Amnesty International’s lack of concern for the fact the poor and minorities are targeted for prostitution has been particularly disturbing. Especially disturbing regarding Native American and Canadian First Nations’ women, whose rights were focused on during AI’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.
In her Aug. 12, 2015 blog post, An Open Letter to Amnesty International, The Tuff Muff, an Assiniboine woman, points out the contradiction of AI Canada’s 2004 No More Stolen Sisters report and their subsequent campaign for the Canadian government to take action on the (as of 2012, according to their current online petition) 1,017 missing Indigenous women in Canada and their new policy decriminalizing johns and pimps:
You see, I admire the commitment Amnesty International once had for fighting against oppression towards my indigenous sisters. You fought hard for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada. You brought this issue to the attention of people around the world. Though your efforts have been largely ignored by the Canadian federal government, they have not gone unnoticed by indigenous women, such as myself, in Canada. However, I am shocked at your recent policy calling for the decriminalization of johns and pimps. I feel dismayed at your willingness to promote men’s right to buy, sell and profit from women’s exploitation. Prostitution in Canada largely affects indigenous women; a reality you so readily acknowledged in your report, Stolen Sisters. Poverty, addiction, homelessness, inter-generational violence and mental illness leave women exceptionally vulnerable to pimps and johns but you knew this already, didn’t you? Why, I ask, promote an industry that exists off the backs of the most impoverished women? Why choose to stand behind those who profit from the human rights violations that occur in prostitution?
She goes on to point out the racism, classism and sexism of the policy and the intersectionality (something AI claims to value these days) between those oppressions:
In Stolen Sisters, you pointed out that previous physical or sexual trauma pushes young indigenous people into prostitution. As a front-line anti-violence worker, I am well aware of the profound harm incest and childhood sexual abuse can have on women in prostitution. When the statistics tell us that 84% of prostituted women in Canada have experienced incest or childhood sexual abuse, the connection between the two is crystal clear. Why are you so blind to this reality?
Prostitution is classist, racist and sexist. You’re familiar with those concepts, right? When an institution such as prostitution disproportionally targets poor women of colour, the intersectionality between these oppressions is obvious. With your new policy, however, you’ve decided to side with the rich, mostly white, men of the world who buy and sell women.
In her article in January 14, 2015 The Globe and Mail , Real change for aboriginal women begins with the end of prostitution, Cherry Smiley, from the Native Women’s Association of Canada praises their Canada’s new prostitution law for the decision to “to criminalize johns, pimps, and third-party advertising for sexual services, and to decriminalize prostituted women in most circumstances,” also providing some “investments in support and exiting services.”
She goes on to point out that:
Some opponents have claimed this new legislation reproduces colonial state violence against aboriginal women and girls by increasing police power. What this analysis fails to recognize is that prostitution is not a traditional activity for aboriginal women and, in fact, is “the world’s oldest oppression.” It is a system, like Canada’s residential school system, that has been imposed on our aboriginal communities. Prostitution is part of the continuum of colonial male violence against aboriginal women and girls, telling us incorrectly that we are disposable in life and that predators can harm us without recourse. The end point of that continuum is the thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, an ongoing massacre that continues to tell us that we are disposable, even in death, with no official inquiry or accountability.
Smiley further points out how indigenous women are especially funneled into prostitution by inequalities and notes that: “In the same ways that those who came before us were funnelled into the residential school system ‘for our own good,’ the attempts to now funnel us into the system of prostitution, and to support the rights of pimps and johns, is also being incorrectly portrayed as being for our own benefit and protection.”
Ironically, AIUSA made those connections between racism and colonialism regarding Native American women in prostitution in a November 2, 2011 blog post New Report on Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, in the aftermath of their 2007 Maze of Injustice report on sexual violence against Native American women, making the same kind of points that fall on deaf ears now with AIUSA leadership.
Citing The Garden of Truth, by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education, “the first study detailing the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in Minnesota:
The research team interviewed 105 women to assess the life circumstances that led them to prostitution. The study found about half of the women met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking which involves third-party control over the prostituting person by pimps or traffickers.
Chronic poverty, rape, homelessness, childhood abuse, and racism – elements of the trafficking of women – were clear themes in respondents’ answers. Among the report’s findings:
62% saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, and explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people.
One woman stated, “When a man looks at a prostitute and a Native woman, he looks at them the same: ‘dirty’.”
52% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of interview, a rate that is in the range of PTSD among combat veterans. Moreover, 71% presented symptoms of dissociation.
92% wanted to escape prostitution.
How did Amnesty International get from their previous Stop Violence Against Women campaign to their current decision decriminalizing pimps and johns?
While AI will deny it (even while AIUSA Board members lunched with SWOP at the Western Regional, and posted a picture on Twitter), it’s hard not to wonder about the memo from British Escort Agency owner Douglas Fox talking about going against AI’s SVAW team in the UK and urging sex worker allies to lobby AI.
Letters from survivors to Amnesty International have just been published in CANCER inCYTES, “a public health e-magazine that discusses the healthcare needs of disadvantaged populations. We educate the public about the link between childhood trauma, cancer, and social injustice.”