Kathleen Barry Demands Feminist Human Rights Treaty on Abolishing Prostitution

Leslie Carol Botha: One in eight men has bought sex.  3,000,000 girls are ‘owned’ by someone else.  FBI believes between 100,000 to 300,000 girls are sex trafficked annually in the U.S. alone.  This is another vile front on the War against Women. It is high time for the U.N. to make ending prostitution a priority.

Abolishing Prostitution: A Feminist Human Rights Treaty

Women’s Media Center
By Kathleen Barry | August 28, 2012

The author, long active in global human rights, argues that the time is ripe for a UN treaty to bolster ongoing efforts to end prostitution.

Recently, catching up on email after a few days of hiking in the wilderness, my heart leapt at a headline “French minister seeks abolition of prostitution in France and Europe.”  She is Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister of women’s rights. The new French campaign to abolish prostitution will have its naysayers:  “Impossible!”  “too idealistic,” “so utopian it will never happen!”  And, of course, those who promote the sex industries will insist that “sex is work and women’s choice.”  I heard those refrains in 1991 when, as executive director and co-founder of the UN Human Rights NGO, the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, I began to launch a global campaign to criminalize prostitution customers, otherwise known as johns or punters.

France and every country in the process of changing their laws to abolish prostitution has solid ground for its campaign. Feminist activism in Sweden resulted in a law, taking force in 1999, that prohibits the purchase of sexual services, which, as part of the Swedish Violence Against Women Act, recognizes the harm of prostitution to women. According to Gunilla Eckberg, Swedish lawyer and chief advocate of new law, “The offense comprises all forms of sexual services, whether they are purchased on the street, in brothels, in so-called massage parlors, from escort services, or in other similar circumstances.”

Criminalizing customers only works if women in prostitution are provided shelter, support services, and job training.  By 2008, prostitution had been halved in Sweden and 71 percent of Swedes favor the law and more prostituted women are seeking support services.  The same year, in November, 2008, Norway criminalized sex purchasing, as did Iceland in April, 2009.  In 2012 the law has come before the Knesset in Israel, and in several more countries campaigns to abolish prostitution are under way.

In the United States prostitution is illegal, except for 11 counties in Nevada where it is legalized. Some state laws punish the act of prostitution, others criminalize soliciting prostitution, arranging for prostitution, and operating a house of prostitution.  In actuality, the women selling are usually the only ones arrested. But in May, 2012, New York City witnessed multiple arrests of johns when the Manhattan District Attorneys Office applied new state sex trafficking laws to customers who pay prostitutes for sex—an offense that can carry a sentence of up to one year in jail.

In 1992, Normal Hotaling, a victim of prostitution, developed a unique, feminist approach to U.S. laws that treat the victims of prostitutions as criminals.  She founded SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation) in San Francisco, which helped step up the arrests of customers by offering a program for them for a first time offense.  They have the choice of taking the criminal sentence or attending a School for Johns directed and taught by prostitution survivors.  A second offense reinstates the fine and sentencing of the first offense  Over the 12 years that the program has been operating, only 4 to 5 percent of customers are rearrested.  The women arrested are referred to SAGE for supportive services.  If they go back to prostitution, they can return to SAGE at anytime.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.