Guardian: Letter response to the Guardian view on criminal policy

April 11, 2016

Pros and cons of work in the sex industry


I was at our women’s centre reading the Guardian editorial (8 April) when I took a call from a woman charged with brothel-keeping for working with a friend. I asked her how she got into prostitution. “A man came round to cut off the gas and I had to ask if he could wait until I had heated my baby’s food. He was kind and offered to say I wasn’t in so he couldn’t cut my gas. I started after that.”

It is a tragedy that our lives are stolen by poverty and that few of us can make “positive” choices about the work we do. Many of us go into sex work after our benefits were cut and we tried other jobs – cleaning, caring, nursing – and couldn’t make ends meet. In many countries, women are escaping the garment, food processing and other highly exploitative industries. Those who target the sex industry as uniquely degrading say nothing about the degradation mothers suffer seeing their children go without food, warmth or shoes, or being imprisoned or deported after a police raid.

Your editorial admits that decriminalisation could protect sex workers from exploitation and violence, yet comes out against it. Its moral crusade not to leave “the sex industry intact” sacrifices sex workers as collateral damage. A “properly funded programme to help sex workers into more secure jobs” may be useful. But why only sex workers and not all those who need and are entitled to a living wage? And why should we suffer criminalisation to get it? The woman who called faces seven years in prison if found guilty. The gas man had better understanding and compassion than the Guardian.
Laura Watson
English Collective of Prostitutes

In your leader you assert that the social and economic circumstances in which a woman sees sex work as the best option is an “environment of coercion”. I choose sex work because I enjoy it, I am good at it, and it pays well. How many people have jobs like that? I am not coerced, and I feel much safer than I would in a range of other jobs. I strongly resent your misogynistic suggestion that I should be helped into a more secure job on “moral” grounds. I pay tax on my earnings, and do not have any tax-avoiding offshore funds. Perhaps the poor dears who have those are coerced into it by social and environmental circumstances, and need “help”.
Name and address supplied

Your editorial on France’s criminalisation of buying sex concludes with a fallacy: is it not the case that in all work of the low-paid, soul-destroying, physically taxing kind, there is “an inherently exploitative dimension”? Do workers in grotty jobs, on the minimum wage, on zero-hours contracts, not choose to work “out of desperation”? What is the difference? Millions of low-paid workers are exploited. You might also have reflected on the fact that prohibition never works; it merely fosters criminality and drives the behaviour underground. Can we not be a little more enlightened and arrange for the sex industry to be legal, well-regulated and safe for the workers who choose to earn a living this way?
Gerald Burnett