Amnesty International, branches and hookers – UPDATED

Updates: the Facebook page I mention and link to in this entry was removed on June 1, 2013, most probably through the actions taken by Amnesty International UK/ Scotland: it’s highly unlikely that Paisley Branch removed the page that advertised their anti-prostitution campaign on 3 June just because they suddenly changed their mind. This shows that occasionally the joint voices of sex workers and their allies can and do change the course of events. We are grateful to everyone who took part in this.

Right, as most of you know by now, Rhoda Grant published the results of her consultation. Many interesting submissions there. I’ll concentrate on just one, the submission by Amnesty International Paisley Branch here. Amnesty International Paisley Branch support Rhoda Grant in her noble crusade and provide us with their view on prostitution based on their experience of one female ex-sex worker whom only one member of the Branch met personally.

The issue I have here is not that Amnesty International supported the proposed legislation. They didn’t. In fact, they are now emphatically denying any connection with the consultation or this submission. Here, for example. And here. As an organisation they have the right to have a policy on sex work and act according to this policy. Or not have such a policy and not act, which is the case. Fine by me. Paisley Branch submitted their response independently of the main body of the organisation and they stated right at the beginning that “this response does not reflect the policy of Amnesty International UK”. This I have trouble with. If you’re submitting a formal response to an official body and the views in that response do not represent the views of the organisation on whose behalf you’re responding, then maybe you shouldn’t be responding on behalf of that organisation. Maybe you should be responding in personal capacity. Maybe you shouldn’t be trying to pass your personal opinion as unofficially endorsed by an internationally recognised organisation.

And there’s more. Let’s read this submission beyond the first 2 sentences. Page 1:

One of our members works in a prison with women offenders and she relates to a conversation she had…

Considering that this response came from an organisation, it looks like the whole organisation consists of a bunch of rumourmongers and their cats who gather twice a week on a bench in the local park. But let’s read on:

… a conversation she had with a young woman who had experienced prostitution of her own volition. The young woman was adamant that she was not a victim and that it had been her choice. Without wishing to patronise her in any way, her forearms were covered in so many scars it was impossible to see any unmarked flesh. To those of us who have been fortunate to have had a (fairly) stable childhood, where abuse has not damaged our understanding of bodily boundaries, her defence of ‘not being a victim’ has a hollow ring.

These lines are so wrong on so many levels it’s hard to choose where to start. So, we have a young woman in prison. She admits (to one person, as far as we know) to have been a sex worker and to have entered sex work of her own volition (and then this one person goes and tells this to everyone on the bench who wants to listen. And then the bench people make it public in writing, under the words “Amnesty International”). But when this story is passed around, they literally objectify this woman. They reduce her, her integrity and her experience of her own life to her appearance and the fact that she was a hooker. She was adamant that she was not a victim but who cares? She clearly was because – scars. The list of assumptions here:

  1. The scars are the result of self-harm.
  2. Self-harm is the result of prostitution.
  3. Involvement in prostitution is the result of childhood abuse.

Without wishing to patronise her in any way? Seriously? Amnesty International Paisley Branch robbed this young woman of her agency, re-invented her experience of her life and started shouting on her behalf over her head. And all because her bodily boundaries seemed to be different to their idea of the right type of bodily boundaries that decent people should have. Which means she doesn’t know what’s best for her. Somebody! Quick! Look up the definition of “patronise”!

And last, but just as important one – “her defence of not being a victim”. Why do we sex workers always have to defend ourselves to avoid being made victims to avoid having to be saved? I don’t know how to put it better, but actually we were having a fab day until you came to save us! The young woman in question was in prison! Whom do they think she was trying to “defend” herself from? Her imaginary pimps? Because of course they will kidnap her from prison and force her into voluntary prostitution again, right? Or from the opinion of some bigoted, er, malicious woman? Maybe she was simply telling her life story to someone she thought she could trust, but there you go. If you end up in prison, don’t talk to strangers who tell you they represent Amnesty International. Especially Paisley Branch.

This submission provides endless material for desperation. Paisley Branch even mention SCOT-PEP in a way that makes you think of dirty old men and coercion. Just take my word for it, the remaining 6 pages won’t put a smile on your face. But if you’re still curious, here’s another blog on this submission by a Glasgow lady.

Amnesty International did not respond to the consultation and I’m sure they aren’t proud to have their name attached to the document that shows such humane attitude towards one young woman. But the harm is done. To the young woman in prison. To many other young women who have scars on their forearms. To Amnesty International. To sex workers in Scotland. Because you can imagine the juicy joy of Rhoda Grant each time she now says “Oh, but Amnesty International supports my Bill!” In the main body of her consultation summary Amnesty International is mentioned 7 times, quoted 6 times. In 2 of the quotes the identifier “Paisley Branch” is omitted – in paragraphs 100 and 147. And even if it weren’t. How often, when you see words “Amnesty International Paisley Branch”, do you consciously think “no, this isn’t the organisation, it’s the bench people with cats”? I’d be fecking mad if I were a decent representative of AI.

And there’s more good news! Amnesty International Paisley Branch now campaign against prostitution. No, of course they don’t say it in so many words. They call it campaign to get people to talk to their MSPs with the view to support the Bill to criminalise purchase of sex; the Bill that Amnesty International did not support because HUMAN TRAFFICKING IS NOT THE FOCUS OF THIS PROPOSED LEGISLATION (par.22 of the consultation), PROSTITUTION IS. And prostitution is something that Amnesty International have no opinion about. But Paisley Branch believes that human trafficking is “inextricably connected” with prostitution, therefore they need to “shut up shop in Scotland”. Here, you can like them on Facebook!

And in case you’re wondering how this happened, here’s the story of how the bunch of bench people with cats seem to be on very friendly terms with no-one less than Trish Godman herself, with active help by Jan Macleod, Gunilla Eckberg (gasp!) and the rest of sing-along anti-hooker front heroes: “the Paisley group were heartened to see the acknowledgement of the link between human trafficking and prostitution”. Amnesty International should watch their branches better. Even a small rotten one can damage the whole tree.


This article doesn’t make any sense at all.

It would be interesting to learn why the author of this article seems thinks there’s no connection between childhood sexual abuse and a later involvement in prostitution. In fact, many female prostitutes – although certainly not all – had indeed been sexually molested as children. To deny this is unrealistic, as is the unusual claim that literally all female prostitutes had experienced blissfully happy childhoods all of the time.

How illogical for some of these so-called “sex positive movement” activists to exclaim, “Well, no one molested *me* when *I* was a little kid; therefore, no female prostitutes have ever been molested!” Well, bully for you, but the fact remains all too many female prostitutes had indeed been molested when they were children.

It’s weird to claim that just because you had never been molested as a little kid, therefore no female prostitutes have ever been molested when they were children.


Hello Marie,

Thank you for your comment, I’m glad to have a woman’s voice here, it doesn’t happen too often. I’m sorry you feel that this entry makes no sense at all. This is probably because it is about unscrupulous people and politicians who use big names for their own purposes, not about child molestation.

I will be happy to engage with you on the question of connection between childhood sexual abuse and later involvement in prostitution if you can pinpoint that place in my blog where I claim that
1. I have never been molested as a little kid, and
2. No female prostitute has ever been molested when they were children, or
3. Anything else that you claim I wrote.

the author of this article.

Sarah Woolley

Hi Marie, found your comment interesting. Much of the decrim activists are trying to discuss mental health problems and history of child abuse in sex workers but it’s often used to silence the community with “well that’s how you got that way” and I thought this article, on a SW platform may interest you

It looks at abuse rates in general and the motivations behind focusing on sex work.

I agree we shouldn’t white wash it but it’s still very hard for a marginalised group to discuss it.


Marie, research shows that there is no known connection between childhood abuse and later involvement in sex work. The rates of childhood abuse amongst sex workers are not higher than in the general population. Simply put: it’s a myth.


Not so. Through my own experiences as a street prostitute for OVER FIVE YEARS – as well as my discussions with other women in the life who were forthcoming about their childhood experiences as victims of sexual molestation, there is an obvious correlation between childhood sexual molestation and prostitution. Interestingly, street prostitutes are more willing to discuss this than call girls.

Look, discussion of the sexual molestation of children is extremely disturbing, which is why so many people want to either minimize it or even dismiss it as fake – which only exacerbates the problem of incest and other forms of child sexual abuse.

I know for a fact you won’t want to read this due to your illusions that 100% of all children experienced a perfect and blissful childhood 100% of the time, but here it is:

How sad that you want to negate the very real situation that many young girls have been abused, sexually as well as in other ways, which has impelled them into a life of prostitution.

[Paragraph redacted by Jewel as irrelevant to the topic of child abuse which is irrelevant to the actual topic of the blog]


Right, people, this is MY blog and I want to make it clear that I will delete any further comment that deals with childhood abuse as irrelevant to my blog as a whole and this entry in particular. If this is what you want to discuss, there are plenty of virtual spaces on Internet where people will be interested, so go there.
And regardless how I may feel about Marie’s personal experiences, the only further comment by her that I will agree to publish is the one that says
1. I’ve just realised I put my comment on the wrong blog and forgot to read the responses from other readers, OR
2. Here is a study that ISN’T 30 years old, ISN’T conducted in a country where prostitution is criminalised, ISN’T focussed on the two most disadvantaged and stigmatised small subgroups of all sex workers, COMPARES its findings to the rates of childhood abuse in nurses, prison inmates, psychotherapists and church goers AND STILL PROVES that if you were abused in childhood, there’s a 60% chance that you’ll become a prostitute.
Oh, and just to be clear: I’m closing this discussion not because it is “extremely disturbing” but because it’s disturbingly irrelevant and does not fit my marketing needs. Marie’s words that just because something applies to you doesn’t mean it applies to everyone are relevant to Marie herself.


Marie, most of what you read about prostitutes/harlots/whores in the mainstream media is myth. Look at some of the sex worker blogs on the right for a more balanced view.



What can I say other than fantastic post, you hit the nail right on the head they just don’t like it when “the likes of us” know what we are talking about and we are in fact educated and intelligent people.

Good for you, I’m right behind you (if you need me)

Ps. Independent escort loving my job x

The Paisley Amnesty submission, and everything that’s wrong with everything. | A Glasgow Sex Worker

[…] Yesterday, Rhoda Grant published the responses to her consultation on the issue of whether to criminalise the clients of sex workers. The response from the Paisley branch of Amnesty international was a real stunner. (Thanks to Nine for drawing my – and everyone elses’, I think – attention to it. Jem blogged about this here. Jewel wrote about this – super-hilariously – here.) […]

Matthias Lehmann

It’s an old story now, but I had my own little run-in with a human rights activist from New Zealand who still is the coordinator of Amnesty G48, an official chapter of Amnesty International in South Korea. He, too, seemed unaware that AI has no policy on sex work. Instead, he admonished me – to put it mildly – for daring to question the narrative of one of the most prominent Korean prostitution abolitionists at an event we both attended, where she spread pretty heavy anti-prostitution propaganda. One would expect that as long as AI hasn’t concluded its “research into this complex matter”, as they put it, they should instruct their staff not to throw Amnesty’s name around in support of, well, either side actually.

Maxine Doogan

The problem starts when people who are not sw think they have a say about us. I disagree that AIPB had any right to put forward an opinion in the first place. To continue to think that they do, is to agree with the flawed premiss that we’re public women, therefore, anyone can do anything to us at any time. With the result always being the same, bad policy regarding our lives.
And too, for the AI UK Branch, a pox on them for not having a policy in place that puts our voices first. They ought to HAVE a policy besides being indifferent because that’s what having no policy is. Indifference is a form of violence.

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