Lena Dunham, Kate Winslet Face Off With Amnesty International Over Sex-Trade Debate

Smallz + Raskind
Lena Dunham

They join a chorus of stars opposing a proposal that calls for the decriminalization of prostitution.

In the past, celebrities like Jon Stewart, Madonna and Kristen Wiig have not hesitated to back Amnesty International, one of the most influential human rights watchdog groups. But the London-based organization's cozy alignment with Hollywood has begun to fray over a controversial new proposal that argues for the decriminalization of the sex trade.

Lena Dunham, Kate WinsletMeryl Streep and Anne Hathaway are among a group of industry heavyweights voicing opposition to Amnesty's "Draft Policy on Sex Work," which posits that all "consensual sexual conduct between adults — which excludes acts that involve coercion, deception, threats, or violence — is entitled to protection from state interference." 

The report — scheduled to be presented next month at an Amnesty meeting in Dublin, Ireland — argues that the ongoing criminalization of the sex trade leads only to more "harassment and violence, including ill-treatment [of sex workers] at the hands of police."

Examples are cited to bolster the case: In Los Angeles, mere possession of condoms by suspected sex workers is grounds for arrest. In New York City, acts of violence committed against them are seldomly reported to police. In Papua New Guinea, workers at a brothel were viciously beaten and then publicly humiliated, paraded down the streets by local law enforcement.

The proposal offers no official position on state regulation of the sex industry, and stresses that the policy shift in no way conflicts with Amnesty's "longstanding position that trafficking into forced prostitution should be criminalized as a matter of international law" and that "states must take all appropriate measures to prevent [the] exploitation of children."

But a letter addressed to the leaders of Amnesty International — and signed by 400 individuals and organizations — begs to differ. 

"The signatories below represent a wide breadth of national and international human rights advocates, women's rights organizations, faith-based and secular organizations and concerned individuals," the letter reads. "[We are] deeply troubled by Amnesty’s proposal to adopt a policy that calls for the decriminalization of pimps, brothel owners and buyers of sex — the pillars of a $99 billion global sex industry."

The letter goes on to list the many ways in which the sex trade preys upon society's most vulnerable ("the poor, the incested, the transgendered, the homeless"), and maintains that any sanctioning by the state could lead to "a system of gender apartheid ... [in which women] whose lives are shaped by absence of choice are ... set apart for consumption by men and for the profit of their pimps, traffickers and brothel owners."

Among its many celebrity signatories are Emily Blunt, Allison Williams, Emma Thompson, Lisa Kudrow, Chris Cooper, Marcia Gay Harden, Kevin Kline, Angela Bassett, Christine Baranski and Leila Ali.

Contacted by phone, a spokesman for Amnesty International tells The Hollywood Reporter that "sex workers are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations. This is an important issue that provokes a wide range of responses. We are still in the process of consultation and no decisions have been made."