AI “sex worker” policy & the U.S. State Department TIP Report Messed with Women’s Truth—Big Time!

By Jeanne Sarson | Sep 25, 2015



The Amnesty International’s draft policy passed a resolution on “sex work”.  In effect, legitimatizing prostitution as the work of women and I will also add of girls because most women who are in prostitution suffered various forms of sexualized victimization as children that led to involvement in prostitution.  The next step is deciding to vote the “sex work” resolution into policy.  The documentaryPornography of Andrea Dworkin’s interviews with women provides an example of the devastative consequences of repetitive childhood sexualized victimization and traumatisation that leads women into other forms of exploitation such as prostitution and dehumanizing pornography.  Viewing this 1991 documentary could not possibly have been included in the research Amnesty International (AI) said it did prior to formulating its draft policy on “sex work”. 

Linda and I have had intermittent contact with AI over the years, trying to understand their position on non-State torture.  In mid-summer of 2010, we emailed AI about concerns that mixed messages were being delivered in readings associated with its “Stop Violence against Women Campaign 2004-2010.  These concerns were based on the disquieting sense that the human right crime of torture was only being recognized by AI as a human rights violation if the acts of torture were perpetrated by the State or officials of the State such as police or military personnel.  Such a perspective is shockingly laced with the unconscionable position of violating articles 2 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Such a position is, from Linda's and my perspective, misogynistic and misopedic; it is discriminatory; it denies that women and girls suffer non-State torture victimization and traumatisation in the private or domestic sphere.   

In a June 10, 2010 paper by Ms. Gromley, of AI, presented at a meeting held by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences that focussed discussion on reparations for violence against women, she made these two critical points:  

  1. “To look at women’s experience of violence from their point of view” and

  2. “To hear women assess what they need.”

These are essential statements that support listening to women’s truth-telling and dignity.  However, when the opposite practice occurs, when knowledge of non-State torture ordeals voiced by women are discriminately denied and misnamed as an assault for instance, woman’s emotional feelings of exclusion can occur as shared in this woman’s comment: 

I feel very alienated indeed when I look at how they [Amnesty International] recognise state torture but ignore that women and girls are tortured at home and other places” (November 22, 2010).

Knowing that AI was voting on their “sex work” resolution, Linda and I specifically emailed AI Canada a letter repeating that AI needed to consider that non-State torture is perpetrated against women who are in prostitution.  The reality of the risk for or withstanding non-State torture poses life-threatening ordeals for women in prostitution does not appear to have influenced AI’s decision-making.     


One day, I came across an U.S. State Department notice, dated December 16, 2014, titled, Request for Information for the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report”.  Reading this request for information I saw it as an ideal opportunity to expose CANADA as a country in which women, when as young as toddlers, could suffer sexualized non-State torture plus be trafficked, pimped, and prostituted by parent(s), and other like-minded family members and friends.  I saw this as an opportunity to expose that our government keeps this specific population of trafficked persons invisibilized socially and legally by refusing to distinctly criminalize torture perpetrated by private individuals or groups.  The Criminal Code of Canada, and similarly in other countries, remains discriminatory in that only State actors—police or military personal—can be charged for torture under section 269.1.  It affords impunity that perpetrators will never be held to account for torturing.  So I risked some hopefulness and submitted, on January 5, 2015, My report—13 pages in all.  I received acknowledgement for my “thoughtful submission!” from the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. 

Knowing the TIP Report is generally released the end of June, Linda and I started checking daily, even several times a day, hoping for the inclusion of even one sentence identifying the reality that children and women who are trafficked can suffer non-State torture.  We were only hoping for one sentence! 

July came.  Day after day passed and no report.  Then suddenly, as I was sitting at my kitchen table, the Secretary of State John Kerry appeared on the Canadian TV news.  He was speaking about the release of the Trafficking in Persons Report 2015.  In his written Remarks at the 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report Ceremony  he made the following points about the U.S. TIP Report:

  1. That the purpose of this document . . . . is to enlighten and to energize, and most importantly, to empower people;

  2. To provide a strong incentive for governments at every level to do all that they can to prosecute trafficking and to shield at-risk populations;

  3. That Governments need to strengthen and enforce the laws that they have on the books and prosecutors must take pride in turning today’s traffickers into tomorrow’s prisoners; and

  4. The report is important because it really is one of the best means that we have as individuals to speak up for adults and children who lack any effective platform whatsoever through which they are able to speak for themselves. Because of its credibility, this report is also a source of validation and inspiration to activists on every single continent who are striving to end this scourge of modern slavery.

In a flurry Linda and I flipped through the 2015 TIP Report, seeking out Canada, hoping for the one sentence that would speak the truth that women and girls trafficked do endure non-State torture.  Line after line we searched—nothing.  Absolutely nothing!  So did the TIP Report as John Kerry said enlighten, energize, and empower Linda and me?  Absolutely not!  Did the TIP Report hold Canada accountable “to shield at-risk populations” that I had described in my submitted report?  Absolutely not!  Did the TIP Report suggest to Canada that it strengthen its law on torture?  Absolutely not!  Did the TIP Report turn out to be “one of the best means” to speak out about the women and children so harmed who are persistently ignored, silenced, and invisibilized?  Absolutely not!  Just imagine what a woman who had survived non-State torture and who had been trafficked would feel like if she had submitted her-story and been ignored.  So, yes, Linda and I get angry.  Now I wonder if the “thoughtful submission!” comment sent to me by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons was just to placate me. 

Have Linda and I found the 2015 TIP Report to have credibility, to be validating, or provide inspiration—absolutely not!  In Szep’s and Spetainick’s watered down articlethey mentioned that, “some say the perceived hit to the integrity of the 2015 [TIP] report could do lasting damage”.  This represents Linda and my present discussion—we now seriously question the integrity and the validity of the TIP Report.  It raises concrete questions of whether the TIP Report is truthfully portraying the global reality of human trafficking, especially non-State torture victimization perpetrated on the lives of trafficked women and girls globally.  In fact, exclusion of all information I forwarded to the U.S. State Department feels like and is a betrayal.  


The conclusion can only be that both patriarchal structures—Amnesty International and the U.S. Department of State working on the TIP Report have seriously messed with women’s truth—big time!  I’m speaking of the repetitive and wilful invisibilization of the non-State torture suffered by women and girls who are in prostitution and or trafficked.  Emotionally I feel betrayed, disappointment, and disgusted; emotions all frosted with anger.  This is 2015.  How long will it take for structures such as Amnesty International and the U.S. State Department to end misopedic and misogynistic status quo thinking and clearly name and acknowledge that the human right not to be subjected to torture perpetrated by non-State actors is without question a human right that belongs to women and girls?  How long?


Comments Archive

Posted by Shahidah Janjua on Sep 29th, 2015

Thank you so much for your invaluable work and your article.  It clearly illuminates AI's betrayal of women, which is as I understood it when they voted in their decriminilisation of pimps and johns policy in Dublin.  My partner and I had developed a board game called 'Democray' a few years ago, and were proud at that time to have it included in AI's catalogue.  Since their betrayal of women we have withdrawn the game from their catalogue, accompanied by a strong letter of objection and condemnation of their new policy which continues and compounds the violence and harm done to women. My understanding is that the reality of women's subjection to violence and torture, as you so rightly put it, and how this works, is not new to AI.  They have heard reports of it from survivors all over the world.  Therefore their starting point is not ignorance of the issues, nor of naivete.  They are experienced campaigners, which makes their new policy all the more misogynistic in its denial of the human rights of women and indeed the silencing of women. AI claimed to have consulted with various women's organisations prior to formulating the policy.  One of the organisations they mentioned is SPACE International whose founder member is Rachel Moran from Dublin.  She is the Author of 'Paid For', which details her years in prostitution and offers an excellent Feminist analysis of Prostitution.  Neither Rachel nor any other member of SPACE Int. was approached by AI.  Rachel has since invited AI to publicly debate the issue of Prostitution and AI's poicy, which they have refused to do. No doubt you are aware that AI UK have been advised by the biggest brothel owner and pimp in the north of England.  Julie Bindel an acclaimed Feminist journalist whom you may know, uncovered this fact two years ago. Cricism and condemnation of AI grows daily.  Even if they do not abandon this misogynist policy they have certainly exposed themselves for what they are, a patriarchal, misogynist institution. I look forawrd to reading about your continuing good work. With Thanks and in sisterhood, Shahidah Janjua

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