(CNN)— During the AMWHO conference, important news broke through: 169 people were arrested because of human trafficking. Though this is a great triumph, it comes not even close to how many people are actually involved. The AMRO region had the opportunity to discuss this and try to come to a consensus on how to reduce human trafficking and how to work towards getting rid of it altogether. They took the opportunity to talk about this, but the results of discussion were very disappointing. There was so much potential, yet these countries, once again, fell victim to stigma and “following” the social rules.
In short, there was the option to legalize prostitution in order to help decrease rates of human trafficking. Legalizing prostitution can help decrease rates of human trafficking by, first, allowing sex workers to stop being seen as criminals. People who want to use their bodies to make money will not have to be stigmatized so much anymore. Furthermore, legalizing prostitution will actually protect people in this industry. This is because the illegal prostitution is often dangerous for the many vulnerable women involved. They are often taken against their will and horribly taken advantage of. Not only is their will broken, but they are physically abused in many ways. By legalizing prostitution, there will be specific guideline and there will be rules to protect the employees. Instead of women being trafficked into this work, women who actually want to do this will be empowered to do so. The Delegate of Guatemala pointed out the the legalization of prostitution in Guatemala actually helped the economy and helped to decrease human sex trafficking. However, the Delegates of the United States and Brazil, along with a few others, were unfortunately unable to break through stigma.
They tried an objective approach at first: The Delegate of Brazil tried to point out that prostitution is legal in Brazil, but human sex trafficking rates are still higher than ever. Thus, legalizing prostitution is ineffective. However, this is a very inaccurate and dangerous way to look at this information. Yes, prostitution is legal in Brazil. However, it is still illegal to operate a brothel or employ sex workers. Thus, there are no guidelines and still no laws to protect the workers. They can still be taken advantage of, since there is no company they can work for. When prostitution is legalized, it is crucial to make sure that the workers will have rights and benefits. One cannot simply legalize one aspect, leave the workers to fend for themselves, then try to point out how ineffective it is; not every aspect was taken into consideration.
Finally, the Delegate of the United States brought up the real reason they were against the legalization: cultural norms. The Delegate of the United States, along with a few others, argued that this would never be accepted, that they shouldn’t go against people’s beliefs, since so much of the United States is quite conservative and religious. However, hasn’t every major step toward equality been against social norms? At the time, abolishing slavery was against the social and economical norms of more than half of the United States. However, is it okay to keep slavery legal, and allow a certain group of people to suffer, just because of social norms? When gay marriage was legalized, it went against a countless amount of conservatives in the United States. However, is it okay to oppress this group of people to keep others happy and to follow the social norms? And finally, was this conference not about breaking stigma around sexual and reproductive health in the first place? If legalizing prostitution can help people earn a living, be empowered, and not be trafficked, then why should the stigma keep them from achieving this. I want to end with this: many countries in this region, especially the Delegates of the United States and Brazil, better take a long, hard look at their country’s history of following cultural norms and of puppet politicians too scared to help people and risk angering others due to nothing but stigma. Every step forward was because of breaking through stigma, and every step back was due to taking the safe, unethical way out.