Independent escort Laura Lee and the English Collective of Prostitutes respond to RadFemUK’s piece on the European Parliament’s vote in favour of adopting the Nordic Model, which criminalises the purchase of sex.
The English Collective of Prostitutes: Criminalising clients will not stop prostitution, nor will it stop the criminalisation of women. But it will make it more dangerous and stigmatising for sex workers.
Faced with no benefits, or only the lowest-waged jobs, many women sell sexual services. Are we less degraded when we have to skip meals, beg or stay with a violent partner to keep a roof over our heads? Those who rage against prostitution have no regard for mothers struggling to feed their families.
Proposals to increase criminalisation are led by an unholy alliance of feminist politicians and homophobic fundamentalist Christians. In the UK, the All-Party Parliamentary Group at the forefront of these proposals chose as its secretariat the homophobic charity CARE.
Claims that prostitution has reduced in Sweden are untrue.* Are women driven underground safer or better paid? Welfare has been cut so that “a quarter of single mothers in Sweden now live in poverty, compared to 10% seven years ago.”
Existing laws already criminalise those who coerce anyone into the sex industry. Why extend it to consenting sex? False claims about trafficking are used to justify these proposals. But trafficking law is primarily used to arrest and deport immigrant women; it has done little or nothing to protect victims of trafficking.
Considering that the police more often hound rather than protect sex workers, and their appalling record on investigating rape in general, why call for more police powers? Where was the feminist outrage when 250 police, under the guise of freeing trafficking victims, broke down doors in Soho, central London last December, and dragged handcuffed women in their underwear on to the streets?
New Zealand decriminalised in 2003 with verifiable improvements in sex workers safety Canada’s Supreme Court threw out the prostitution laws for violating women’s right to safety. Why are these examples being ignored?
The English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) is a network of women who work or have worked in different areas of the sex industry campaigning for decriminalisation and safety. The ECP provides daily support to sex workers on a range of issues including fighting legal cases which challenge discrimination and establish prostitute women’s right to protection against violence.
Contact them: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.prostitutescollective.net, 020 7482 2496.
*According to The National Board of Health and Welfare 2008: “It is… difficult to discern any clear trend of development: has the extent of prostitution increased or decreased? We cannot give any unambiguous answer to that question.”
The decision by the European Parliament to vote in favour of Mary Honeyball’s paper is a very dark day for human rights and the rights of those of us often shunted to one side: sex workers. Throughout the whole “consultation process”, Ms Honeyball did not listen to the voices of sex workers – surely crucial to a law which will affect our lives so dramatically.
At first glance, it’s hard to see how Ms Honeyball could have reached the conclusions she did, flying in the face of such noted advocates of decriminalisation as the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the World Health Organisation to name but two.
From the very beginning, Ms Honeyball refused to recognise that she was conflating prostitution and trafficking, two very separate entities. She claimed that “80% of sex workers are trafficked”, which is hugely erroneous and not helpful to any debate which must be based on hard evidence.
The 80% figure comes from The Big Brothel report, which has been widely debunked by many academics – not least because the method of data collection was, at best, haphazard. Telephoning various brothels to enquire as to the ethnicity of the ladies available is not proof of trafficking, and a distinction must be made between migrant sex workers and those who have been trafficked without their consent.
In a 2009 study, Dr Nic Mai surveyed 100 migrant sex workers and found that only 6% felt they had been “tricked or coerced” into the industry – a far cry from 80%. He went on to say: “The research evidence strongly suggests that current attempts to curb trafficking and exploitation by criminalising clients and closing down commercial sex establishments will not be effective because, as a result, the sex industry will be pushed further underground and people working in it will be further marginalised and vulnerable to exploitation.
“This would discourage both migrants and UK citizens working in the sex industry, as well as clients, from co-operating with the police and sex work support projects in the fight against actual cases of trafficking and exploitation.”
Amnesty International too have recognised that sex workers’ rights are human rights, saying that they “support the decriminalisation of prostitution on the basis that prohibition creates a criminal market that stigmatises and alienates sex workers.”
But aside from the evidence as cited above (and there’s lots more), Ms Honeyball made the massive error of only listening to those who would agree with her, not real sex workers on the front line.
As a sex worker with twenty years experience, I was told I am not representative of the industry. I responded by saying that I have worked in what can reasonably be described as a chicken coop right up to a five star suite, so to refer to me as being in some sort of ivory tower is wrong.
It’s also not helpful when an expert on real sex work (as opposed to the academia behind it) offers an insight and is immediately dismissed. “We know better than you,” is no basis for any law and what will result is the compromise of the safety of many sex workers. Our safety will be in danger until sex work is decriminalised and we can work together; that’s fact.
Rather, Ms Honeyball chose to listen to those who benefit from funding and book sales by their opposition to my choice to work in the sex industry – and it is a choice. The “survivors” used by abolitionists to strengthen their case can wheel out tale after tale of horror and destitution, if it pays them to do so.
I’m not suggesting for one moment that some women don’t have desperate backgrounds or circumstances which lead them into a job they despise, not at all. But they are the women who will suffer the most if the Swedish model is implemented. “We must legislate for the majority,” declared Ms Honeyball. That’s the crux of this debate: I AM the majority.
Laura Lee is an independent escort based in Glasgow with twenty years experience in the sex industry. She is a passionate sex workers’ rights advocate and campaigner and an award winning blogger. Mother of one, cat lover and terrible cook. Follow her: @GlasgaeLauraLee
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