / Deep Green Resistance News Service

Dear Amnesty International,

As the world’s largest human rights organization [1], you can’t claim ignorance of the figures. Let’s review a few of them.

Researchers, interviewing 854 prostituted people in 9 countries, the vast majority of them women [2], found that:

  • 89% wanted out but had no other options for survival
  • 71% were physically assaulted by pimps or johns
  • 63% were raped by pimps or johns
  • 75% had experienced homelessness
  • 68% met diagnostic criteria for PTSD

If anything these figures must be regarded as conservative, for as one prostitution survivor has said, “There’s a protective denial. You have to convince yourself and everyone around you that it’s great. You tell the lie– ‘I like it’– so much that you believe it yourself. You make it OK by saying, ‘I haven’t been beat up today. I haven’t lost all my money today.’ Women have to justify it: they can’t tell themselves or anyone else the reality of it or else they’d die.” [3]

You claim prostitution is “work”, but would you tolerate figures like these coming from any other industry? Would you tolerate these figures from sweatshop laborers? Would you tolerate them from IBM or Target or Nestle? Of course not. The difference, as you point out in a repulsive footnote is that:

Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfill that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health. [4]

This is nothing more than a carefully worded defense of rape as a human right. The first line translates to “Men need to fuck women.” The second line translates to “If women won’t let men fuck them, men have the right to coerce them to.” Under no circumstance is rape a human right. This is as true when men use economic force as when they use physical force.

You seem to believe that legalization will make the problems of underground prostitution disappear. But the situation for women is no better where brothel prostitution is legal. In Germany, 59% of respondents said legalization made them no safer from rape and physical assault. [2] In several of Nevada’s legal brothels, women are “allowed” to leave the brothel for only four hours a week; for the remaining 164, they are expected to be available for sexual use by johns on demand. At another, women are not allowed to own cars. The johns are untested for venereal disease, but the women are; if she tests positive for HIV, she is fired. If she continues to solicit she is charged for attempted murder, while no law restricts an HIV-infected john from paying to abuse women. In legal brothels from Nevada to the Netherlands, pimps literally brand women with tattoos marking them as property. [3] [5]

And surely you must hear the voices of the women you work with. Voices like the Canadian woman who told researchers that “What rape is to others, is normal to us.” Or the woman who said that “I feel like I imagine people who were in concentration camps feel when they get out… it’s a real deep pain, an assault to my mind, my body, my dignity as a human being. I feel like what was taken away from me in prostitution is irretrievable.” [2] Or the Nevada brothel survivor who, asked to describe her experience, said “The first words that come to mind are: degraded, dehumanized, used, victim, ashamed, humiliated, embarrassed, insulted, slave, rape, violated.” Or another who said, “It’s like you sign a contract to be raped.” [3]

Have you not heard the voices of women of color who have spoken about the connections between prostitution and racism? For instance, the indigenous woman who was told by a john: “I thought we killed all of you.” [6] Or Sarah Mah, who has pointed out the vast overrepresentation of people of color within prostitution. [7] Or Fatima Nat Dhuniya, the trafficking survivor, who has declared that “As long as there is a buyer, the prostitution system can never be dismantled.” Or Cherry Smiley (Nlaka’pamux/Dine’), who told the UN that prostitution is a “system of colonization” and rejected the term “sex worker” in favor of “prostituted women”, because that term “recognizes the forces like colonization, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism that are funneling women into prostitution.” [8]

If you can’t hear the women, maybe you can at least hear the men who use them? For instance the john who said “Guys get off on controlling women, they use physical power to control women, really. If you look at it, it’s paid rape. You’re making them subservient during that time, so you’re the dominant person. She has to do what you want.” Or the one who said “Prostitution says that women have less value than men.” Or another who told a woman, “I paid for this. You have no rights. You’re with me now.” [3] If even johns can admit they are rapists, then why is it so hard for you to do the same? Far from calling them the perpetrators of a human rights violation, you have claimed them as victims.

While you qualify your support for prostitution with the condition that “no coercion, threats or violence [are] associated with those acts”, if you took this condition to heart you would be able to recognize that prostitution is everywhere dependent on exactly these things. That prostitution is a coercive institution in particular should be obvious, for the simple fact that women are bribed into participating in it. Melissa Farley has compared this economic dependency to the situation of battered women:

For many reasons people may ‘choose’ what is deeply harmful to themselves, sometimes because they’ve grown up seeing themselves in a limited or damaged way. Because they had no alternatives, battered women for many years were assumed to be freely choosing to return to violent partners when in fact they were terrorized into returning under conditions of restricted economic resources. [3]

This economic coercion is further exacerbated by drug addiction: one study found that 78% of women began using crack cocaine while involved with prostitution, and 84% were high more than half the time they were soliciting. [9] Drug addiction is known to be “a common tactic used by pimps and traffickers to control prostitutes”. [1] That a small minority of women would choose to stay in the industry does nothing to negate the fact that most do not have the means to escape. Your advocacy of a world where men can prostitute women without “threats or violence” is a fantasy. To quote Melissa Farley again:

Pimps themselves certainly don’t believe the bogus myth that prostitution is a job choice which is why they find it necessary to employ extreme tactics to deceive, entrap, overpower, and brainwash women. Like military torturers, pimps use forced impossible choices as a way of driving people to hopeless despair. Women are told to choose between harming another person and being beaten up herself. They are pressured to consent to prostitution or their family members will be harmed.

Prostitution is also dependent on the trafficking of children. The average age of recruitment into prostitution in the United States is 13 to 14 years old. [2] According to UNICEF, there are more than 250,000 prostituted children in Brazil, a country where prostitution is legal. Some of these children are no more than seven years old. [10] Less than two years ago, when the Supreme Court of Brazil acquitted a man who raped three 12-year old girls with the claim that they were “sex workers”, you put out a press release calling the decision “outrageous” and “a green light to rapists”. [11] Today, it seems, you have inched closer to declaring it a “human right”.

In your draft document you ruled out the possibility of the Nordic model, under which punishment would be reserved for pimps, madams, and johns, and not applied against women who are prostituted. As stated earlier, you have based this position on an apparent concern for men’s “human right” to sexually access and exploit women. This is an assessment that you may want to reconsider. That is, if you hope to retain any part of your image as an organization dedicated to social justice and the survival rights of women and other oppressed groups, rather than as another front group for pimps, johns, and the sex industry.


[1] http://gladstone.uoregon.edu/~amnesty/amnesty_what.html
[2] http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/pdf/Prostitutionin9Countries.pdf
[3] Melissa Farley, Prostitution & Trafficking in Nevada: Making the Connections
[4] http://www.scribd.com/doc/202126121/Amnesty-Prostitution-Policy-document
[5] Sheila Jeffreys, The Industrial Vagina
[6] http://www.prostitutionresearch.com/Garden_of_Truth_The%20Prostitution%20and%20Trafficking%20of%20Native%20Women.pdf
[7] http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2014/01/08/sarah-m-mah-help-prostitutes-by-fighting-racism/
[8] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZ_v_XkzoW8
[9] Margaret A. Baldwin, “Living in Longing: Prostitution, Trauma Recovery, and Public Assistance” in Melissa Farley, ed., Prostitution, Trafficking, and Traumatic Stress
[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-10764371
[11] http://amnesty.org/en/news/brazil-outrageous-supreme-court-ruling-gives-green-light-rapists-2012-04-02

An Italian translation of this article is available here: http://ilricciocornoschiattoso.wordpress.com/2014/02/25/lo-stupro-non-e-un-diritto-umano/

20 thoughts on “Owen Lloyd: Rape is Not a Human Right”

  1. Good article here. The Amnesty Internationals stand on prostitution is mindboggling.
    And here in Sweden, where the nordic model is in place (and working very well I might add), the local branch of Amnesty don’t know which leg to stand on.

  2. The author clearly has a personal issue with prostitution and does not give their own viewpoint before making the link between Rape, Human Rights, and Amnesty International.

    The reason for this is because the author wants to intentionally make the link between rape, prostitution, and Amnesty International.

    Not to help inform the readers, but as a way to deface Amnesty International by lying about how Amnesty International supports rape. And Amnesty International supports the decriminalization of prostitution, not raping people — all clearly stated in their policy regarding prostitution. But, unfortunately for DGR readers the author has not taken the time to read their own resource — how disgraceful.

    1. As long as Johns are not criminalized Amnesty International has not changed anything more than to human trafficking groups and pimps to easier get money off women bodies.

    2. Hi royerj101, we do appreciate the good work that Amnesty has done, and that is one reason we are so concerned by this course misdirection. Obviously we know that Amnesty continues to stand against physically-forced rape, but we believe that prostitution is a form of economically-forced rape, and to defend men’s right to force sex from women economically as a “human right” is a repulsive decision that must be reversed.

  3. Thank you DGR for your concerns. However, you still have not acknowledged how Amnesty International does not support rape in any form. In their referenced document it clearly states how women have to resort to prostitution because of socio-economic conditions. And Amnesty International understands this and does not support such heinous acts of exploitation.

    But, once again there is a consistent misunderstanding between DGR, the author and Amnesty International’s principles that is seving as nothing more than a distraction. Is that what your organization is about? Criminalizing Human Right advocators as a distraction for people?

    The only link between Amnesty International and prostitution is the fact that they do not support throwing prostitutes in jail because it ends up being another form of toture and inhumane treatment. A proven, far worse condition than working the streets. And DGR and the author does not talk about jails along with the abuses women face while institutionalized at all, how shameful.

    1. Hi royerj101, yes, Amnesty claims to support women who are forced into prostitution as a result of economic duress. But in the end these nice words are nothing more than nice words, because they do not offer any policy suggestions in which that would be possible. Every country that has legalized prostitution on both the supply and demand side has resulted in more rather than less exploitation of marginalized women. Amnesty does not attempt to address this: rather they combine a policy suggestion with impossibly idealistic statement totally incompatible with it. In the end it is the policy, not the vision of a world without sexual exploitation, that matters in the real world. The only known way to reduce the exploitation of women by johns is the Nordic model, where soliciting prostitution is decriminalized and engaging in pimping or purchasing of women is a criminal act. The ONLY REASON given by Amnesty for rejecting the Nordic Model is that it would “deprive” men who cannot obtain sex in the “traditionally recognized means” to sexually access women through sexual bribery, and frame men’s access of women’s bodies as a “human right”. We find this position disgusting and disagree fervently. We hope with this note to encourage Amnesty to select policy decisions focused on those most marginalized in society– poor women of color– rather than on the supposed “human rights” of predatory men of means.

  4. That is not their stance at all. Everything you said with respect to promoting prostitution as a way to enable men to have sex is a complete lie. And since you have not bothered to answer any of my questions — that means you do not recognize the inconsistencies and perpetual nonsense of linking Amnesty to prostitution advocacy along with rape as a Human Right. I already reported you to Amnesty USA and will continue to take action.

  5. It’s really very difficult to know where to begin with this article, though the answer to the question it poses is very simple. Amnesty International have opposed the ‘Swedish model’ (and yes – it IS okay to tell a country they are ‘wrong’ when they are demonstrably harming women) because they care about the human rights of women. All women.

    Quite why people who profess to care about women seem so doggedly determined to frame this argument in terms of ‘john rights’ I don’t know. But given the roll call of radical feminist fanatics in the bibliography, I can sure make a pretty decent guess.

    Perhaps one day people will be more interested in doing good, rather than in simply *appearing* to *want* to do good. I shan’t hold my breath though.

  6. Want to let you all that is non-european citizens know that the European Parlament voted in favour of laws to criminalise purchase of sex & decriminalise sale of sex. 343 for – 139 against.

  7. Amnesty is a membership organization and this is a submission for comment sent out to all countries with active members. Nothing has been decided yet. Let us work for making the votes go in the right direction in 2015!

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