Guardian: Letter supporting Jeremy Corbyn on decriminalisation

Decriminalisation and sex workers

Sex worker in London’s Soho
Sex worker in London’s Soho. ‘Considering that 75% of austerity cuts have hit women hardest, no wonder prostitution is increasing,’ writes Laura Watson. Photograph: Alamy

Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on sex work (Report, 6 March) is in line with Amnesty International’s view that decriminalisation is “the best way to defend sex workers’ human rights and lessen the risk of abuse and violations they face”.

We are currently fighting legal cases with women imprisoned for brothel-keeping for working in a flat with friends – obviously much safer than working alone; street workers where police illegally seized their ID and will only give it back if they show a ticket back to Romania; a woman fired from her public service job for working part-time in pornography to supplement her wages.

More than 80% of sex workers are women, the majority mothers. Considering that 75% of austerity cuts have hit women hardest, no wonder prostitution is increasing: up 60% in Doncaster, 166% in Sheffield (2014), while Hull charities report that women who are literally starving are “out there to feed themselves”.

If Labour wants an anti-prostitution strategy, wouldn’t getting behind Corbyn and John McDonnell’s determined opposition to austerity, benefit sanctions and zero-hour contracts be the most effective?
Laura Watson
English Collective of Prostitutes

Self-determination is a basic human right, often overlooked in the debate on decriminalising prostitution. Frequently, arguments centre on the “protection” of women, not their ability to live autonomous lives making responsible decisions. Legislators should listen to the voices of sex workers – for example the English Collective of Prostitutes.

Prostitution and soldiering are arguably the oldest professions. While doubts about their legitimacy are understandable, both provide a service that society appears to need. Yet one is heroised, the other vilified.

The health and welfare of sex workers is important, but the provision of sexual services should not be conflated with trafficking. That is a criminal issue.

Criminalising the buyers of sexual services does not remove social stigma from the service providers; the Swedish approach has shown no reduction in the supply or demand for sex work, and has rendered sex workers more, not less, vulnerable. A 2008 New Zealand government review established that, while decriminalisation neither endorses nor morally sanctions prostitution or its use, the 2003 Prostitution Reform Act had brought verifiable improvements in sex workers’ human rights, their protection from exploitation and abuse, and the promotion of their health and safety.
Dr Barbara Einhorn
Emeritus professor of gender studies, University of Sussex

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