5 Sep 2011

'Why should I be condemned by society and left unprotected just because I wish to work with my genitals rather than my hands or my brain?'

The Morning Star have been debating prostitution, much as I love the Star I agree with this letter to the paper that challenges them for not actually asking sex workers for their views.

So here is a contribution to the debate from a friend who is a former sex worker, I think it is extremely interesting, let me know what you think.  Very pleased to blog, less pleased that the Star did not run it or similar articles, with editorial decisions sometimes a piece doesn't work for a paper but its essential that voices are heard.

Dear Sirs,

Thank you for raising the debate on sex work. This is an important and oft neglected issue. As an ex sex-worker I would like, however to respond to your commentators. It is sad to see that equality appears to be important for everyone, except for sex-workers in the minds of some current activists.

Unfortunately, Fiona Mc Taggart’s piece is opinion dressed up as fact. McTaggart is incorrect when she quotes the ‘Swedish Model’ as having been a success on any indices you care to measure. She also states that in countries where prostitution is legal or tolerated, that there is still a high rate of violence, death and exploitation of prostitutes, but fails to back up this assertion with any evidence or comparable data showing the violence, death and exploitation of non-prostitute women. It is clear that McTaggart views prostitution, which is merely sex in exchange for money, in and of itself, an issue. She states the need to recognise that prostitution as it is practiced involves violence. This is an unsupported piece of propaganda which seeks to encourage patronisation and infantalisation of the many sex-workers who voluntarily choose to earn their living through sex work.

Anna van Heeswijk states that prostitution is not a job like any other, but why should it not be? Why should I be condemned by society and left unprotected just because I wish to work with my genitals rather than my hands or my brain? They are my genitals and I should be free to choose to do whatever I wish with them. There is a serious problem in society of negative attitudes towards sexual women, whether they charge for sex or not. Women as chattels may not be written in the legislature any longer, but we are still not free to own our own sexuality. The recent slut walks were a reminder that women are still judged as somehow deserving of attack if they fail to conform to the sugar-and-spice-and-all-things-nice straight jacket imposed by some men and so-called feminists alike.

Heather Harvey’s patronising claim that campaigning for decriminalisation is somehow campaigning for legitimacy for pimps and exploiters is offensive to all sex-workers who campaign for recognition and improvement in their working lives. Expanding her argument would mean that no-one should argue for stronger unions because it just legitimises corporate bosses. This is absurd in relation to all workers. We deserve as much respect as any other worker and we deserve the same protections. What right do middle-class, asexual, affluent women have to tell the rest of womankind how they should earn their money and what they should or shouldn’t do with their bodies?

Sex is a natural drive. People have sex for myriad reasons. The inclusion of money into that process does not make the process suddenly evil, anti-feminist or wrong. Every sentient adult has a right to do what they wish with their own bodies and consenting adults should not be interfered with by the state or moral crusaders such as the misogynistic feminists in your piece.

The problems that surround prostitution have nothing to do with the actual act of having sex for money. They have everything to do with moralistic law makers interfering with the actions of consenting adults.

Violence and exploitation from clients/customers/patients/bosses etc is an occupational hazard in many spheres of life e.g. corner shops, domestic work, cockle picking, bomb disposal, social work, emergency care, police work, the army etc but no-one thinks that these areas of work should be banned or suppressed because of the increased risk of violence or exploitation. Instead measures are put in place to minimise the risk of violence or exploitation to the people working in those areas and attacks upon such workers are fully supported by the judicial system. Violence towards sex-workers does not receive the same level of support, in fact the contrary is often the case, especially where women are working together, as they can be charged with brothel keeping and sent to prison if they approach the police for help.

Another issue relevant to the problems faced by sex-workers who suffer violence, is the anti-trafficking legislation which has been used as an excuse to raid brothels where foreign national women are working and remove them from the UK. This legislation is not being used primarily to ‘save’ women from trafficking, it is being used as a way to garner support for extensive crackdowns on brothels. It also means that many foreign national sex-workers cannot report violent attacks, abuse or coercion as they are not granted amnesty against removal unless they can provide evidence of forcible trafficking and testify in court against a named trafficker. This is not the case in most instances, so after the raids many of the sex-workers are removed from the UK.

Despite having raided thousands of brothels across the UK, the number of sex-workers who have been forced into prostitution was non-existent in 2009 but continued to be pushed as a major problem. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/oct/20/government-trafficking-enquiry-fails

This legislation actually encourages non-reporting of violence and coercion as the sex-workers who are victims are often sacred of being removed if they report attacks upon them to the police.

McTaggart also advocates criminalisation of clients. The ‘Swedish model’ of controlling prostitution which has been in operation since 1999 contrary to claims, is not unique or radical and cannot be considered to be a success on any measurable indices.

Clients interviewed in research projects by the Prostitution Knowledge Center in Malmö and RFSL, the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights, express a similar sentiment: the ban does not affect their behavior. And people who sell sex express the same conclusion:

the ban does not deter their clients. Even the official evaluation, that on one hand claims that the law deters clients, refers to “many police” who believe that the punishment clients risks is not particularly discouraging.

Further, the United States of America has been criminalising clients for decades and shows hugely negative results for the safety of sex-workers. If a client is likely to be arrested, initial meetings with sex-workers will be hasty and give little time for the sex-workers to assess danger. If a client is likely to be criminalised and there is an argument with the sex-worker, the client is more likely to become violent than risk being arrested. This is already the case in America. We do not want this in the UK.

If people such as McTaggart et al, genuinely wish to prevent sex-workers from suffering violence at work, they would support ending the laws which criminalise clients or make it illegal for women to work together and end the use of anti-trafficking legislation as a cover to do massive sweeps of brothels without prior evidence of coercion. They need to put away their push for moralistic legislation, stop telling us what is good for us and listen to the sex-workers for a change.


[1] The Swedish Sex Purchase Act: Claimed Success and Documented Effects, By Susanne Dodillet and Petra Östergren, Conference paper presented at the International Workshop: Decriminalizing Prostitution and Beyond: Practical Experiences and Challenges. The Hague, March 3 and 4, 2011

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