In a report published in March in the UK, MPs and peers argued that women working as prostitutes should no longer be criminalized, while their clients and pimps should be. In other words, buying sex would become illegal, but selling sex would no longer be a criminal offence. Mary Honeyball MEP is one of the primary advocates for this move. She joined Melissa Gira Grant, author of Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work, on Channel 4 News for a heated debate over the merits of what is commonly referred to as the ‘Nordic model’.
Grant is in firm opposition to this approach of criminalizing sex work, arguing that in Sweden, where it has been in law since 1999:
“There are reports of sex workers facing increased violence on the streets… [and] it still puts sex workers in an adversarial relationship with the police. As long as their work is considered criminal, it can’t actually be considered real work. I think the bottom line for me is: sex workers aren’t supporting these proposals that are currently in front of the UK, or those in front of the European Parliament – in fact they stand quite opposed to these measures.”
The English Collective of Prostitutes spokeswoman Niki Adams told Channel 4 News: “Criminalizing clients will not stop prostitution. It will not stop the criminalization of sex workers, but it will make it much more dangerous and will stigmatize sex workers.”
Grant writes in her book about the media’s prurient obsession with the behaviour of sex workers – something that distracts from discussing the work of sex work. Our narrative around sex work needs to shift and focus on the rights of sex workers and legislating around sex work. For this reason Melissa refuses to discuss her own experiences in sex work – believing them not to be relevant to the wider debate. Despite this, the presenter persistently pushed Melissa on talking about her personal experience – even though she was clear that she would “not be discussing my sex work experience, but my book and decade’s work as a writer and journalist who reports on sex work policy and the politics of labor.” As she explains in Playing the Whore:
“Maintaining this kind of selective silence about myself is only a temporary, and ultimately insufficient, means of resistance. It’s a tactic until the time comes, or is made to come, when I can share my story in legal and economic conditions more favorable to me and to others who still do sex work. While we wait, and also because it’s just as important, I want to shift your gaze from sex workers to the fantasies of prostitution that occupy and obsess those who seek to abolish, control, or profit from sex work.”
You can watch the discussion here.
Watch Channel 4’s report on sex work and the Soho sex raids here:
Playing the Whore: The Work of Sex Work by Melissa Gira Grant is now available to buy.
You can listen to her speak at events in Brighton, Bristol, London, Edinburgh and Glasgow from 26th March – 3rd April – full details here.