Open Letter: Consenting sex is not a crime!

“The freedom of two people to have sexual contact with each other has historically been denied to people of different races and classes, and to people of the same gender.  This freedom is still denied to people when payment is involved.  Why should two adults who want to have consensual sexual contact with each other in private not be able to do so?”Tim Barnett, former New Zealand MP.As LGBTQ sex workers and allies we are asking for support against proposals to further criminalise consenting sex.  They are discriminatory and a breach of human rights, and will further endanger the lives and safety of sex workers, our families and anyone we make contact with.

Gay sex was partially decriminalised in 1967 in England and Wales, 1980 in Scotland, and 1982 in N. Ireland.  While it is now fully decriminalised, the criminalisation of sex work has increased. Those promoting criminalisation include homophobic “evangelical Christians” which oppose gay marriage, any sex outside marriage, and abortion.

Proposals to criminalise sex workers’ clients have been put forward in a number of places: by a UK All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG); in the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill in the North of Ireland; in a number of other European countries including France; by the European Women’s Lobby which has made it a campaigning priority. They were recently defeated in Scotland and Ireland.  The notoriously anti-gay, Christian charity, CARE, and other fundamentalist religious groups promote these measures as part of their moralistic agenda (see evidence below).

While these proposals claim to target clients and traffickers (based on false claims about trafficking) sex workers will be the first affected.  Forced to work and live underground, denied protection by the police and courts, we face higher levels of violence and exploitation.  While rapists and other violent men are allowed to get away, non-violent clients – men, gay and straight, engaged in consensual casual sex for payment – are being targeted. We must stop this fundamentalist witch-hunt.

Sex workers are women (mostly), men (especially young men), and trans people who make a living by providing sexual services – a skilled but maligned job.  If we want to leave prostitution, there are few or no jobs to go to, or they pay too little to make ends meet, or we are blocked from them by our ‘criminal record’ or our immigration status.  With rising unemployment and benefit cuts, the number of sex workers is up and so is the number of women and men in jail for prostitution related offences.

Tim Barnett, a gay man and former New Zealand MP who sponsored the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act which decriminalised prostitution, described the discriminatory way in which the laws were used against LGBTQ people and people of colour: “Soliciting figures showed that half of those arrested were transgender sex workers who were identified as men, showing that the homophobia of the police was driving their enforcement of anti sex work laws.  Racism was also evident in that two-thirds of the women arrested were Maori and other people of colour.” In the UK, it was Maureen Colquhoun, the first openly lesbian MP, who proposed the decriminalisation of sex work back in 1979.[i]

We urge LGBTQ organisations to support the movement to throw off “the last significant vestige of Victorian moral law” by signing the pledge below and forwarding this information to your networks. We would be glad to work with you against the repressive proposals to criminalise clients.

Sincerely,

Niki Adams, English Collective of Prostitutes                        Joyce Saleh, Queer Strike
ecp@prostitutescollective.net queerstrike@queerstrike.net

We, the undersigned demand that prostitution – the consenting exchange of sexual services for money – is decriminalised.

Name                                                Email                                            Organisation if any

Evidence of homophobic religious groups promoting the criminalisation of sex workers’ clients:

  • The APPG has chosen as its secretariat the “cash-rich” charity CARE.
  • CARE campaigns ferociously against gay marriage and its director is on the board of the Coalition for Marriage.  It campaigned against the repeal of Section 28[ii], which banned the “promotion” of homosexuality in schools. In 2009, CARE sponsored a London conference which included sessions on “mentoring the sexually broken”.[iii] Co-organisers of that conference have hosted evangelical Christians who speak on “The Lepers Among Us: Homosexuality and the Life of the Church”.
  • CARE funds members of parliament by providing them with free interns.  After protest, a number of MPs severed links with CARE.  Ben Bradshaw MP described it as “a bunch of homophobic bigots” when it refused to provide him with an intern because he is openly gay.[iv]
  • CARE is sponsoring the N. Ireland Bill[v].  Lord Morrow, its proponent, is one of three Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) Lords.  The DUP has a long history of opposing LGBTQ rights.  In 1977, Ian Paisley, Lord Morrow’s close friend, launched the “Save Ulster From Sodomy” campaign to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality.  In 2007, Lord Morrow tabled an amendment to scrap laws banning businesses from discriminating against gay people.[vi]
  • Proposals to introduce laws to criminalise clients were defeated in Ireland and Scotland. In Ireland, those promoting the law included Ruhama – an NGO founded in 1989 by two Catholic organizations which for over 200 years ran the Magdalene Laundries, institutions where so-called “fallen women” were imprisoned, forced into slave labour, physically abused, their children stolen from them.[vii]

[i] Protection of Prostitutes Bill.

[ii] Onward Christian Lobbyists”, Guardian, 30 July ‘00

[iii] ’Gay Cure’ Christian Charity funded 20 MPs’ interns.”, Guardian, 13 April ‘12

[iv] “UK MP cuts ties to Christian gay ‘cure’ charity”, GayStar News, 16 March ‘12

[v] Prostitution proposal needs kicked to the kerb”, Belfast Telegraph, 16 Oct ‘12

[vi] Take a Bow Your Lordships”, Guardian, 10 Jan, 2007