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Hollywood Actresses Oppose Amnesty International Sex Worker Vote; Sex Workers and Their Supporters Tell Them Kindly to STFU

"I urge Ms. Dunham to reconsider her support of this petition, and to listen to the voices of sex workers." - Molly Crabapple

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Later this month, Amnesty International will be taking a vote on a new policy regarding sex work. They will be deciding whether or not to support the decriminalization of the sex trade—which is very different from legalizing it, bee-tee-dubs. A bunch of Hollywood actresses, including Lena Dunham, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, and Kate Winslet, have signed a petition opposing this change in AI’s policy, conflating decriminalization of sex work with legalizing human trafficking or pimping, seemingly not realizing that making something a criminal activity also allows for violence against the most vulnerable, not only from the people buying sex, but from law enforcement itself. However, sex workers and their supporters are speaking out, and one of their most fervent supporters is artist Molly Crabapple.

Check out this video Crabapple made to clarify the ways in which criminalizing sex work is harmful, and not at all the solution to the problem of coerced sex trafficking:

Meanwhile, decriminalization means removing legal bans on sex work—meaning that neither a person willingly selling sex, nor the person buying it, would be treated like a criminal. “Legalizing” would mean that state regulation would be imposed on sex work. Those are two very different discussions and goals. And yet, the signers of the above-mentioned petition are acting under the misguided belief that keeping sex work illegal will stop all the problems that these primarily female and primarily of color sex workers face. But if it did, wouldn’t those problems be over already?

Recently, Lena Dunham’s reps approached Crabapple to work on a new web project of Dunham’s. However, Crabapple declined because of Dunham’s stance on the potential AI policy change. Crabapple ended up writing an open letter to Dunham and her people on her Tumblr:

Dear Lenny,

Thank you for getting in touch and the kind words on my work.

However, I can’t be involved in any project helmed by Lena Dunham as long as she supports that petition condemning Amnesty International’s decriminalization of sex work.

Many of my closest friends are sex workers. The roots of my own activism lie in sex worker activism, and when I was young I worked in a legal branch of the sex industry. Amnesty International’s support of decriminalization is a hopeful, vital thing. Whether we’re speaking of the Bronx or of Cambodia, police enact violence on sex workers and trafficking victims alike. They rape, steal from, beat, extort, and arrest both sex workers and trafficking victims.

Decriminalization is an important step to stopping this.

Undoubtedly, Ms. Dunham believes the petition she signed only calls for the criminalization of clients and managers, not workers. However, this model, called the Swedish Model. is far from benign. It thwarts any attempts by sex workers to control their own working conditions. It leads to stigma, impoverishment, sex workers being evicted from their homes, and sex workers charged with “pimping” when they choose to work together for security. Most importantly, it involves often corrupt, violent police in the lives of women they have a history of enacting violence upon.

This article by Molly Smith for the New Republic does a great job explaining the problems with the Swedish model. Ms. Smith is a sex worker in her own right, as well as an activist and writer.

Many famous, renowned actresses signed the anti-Amnesty petition. However, Ms. Dunham is more than an actress. She’s a proud, prominent young feminist. Indeed, to many people, she is one of feminism’s most visible faces. Yet she is taking a political stand that harms and endangers other women around the world.

I urge Ms. Dunham to reconsider her support of this petition, and to listen to the voices of sex workers. Unfortunately, as long as she supports the anti-Amnesty petition, I won’t be able to work on any projects with her.

Best,
Molly

As is the case with every marginalized group, sex workers are not a monolith, and there are indeed former sex workers who support and have signed the petition. However, it is unclear as to whether those sex workers were forced into the sex trade or not, and there are willing workers in all branches of the sex trade who oppose sex work being treated like a crime.

I hope that when Amnesty International has its vote, that they vote to fight for the decriminalization of sex work everywhere, while also doubling down on their fight against human trafficking and coerced sex work. Sex workers are people, and they—just like every other human being on the planet—deserve respect and the right to design their lives the way they see fit without having to fear violence or a criminal record that will follow them until the day they die, because we have hang-ups as to when it is or isn’t OK for a woman to have sex of her own free will.

I also hope that Dunham reconsiders her stance, as I’d love to see what feministy, artsy goodness she and Crabapple could cook up together.

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