An open letter to MPs; PLEASE start listening to sex workers

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When I went along for my first meeting with an MP (Yvette Cooper) in 2015 I was so nervous. I had never met an MP before and I knew it was going to be difficult. I have always had little confidence in my oral skills (not in that way you pervert). You see my education was piss poor. And MPs, well they talk in a different way to me. I find it hard to deconstruct and pick out the point of their sentences. And debating…well I had never learnt the skill. You don’t learn debating in shit schools. You just need to be quick with your fists, or failing that a really quick sprinter. And so I have carried that lack of confidence throughout my life. And then I became…a care assistant, a cleaner, a sales assistant, a waitress, a factory worker. Finally when I became so sick of having no money I started hooking. And found that I mostly enjoyed it. I was finally being paid proper money for my labour. And my feet weren’t covered in blisters. My legs weren’t developing varicose veins. I no longer felt the need to jump in front of a train so I could just sleep. It gave me a feeling that I had never had in any of those minimum wage jobs. I was proud. I didn’t have to be poor any more. I had hope for the first time.

But I wasn’t engaged in any way politically. Never had been. My family had always been Labour until Tony Blair took over with his ‘we are all middle class’ agenda. Err no. Why don’t you try coming to Stoke? We were skinter than ever. So my family and many of their friends turned to the right. Then when I realised that the tories didn’t give a fuck about us either I was left…well, nowhere really. I didn’t vote. Fast forward a decade or so and I had been arrested for working in a brothel. For the first time I became aware of the injustice that surrounded sex workers. I honestly thought when the police raided that we (the women) would be okay but our male manager was fucked. I was wrong. And so I prepared a written statement to read out to Yvette Cooper of my experience of being given a criminal record for brothel keeping; although I had only ever made money out of my own vagina.

I met my good friend outside parliament before we went in. She had been a sex worker and an activist for years. It wasn’t just us meeting Yvette Cooper. Representatives from Ugly Mugs, Open Doors and the Terrence Higgins Trust were there as well. I had dressed in a smart dress (which had last been worn when I went to court). My friend nodded approvingly when she saw me and said it was good that my arms were on display to show no track marks or slit wrists. I laughed thinking she was joking…

I really liked Yvette. She was respectful and listened to me whilst making notes as I talked. The only negative was when she asked me if I believed having a criminal record affected me getting a job. But thinking about that question now it could have just been a genuine question to get my response on record. Which was YES! Having a criminal record stopped me from touring schools and care homes as an actor. It made me purely money motivated.

After the meeting I felt like we had achieved something. The NGOs had statistics and data that showed that criminalising in Sweden had made everything more dangerous for the sex workers over there. Women had been evicted, deposits had been kept by landlords and most horrifying women had lost custody of their children. And I had my story which showed that the current laws weren’t working either. So that meeting was in 2015.

My next meeting with MPs was when I went along with the ECP to the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission this year. Again I prepared a statement. As I had only found out about it the day before I was up until 4am writing it. But my experience this time was a million miles away from the meeting with Yvette Cooper. First they changed the time of the meeting. Then they overran whilst talking to the other side. We were left with a 30 minute window. The list of people there were as follows. MP Fiona Bruce. Luke de Pulford. Baroness Hodgson. MP Michael Tomlinson and David Burrows. I didn’t know anything about them before I went but I did my research afterwards. I thought Baroness Hodgson was respectful and Michael Tomlinson kindly ran around making sure we had water before we began. But the others…

Fiona Bruce has made clear that she is pro criminalisation. Which explains why she looked so disconnected while I was talking. She was in charge of the commission.

Luke de Pulford is in charge of the anti trafficking organisation Arise Foundation that is funded and co-founded by John Studzinski. A man so religious he has a chapel in his house. Make no mistake; this is not about harm reduction. This is about puritanical ideology. Luke de Pulford also openly tweets about being pro the nordic model. And is also Christian. As is David Burrows who was an MP but lost his seat in 2017. Though I kind of liked him. At least he smiled. But with a line up like this how was there ever any hope of them coming to a different conclusion. They decided that more research was needed. So they have enlisted the Centre for Gender and Violence Research at Bristol University to look into this further. Who are also openly pro criminalisation. My I wonder what THEIR research will conclude.

So it was interesting to see some of those same people in the House of Commons yesterday debating ‘tackling demand for commercial sexual exploitation’. As I walked in Luke de Pulford  recognised me and put his head down. Yes you should be ashamed. The MPs spoke about how we had all been so traumatised that we couldn’t be trusted to make the right decision. How we wore cheap clothes and had slit wrists. MP Gavin Shuker (another Christian) said that the exploited were the majority and the minority shouldn’t be able to overide them. Then when MP Victoria Atkins said sex worker MP Jess Phillips asked if the record could say prostitute as the words sex worker offended prostituted women. Then they all agreed that they were in the right and the meeting was adjourned. Outside my friends and I were talking about how the fuck we managed to stay quiet in there…when I noticed a small woman listening in. Kat Banyard. A fiction writer who wrote Pimp State. Who then congratulated Phillips when she came out.

So my feelings about this whole farce are as follows…

1)There is money in trafficking but not necessarily for the traffickers.

2)That some feminists are evil.

3)That you don’t have to be smart to become an MP.

And lastly

4) If we implement SESTA/FOSTA over here SEX WORKERS WILL DIE. If you pass criminalisation SEX WORKERS WILL DIE. There are a hell of a lot of other MPs. Can one of you please make a stand?

An open letter to MPs; PLEASE start listening to sex workers