Metro: Why the Parliamentary Group on Prostitution is wrong to suggest criminalising the buying of sex
Another day, another flurry of media and morality where the world is convinced sex trafficking is around every corner. This time it’s courtesy of a group of self appointed MPs who make up the ‘All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade’. Spoilers – none of them are, or ever have been, actual sex workers. (As far as I know.)
A recent report with the deliberately morose title of ‘Behind Closed Doors’ recommends implementing the ‘Nordic model’ into law. This would ban the buying of sex, rather than criminalising the sex workers themselves. It doesn’t work. It never has.
We can see the stigma the Nordic model causes in the report itself, as they are outraged at several instances of sexual services being advertised online.
This is because advertising your services online is a hell of a lot safer than doing it on the street.
We use internet sites to screen clients and work independently – away from traffickers, pimps and anyone else who would stand to profit from sex workers.
They also seem to be upset at ‘pop-up brothels’ – flats and houses which will be rented by sex workers in order to work together to remain safe.
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but surely having them working indoors – again – is a lot safer than working on the street? I cannot help but feel this is all just common sense…
The Nordic model was recently implemented in Northern Ireland and France, who have both seen a rise in violence towards sex workers since the laws came into effect in 2017.
National Ugly Mugs, a charity who works with both sex workers and police to help victims of abuse in prostitution saw the instances of violent crime towards sex workers increase dramatically.
They have said that ‘Sex workers in the Republic of Ireland have reported 54% more crime to UglyMugs.ie in the year 27 Mar 2017 – 26 March 2018 (compared to the previous year).
‘Violent crime specifically is up 77%.’
Allies of the Nordic model insist it won’t criminalise sex workers themselves, only it does. It increases the stigma, forces prostitution further underground, and means we cannot use things which keep us safe when working, including condoms.
A report from Amnesty International which interviewed sex workers in Norway showed that the stigma they faced from such laws meant they felt less safe, increasingly susceptible to violent attacks, and were unable to report abuse to the police.
Sex workers need to be allowed to work together and keep each other safe (Picture: Ella Byworth for Metro.co.uk)
The APPG makes several mentions of police ‘encountering’ women in brothels. There’s lots of talk about where they’re from (mainly Eastern Europe) but don’t actually say they have been trafficked.
It’s this conflation of sex trafficking and sex work where the problem lies. Just because someone is from another country, it doesn’t mean they have been trafficked against their will.
Metro spoke to Cari Mitchell, spokeswoman for the English Collective of Prostitutes, about this conflation and the danger it puts sex workers in. ‘
The latest and most reliable research shows that around 6% of women say they are being forced to work in the sex industry,’ Cari says. ‘
Obviously if it’s anybody it’s serous, but it’s a very low figure.
‘What anybody who is being forced needs to be able to do is to come forward and report it to the authorities without fear or risk to themselves or deportation if they are immigrant.’
‘Sex workers know that if they come forward and report to the police it’s more likely that they will be prosecuted themselves for prostitution offences or the place they are working in will be closed down. ‘
That really prevents women from coming forward to the authorities – the fear of arrest and the fear of deportation.’
Reports like these pop up every couple of years, usually made so they specifically reach the conclusion that we should criminalise buyers.
In fact what mainly comes across in the report is a load of instances where the police have barged in, tried to ‘rescue’ women, and have been very surprised when their offers to take them to a ‘place of safety’ (deportation centre) were turned down.
The report says ‘In 2018 a representative of the inquiry accompanied police on a safeguarding visit to a brothel in Cambridgeshire. ‘
None of the women in the brothel disclosed information concerning the involvement of an organised crime group and declined help or assistance from the police.’
What also comes across is how no-one is actually talking to a sex worker, or any sex worker initiatives such as The English Collective of Prostitutes. ‘
We submitted evidence to them ourselves and they have totally disregarded it, as well as many sex workers in our network,’ Cari says. ‘
They’re disregarding evidence from sex workers who are clearly saying that criminalisation makes it more dangerous. The evidence from Sweden, Norway, Ireland and France is overwhelming.’
If MPs really want to curb prostitution and decrease trafficking, they need to work with sex workers and look towards what is causing the rise in prostitution: benefit sanctions, zero-hour contracts, unfair rent, etc. This report bears no relation to what sex workers need in order to keep themselves safe, or anything that will help victims of trafficking and abuse.
What they need to do is pay attention to the thorough report made by the home affairs select committee in 2016.
Cari summarises some of that report’s findings, which The English Collective of Prostitutes supports. ’On the basis of sex worker safety, there should be decriminalisation on the street and the law should be changed so that women can work indoors together for safety [it is currently illegal for more than one person to work from a premises], and that criminal records and convictions [for sex work] should be expunged so that people can leave prostitution and can get another job.
‘[The report] also made a clear distinction between prostitution which is consensual sex and prostitution which is forced.
‘They said there was a clear distinction and that the Nordic model of law was based on morals, which was not the basis for laws in this country.’
Laws should not be based on morality. If you agree, feel free to contact your local MP and tell them.
The APPG were contacted for comment, but have so far not responded.