A Closer Look: Amnesty International’s Policy on Decriminalizing Consensual Sex Work

As first discussed in May, global human rights organization Amnesty International has released a policy in response to the high rates of human rights abuses experienced globally by sex workers. Based on two years of in-depth research, the policy calls on states to decriminalize consensual sex work and recommends actions that will best protect human rights for all. The full report can be accessed here.

This bold policy statement is both timely and significant. Sex workers are at a high risk of human rights abuses around the world – including rape, violence, extortion, discrimination, and trafficking. Amnesty has concluded that states must take action to address harmful stereotypes that drive marginalization and exclusion, repeal and refocus existing laws that compromise human rights, and ensure that sex workers have equal access to justice, health care, and other public services, with equal protection under the law.

An important thread through this policy is Amnesty’s willingness to be transparent and public in its position. Kate D’Adamo, national policy advocate at the Sex Workers Project of the Urban Justice Center, noted that more organizations like Amnesty should speak out. “Taking a public stance is incredibly important,” she said. “If every country in the world became decriminalized tomorrow, that’s a step. But it also needs to be hand-in-hand with a larger conversation about how we talk about the sex trade.”

The policy also brings to the forefront the critical distinction – and ongoing debate – between legalization and decriminalization. Whereas legalization of sex work includes a government’s structure for licensing and regulation of the industry, leaving sex workers limited in where, when and how they work decriminalization simply removes all criminal penalties for sex workers and their consensual customers. Currently, New Zealand is the only country to implement decriminalization. Throughout the United States, in contrast,  criminalization of all parties is the norm. Amnesty does not necessarily oppose legalization, but instead advocates that governments must ensure that the system respects the human rights of sex workers and identifies examples of ongoing human rights abuses against sex workers within localities that have implemented legalization. Importantly, Amnesty clearly states that decriminalizing consensual sex work can and should include robust criminal penalties for sex trafficking.

Freedom Network USA Executive Director Jean Bruggeman adds that decriminalization frees up resources for people who need service, support and options. “By criminalizing the actions of sex workers, we make it harder for them to find other sources of income,” she said. “This also allocates money to the criminal justice system which could instead be providing sex workers and trafficking victims the services and support they need to expand their options for housing, employment and education.”

Freedom Network USA salutes Amnesty International’s policy and report release, and stands in support of the decriminalization of consensual sex work. Amnesty’s research across the globe reflects our experience with trafficking victims here in the US. We are committed to pursuing policy choices that provide everyone with a path to justice, safety, and opportunity.

To learn more, contact National Coordinator Melinda Smith at melinda@freedomnetworkusa.org.

FN submits feedback for 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report

Every January the Department of State requests feedback from stakeholders in the anti-trafficking field to prepare its annual Trafficking in Persons Report. As a coalition of direct-service providers, Freedom Network USA members are uniquely situated to advocate for policies that affects survivors directly. In preparation of the official report this summer, we are reviewing the tenants of the feedback we provided. Themes included

  • Increasing restitution and vacatur provisions within the law and policies
  • Gaps in the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act (JVTA)
  • Improving services for vulnerable populations
  • Misconceptions about human trafficking in the US
  • Increasing collaborations with law enforcement – including issuing contiunued presence

You can find the entire statement here – 2016 FN TIP Comments

Freedom Network USA supports Amnesty International’s call to Decriminalize Sex Work

Freedom Network USA released a statement today in support of Amnesty International’s recent call on states to develop policies to decriminalize consensual sex work. The Freedom Network USA believes that decriminalization would protect the rights and safety of all sex workers, including those being trafficked into the sex trade. Our statement can be accessed here.
“It is critical that we bring consensual sex workers out of the margins, providing the services, support, options and protection needed by all workers. It is only when consensual sex work is safe that victims of sex trafficking can be more quickly identified and supported,” stated Freedom Network USA’s Executive Director, Jean Bruggeman.

The policy recommendation is accompanied by data collected over a two year period from those working in the sex-trade, community organizations, victim service organizations and other stakeholders from various regions across the globe. You can read Amnesty International’s findings and find out more about their policy recommendations on their website.

Freedom Network USA releases Member Report

The Freedom Network USA released their 2016 Member Report earlier this month in conjunction the 14th Annual Freedom Network USA Conference in Chicago. The report documents services provided to human trafficking survivors across the United States by our organizational members from 2013-2014.


Members provided demographic information on the 2332 totCounty of Orignal approximate clients
served by their organizations during the two-year period. The report includes information on the age, country of origin, gender, and type of trafficking experienced by these survivors. Freedom Network USA members serve clients trafficked into all forms of labor, from all over the world, of every age and gender. Additionally, in comparison to our inaugural Member Report released in 2014, specific national data trends emerged highlighting who is reaching services, what types of services are most sought by clients, and what types of services are being delivered by member agencies.


As direct service providers, our expertise is derived from working directly with survivors on the ground. This gives us a unique perspective and opportunity to cite case examples of the real-life impacts that policy has survivors’ lives. This report highlights topics and trends that we see as gaps in service or identify critical issues that need to be addressed in the anti-trafficking movement. In most cases, these highlights in the report are accompanied by the story of a survivor that helps to ground our position in the lives of those we serve.

Sarah's storyWe hope the report contributes to the national understanding of the diversity of trafficking and the needs of survivors in the United States. We will continue to advocate for policies that are rights-based in order to meet the individualized needs of each of the survivors our members’ serve. The full report can be accessed here –Member Report



FN publishes Op-Ed on changes to guest worker program

FN Executive Director, Jean Bruggeman and Board Member, Dan Werner (SPLC) wrote an opinion piece that ran on The Hill’s website this week. They argue that Congress should reject the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act (S. 2225) rider to the 2016 federal spending bill. This legislation calls for changes to the H-2B program, including provisions that would triple the size of the program, reduce protections for workers, and decrease oversight of employers. The Freedom Network USA Education Fund rejects these changes that will undercut wages of U.S. workers and increase the risk of exploitation and trafficking of foreign guest workers and U.S. workers alike.

As Jean and Dan point out, “a bipartisan group of senators wants to expand this flawed program while reducing not only wages and regulatory oversight but also transparency and employer accountability for recruiting abuses. The legislation also would free employers to more easily hire foreign workers without first seeking U.S. workers to fill the same jobs.”

And some Senators agree. Last week a group of Senators submitted a letter to Senate leaders reiterating that the Democratic majority will not allow a spending bill to pass with harmful policy provisions attached. They pointed out that not these changes to the H-2B program are harmful, and instead call for comprehensive immigration reform.

Congress must act by December 11th to avoid a government shutdown. This rollback of worker protections should not be included in any omnibus or stop-gap measures. Call your Senators and Members of Congress today and tell them to say no to the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act.

You can read the full editorial here. Thank you to our allies and advocates working in the immigrant and worker rights’ movements that helped bring this issue to the forefront.






FN Submits Amicus Brief in Support of Trafficking Survivors

The Freedom Network with pro bono counsel Fredrikson & Byron, P.A., recently submitted an amicus brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in the Adhikari v. Kellog Brown & Root, Inc. (KBR) case. We urge the Court to overturn the district court’s previous decision to dismiss Adhikari’s claim and allow it to proceed to trial.

To read the brief – Adhikari Amicus Brief Fifth Circuit

*Special thanks to our pro bono partners, Fredrikson & Byron, P.A.

Food for Thought from FN Policy Co-Chair; Gonzalo Martinez de Vedia

Beyond the Chains: Tuning Into the Full Spectrum of Human Trafficking

A pair of shackled hands. A body branded with a bar code. A woman
behind bars. These are the images I have to walk audiences back from
at every training we lead through the Human Trafficking Program here
at the Worker Justice Center of New York. For as much as global
awareness campaigns have gained on the shock value of this imagery,
and as much as the sensationalism does to galvanize communities, it
has done more to misguide them into stereotypes, myths, and damaging

Although there do exist tragic instances when persons are abducted and
sold for sex, or chained and beaten for labor, click-bait media and
relevance-seeking initiatives have a tendency to over-represent such
scenarios. These “worst of the worst” stories may command attention in
the short term, but only at the long-term expense of desensitizing
audiences to the more nuanced and at times banal reality of the
average human trafficking case.

Chains are much more likely to be psychological than physical. Rather
than brutal violence, trafficked persons more often face a brutal lack
of options. If audiences were to look for real life examples of the
images that come up on a Google search for “human trafficking,” they
might stare off at a neighbor’s darkened basement window while a
trafficked domestic worker walks out the front door, smiles and waves,
undetected, unconsidered in their everydayness. Never mind if that
person’s documents are being withheld, a debt is lorded over them, or
their family is under threat. Those considerations are beyond a
tabloid imagination.

Thought leaders in the field of trafficking have a responsibility to
challenge caricatures of the “victim in distress” and broaden our
expectations of where trafficking may surface: among laborers who
bring harvests to supermarket shelves, or a migrant crew ending a
12-hour shift at the county fairgrounds, or with an out-of-school
child behind the neighborhood restaurant kitchen door.

The outreach team here at the Worker Justice Center of New York has
never needed special access or privileges to approach the spaces where
we know trafficking to take place. We walk up to rural trailer doors
and small town businesses with the same right as every neighbor and
customer. The crucial difference is that we are ready to ask difficult
questions about power and control, personal finances, manipulation and

We are also ready to find answers that may not stand out or shock: a
series of false promises, a deal gone bad, a fear instilled over many
years. Rather than break chains or knock down doors, our staff is
trained to tune into the fine print, follow our intuition, and prepare
for the long-haul. At its best, our team gets to offer perspective and
options to people for whom both have run dry. With more grounded
awareness and media messaging, that could become the everyday work of
whole communities.
Gonzalo is a Human Trafficking Specialist at Worker Justice Center of New York

FN Responds to National Johns Suppression Initiative

The Freedom Network (FN) released a response today to raise concerns about the National Johns Suppression Initiative.The two-month law enforcement led operation targeted individuals promoting or purchasing sexual services across the country, resulting in almost 1,000 arrests across 18 states. FN is concerned with the gaining popularity of such actions, as they increase safety concerns for victims and divert limited resources away from supporting survivors of all forms of human trafficking.

“Time should be spent investigating identified cases of trafficking and supporting victims trying to find support. The resources it takes to conduct these operations could be better spent, and it is victims of trafficking who are going to suffer from this misallocation.” – Jean Bruggeman, Freedom Network Director

The full release can be read here. For more information about our position on end-demand anti-trafficking efforts, please read our policy paper here.

The Freedom Network USA Welcomes Jean Bruggeman as Director, Strengthening the Coalition Combating Human Trafficking

The Freedom Network is pleased to introduce Jean Bruggeman as its first Director.

Ms. Bruggeman’s deep and multifaceted experience within the anti-trafficking field is an ideal match for the human rights-based coalition of legal and social service providers that comprises the Freedom Network.

Welcomed by Freedom Network Co-Chairs Amy Fleischauer, Kathleen Morris, and Daniel Werner, as well as Founder and Chair Emeritus Florrie Burke, Ms. Bruggeman brings over 15 years of survivor support experience, most recently as a Human Trafficking Fellow with the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) within the US Department of Justice (DOJ).

While at OVC, Ms. Bruggeman supported efforts to improve and expand access to legal and social services for crime victims, provided training and technical assistance to service providers and government agencies nationwide, and supported OVC’s intergovernmental efforts to improve services for survivors of human trafficking.

Ms. Bruggeman provided leadership in the development of the Federal Strategic Action Plan for Services to Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States, the first OVC Human Trafficking Survivor Forum, and the upcoming OVC video series “The Faces of Human Trafficking.

The plethora of professional experience Jean brings to the Freedom Network including in-depth analysis and evaluation of government programs, direct line legal and social services, and human rights-based advocacy will elevate the unique voice and perspective of the Freedom Network and its member organizations.

Amy Fleischauer, Freedom Network Co-Chair, and Director, Survivor Support Services, International Institute of Buffalo.

Freedom Network member organizations across the United States have expertise in working with various populations affected by and vulnerable to human trafficking, providing specialized legal, social, and advocacy services to survivors of all forms of human trafficking – including migrant farm workers, sexually exploited youth, those exploited within low-wage industries, sex workers, and others.

“Jean is a leader in the anti-trafficking movement. She is a visionary rooted in in-the-trenches direct work with trafficking survivors. We are incredibly fortunate to have her at the helm of the Freedom Network.”

Daniel Werner, Freedom Network Co-Chair and Senior Supervising Attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.

Ms. Bruggeman has developed comprehensive legal and social services programs for survivors, provided direct legal representation to survivors, authored training resources, and developed an interpreter services program to ensure access to legal services in the District of Columbia.

“Jean is able to look at all aspects of the human trafficking field and how it intersects with labor, migration, business, and human rights. Her experience in both the non-governmental and governmental sectors brings the knowledge we want in a leader.”

Florrie Burke, Founder and Chair Emeritus of the Freedom Network

The Freedom Network recognizes that human trafficking is fueled by complex and interconnected factors, including poverty and economic injustice, racism, gender-based discrimination, and political strife. At its core, the crime of trafficking is a violation of an individual’s basic human rights and personal freedom. Thus, the Freedom Network believes that a rights-based approach is fundamental to combating human trafficking and ensuring justice for trafficked persons.

“Jean’s experience directly serving survivors, managing and developing organizations, and working on anti-trafficking-in-persons initiatives at many levels make her uniquely qualified to lead the Freedom Network. Jean possesses a deep understanding of human rights and how human trafficking intersects with all forms of injustice — expertise which will be of great value to the Freedom Network’s mission and the anti-trafficking-in-persons field in the years to come.”

Kathleen Morris, Co-Chair and Program Manager, Washington Anti-Trafficking Response Network (WARN), International Rescue Committee in Seattle (IRC)

Additional details on the membership, services, and impact of the Freedom Network can be found in the 2014 Impact Report [PDF]


FN Response to Amnesty International’s Policy Decision on the Sex Industry

The Freedom Network released an official response today on Amnesty International’s recent policy decision to support decriminalization of the sex industry. FN commends Amnesty International for upholding the values of human rights, self-determination, and empowerment with this decision. Read the full response here.

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