Sex work a hot topic at Amnesty meeting

THE legality of prostitution was hotly debated at the Amnesty International national annual general meeting earlier this month.

Amnesty International Bendigo branch members attended the meeting, which was held at Victoria's Parliament House on Sunday July 6, after a Human Rights' Forum on the Saturday.

Bendigo member David Hooke said the idea of legalising prostitution was a divisive issue.

"It was very interesting to see how heated it got," he said of the topic.

"There was universal agreement that prostitutes shouldn't be criminals but there were mixed opinions about customers and brothel owners.

"What we'd like to emphasise is the human rights angle - we don't want people to be exploited.

"We did have a number of prostitutes there to give their opinions."

Mr Hooke said the Bendigo branch had no official stance regarding the legalisation of prostitution and the three Bendigo representatives mostly listened to others discuss their views on the issue.

The topic was debated after the global headquarters of Amnesty International called for the decriminalisation of sex work in a paper released in January.

"The criminalisation of voluntary sex between adults, whether for direct monetary gain or otherwise, threatens the rights to health, non-discrimination, equality, privacy and security of person," the paper states.

But Mr Hooke said the delegation of 16 members who voted on behalf of their respective states - which did not include any Bendigo members - decided they "weren't happy" with the international secretariat's stance on prostitution. 

Mr Hooke said the plight of refugees and asylum seekers was also discussed at length. 

The delegates decided that greater international co-operation was needed to determine refugee policies, he said.

"Rather than Australia simply shutting the door and keeping people out we should be taking a leading role internationally through the United Nations," Mr Hooke said.

Prostitution is legal in Victoria but outlawed in many parts of the world.

The Bendigo Amnesty International branch meets on the third Monday of every month.

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