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"What You Call Pimps, We Call Managers"

Julie Bindel photo
Julie BindelLONDON, UK
"What You Call Pimps, We Call Managers"
Julie Bindel scrutinises the relationship between Amnesty International and one of the largest escort agencies in the country, investigating the lobbying for the decriminalisation of sex work.

In June 2010, I, along with my friend and colleague Cath Elliott, interviewed Douglas Fox, who part runs one of the largest escort agencies in the country. Fox used to be a front for the International Union of Sex Workers, which included as members, pimps, sex buyers, and pro-sex industry academics. Fifteen years ago, Fox was arrested, along with his partner John Dockerty, for living off the earnings of prostitution.

In 1999 the couple set up Christony Companions (Chris being the alias for Douglas and Tony for John) in their hometown of Newcastle. They began the agency, according to Fox, when an escort friend asked Dockerty to make appointments for her, and, realising how much money could be made, decided to set up their own business.

But shortly afterwards, in 2000, both men were arrested following an undercover investigation by a local newspaper. A reporter posing as a would-be escort and fitted up with a concealed camera later provided enough evidence to take the men to trial. During the meeting with the reporter Dockerty asked her about her menstrual cycle so he could make a note of it in his diary. The men were later acquitted on a legal technicality – the escorts refused to appear as witnesses because they had been refused anonymity by the judge.

Fox was a member of his local branch of Amnesty International (AI), and lobbied the organisation to adopt a policy of total decriminalisation of pimping and brothel owning. Following pressure on AI to disinvite Fox from advising a so-called human rights organisation on prostitution, being as he is a pimp, Fox turned his attentions elsewhere.

However, Fox's efforts to convince AI to decriminalise the sex trade was not entirely in vain. Here is part of what Fox managed to contribute to its proposed policy on prostitution:

...As noted within Amnesty International’s policy on sexwork, the organization is opposed to criminalization of all activities related to the purchase and sale of sex. Sexual desire and activity are a fundamental human need. To criminalize those who are unable or unwilling to fulfil that need through more traditionally recognized means and thus purchase sex, may amount to a violation of the right to privacy and undermine the rights to free expression and health. 

Recently the issue has resurfaced. Last year, having been contacted by a whistleblower from within AI, I revealed that AI was secretly planning on adopting a pro-decriminalisation policy.

Mass lobbying from feminist abolitionists followed, and all was quiet until recently. Last month it was revealed that at its International Council Meeting to be held in Dublin, from 7-11 August 2015, AI will review an internal circular entitled "Draft Policy on Sex Work" and plans to vote on whether to call on governments to decriminalize pimping, brothel owning and prostitutors ("buyers of sex").

The abolitionists, who aim to shut down the international sex trade, will not stand for it.

Watch this space.

##bindel, ##prostitution, ##amnesty