AMNESTY International is a hugely respected organisation with an impressive track record of exposing and campaigning against torture and repression worldwide. Not for nothing does it have millions of members across the globe.

But sometimes even the best-intentioned movements get things spectacularly wrong. Amnesty recently decided to back the decriminalisation of prostitution. Had the charity confined itself to campaigning for the release of all prostituted people from jails, and the decriminalisation of them, I would have warmly applauded. It is an abomination that tens of thousands of women whose only crime is having been driven into selling their bodies to feed their children are incarcerated in prisons across the world.

Instead, along with many other women, including a large number of Amnesty’s own membership, I am left dismayed. Why? Because the charity is also calling for the decriminalisation of pimps, brothel keepers and the vast global industry whose profits are built from the exploitation of girls, women and young men mainly drawn from the depths of the extreme poor.

I want to see real alternatives to prostitution, backed by the United Nations and other global bodies, so that those ensnared within the industry have a visible and realistic route out of the twilight zone. But if we are to build a world in which all human beings are equal, those who demand to rent the orifices of other human beings and those who make themselves rich by degrading other human beings should not be legitimised.

Like many feminists, I believe that prostitution is both a symptom and a cause of gender inequality. Amnesty’s remedy is to remove all legal impediments to prostitution. But in the real world, this means legalising abuse.

Let’s be clear: serious physical and psychological maltreatment of prostituted women is not just practised by a few rogues. It is at the heart of the business. Trafficking is not just a regrettable excess by a few mavericks. It is woven into the fabric of the sex trade.

Because of its admirable work in other spheres, Amnesty’s stance on this issue will be influential. But its decision is based on listening to the views of a small minority of the millions of women worldwide who have been prostituted. For the overwhelming mass of those who work in this “industry”, prostitution is not a lifestyle choice. They don’t have the freedom to walk away.

Unfortunately, Amnesty seems to have ignored the testimonies of survivors who once wore those very arguments as a shield against the damage that years of brutal exploitation had inflicted upon them.

According to Julie Bindel, voices of women and feminists within Amnesty itself have been drowned out by mainly male voices who see it as a human right to have sex – even if the other human does not want the sex but needs the money.

It’s a similar story when gender-equalising measures such as all-female shortlists or 50-50 boards are proposed. Women who oppose them because they only want to be selected on “merit” are put up front as evidence that such strategies are unnecessary. Men claim they are being discriminated against when just one woman gets in their way – even though, as a group, they dominate every power structure in the world.

It’s claimed prostitution is the “oldest trade in the world” and it will “always be here” – so what’s the point of trying to ban it? But prostitution is ancient only because the inequality of women is ancient.

For millennia, humans have also assaulted each other, killed each other and stolen from each other – all crimes that no-one would suggest decriminalising. Today, rather than resigning ourselves to the brutality of the past, we should be trying to build a shining new civilisation.

Following decades of campaigning by feminists, domestic abuse is now regarded as a crime. But men can use this to blackmail women into silence so that they “don’t get the jail”. So should domestic abuse also be decriminalised to “bring it out in the open”?

The prostitution debate is about all women and all men, and how we can build equality and respect between us. The Women’s Support Project, based in Glasgow, conducted research into the attitudes of buyers of sex. Their justifications eerily resemble the justifications of men who assault women. In the words of the research, “Prostitution, like battering, is embraced by punters as an institution that functions to restore their domination of women”.

Wives and partners are blamed for failing to provide enough sex. The absolute right to sexual satisfaction drips from the punters’ own mouths: “Prostitution is there to sate men’s lust”. The inequality and disrespect in the “transaction’ is clear: “There will always be supply and demand.”

The casual ability to use a women’s body without seeing the human being is redolent in the quote: “I think there will always be guys that go to prostitutes ... guys that have steak at home still go out for burgers – because they can, it was there.”

Such attitudes pervade our society. We’re also bombarded with glamourised portrayals of “liberated” women in prostitution – like Billie Piper’s Belle de Jour in Secret Diary of a Call Girl.

The reality is as distant from that as we are from the planet Jupiter. Many women enter prostitution in desperation and/or under duress. Many have already been abused in childhood. A quarter of those studied in Glasgow began before they were eighteen. Many have addictions to sustain – especially as the punters mount up, and their bodies and minds have to disassociate from dry, unwanted sex 20 to 40 times a day.

It’s estimated that a girl who enters prostitution at 14 (and many do) will have had sex with 8,000 men by the time she is old enough to vote. She might try to cope in the way this woman did: “I would actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and with my feelings until he got off me and it was over with. I don’t know how else to explain it except it felt like rape. It was rape to me.”

For all the liberals out there who argue prostitution is just another contractual freedom, how do you feel being the defender of the man on top?