Amnesty International, one of the most powerful forces in human rights protection, has just issued a proposal to decriminalize sex work and, predictably, it has been met with opposition. But fear not: learned gender studies scholars like Anne Hathaway, Emily Blunt, and Kevin Kline are here to tell you that it’s a bad idea.
Historically, Amnesty International and Hollywood have enjoyed a “cozy alignment,” but with a large swath of celebrities petitioning against the proposal—remember when Anne Hathaway played a prostitute?—the relationship has deteriorated.
Amnesty proposes that “consensual sexual conduct between adults—which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence—is entitled to protection from state interference.” As long as sex work is illegal, those in the industry remain vulnerable to a host of abuses. In New York City, violence against sex workers often goes unreported. “Suspected sex workers” in Los Angeles can be arrested simply for carrying condoms. The Hollywood Reporter also notes an especially brutal case in Papua New Guinea, where “workers at a brothel were viciously beaten and then publicly humiliated, paraded down the street by local law enforcement.”
But here’s the thing, guys: Amnesty International has probably not contemplated this issue with the careful discernment of, say, Lena Dunham or Kate Winslet. We need them to guide us as we come to our own conclusions. You could read Amnesty’s proposal, available here, but isn’t it more compelling to know that celebrities like Anne Hathaway—you know, she won an Oscar for that role—are voicing their disagreement?
To be fair, 400 individuals and organizations are protesting this proposal, not just celebrities. A collective letter to Amnesty International proclaims, “[We are] deeply troubled by Amnesty’s proposal to adopt a policy that calls for the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex — the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry.”
Now, you might ask, what about the sex workers themselves? Well, should decriminalization be instated they will be subject to “a system of gender apartheid...[in which women] whose lives are shaped by absence of choice are...set apart for consumption by men and for the profit of their pimps, traffickers and brothel owners.” In addition to those celebrities mentioned above, the letter received signatures from Allison Williams, Lisa Kudrow, Chris Cooper, Christine Baranski, Angela Bassett, Leila Ali, Marcia Gay Harden, Emma Thompson, and Meryl Streep.
The demands, hazards, and larger experience of sex work of course shift and vary across cultures, and decriminalization will require thorough and methodical planning. But as debates brew, we can take comfort in the A-listers who raise their voices, shepherding us dewy-eyed lambs to the light of knowledge.
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