Is ‘Sex Work’ a Human Right?
At Amnesty International’s International Conference Meeting (ICM) in Dublin this month delegates will debate the proposition that there is a human right to engage in prostitution, or “sex work”.
Amnesty International has previously called for decriminalisation of prostitution and has asserted that sex workers face various forms of discrimination from the State and stigmatisation by society because of the illegality of their work.
The authors of the ICM proposal are at pains to highlight differences between ‘sex work’ – i.e., the consensual, contractual sale of sexual services – , and human trafficking or sexual slavery. Children and minors, says the proposal, cannot be considered capable of ‘agency’ in sex work such that even consensual engagement in these activities would be in violation of their rights.
Generally, the proposal is animated by an increase in personal autonomy that acknowledging this right would supposedly bring and by a desire to reduce harm done to people, some of whom are sex workers. In itself this is perfectly sensible but in this case the means chosen are seriously counter-productive.
If indeed there exists a right for autonomous individuals to engage in sex work then this must extend to married fathers and mothers. But it is difficult to see how such a right would amount to anything beyond trivialisation of the very act that consummated their marriage and brought their children into being. Sex acts would be, for them, a commodity they sell and their families would have to accept that the father or mother had chosen to turn his/her body into a product.
Insofar as married fathers and mothers have a right to engage in sex work so, too, must they have a right to coerce children and spouse into accepting their decision, even though it would very likely lead to the breakdown of their family.
What then of a human ‘right to a family life’? In suggesting that Amnesty International take up the cause for a ‘right’ to be a sex worker the authors of this proposal are simultaneously arguing that parents have a right to destroy their own families.