At the Million Women Rise march against violence on Saturday 8 March, a woman who was going to speak about sex workers’ safety was dropped from the platform at the last minute.
Teresa MacKay from Ipswich Trades Council had been invited to address the rally in Trafalgar Square and had submitted in advance her speech about the compassionate response by local people to the tragic murders, the Reclaim the Night march she helped organise to protest the killings and the successful campaign by the Safety First (SF) Coalition which she is part of and which defeated recent repressive legislation against sex workers.
At the rally Ms Mackay was told that she could not speak. She says:
The Million Women Rise March and Rally’s theme on International Women’s Day was ‘End Male Violence Against Women’ and as sex workers, particularly street prostitutes, among the most vulnerable within our society, it was felt that this was an issue that needed to be addressed at the Rally. The fact that five young women were murdered at the end of 2006 in my town, Ipswich, had made it a very pertinent discussion for our Trades Union Council. I gladly accepted the invitation to speak because of the effect it had had on myself and the people of Ipswich, which was demonstrated by our very successful Reclaim the Streets March immediately after the murders. I still think it is a subject that is taboo which was demonstrated by the attitude of some of the organisers who would not allow me to speak at the Rally in Trafalgar Square.
In Ipswich the problem has not gone away. Just recently a sex worker was arrested after police had lifted the amnesty on Ipswich prostitutes. She has also been issued an eviction notice by the Council. This young woman is crying out for help with her drug addiction so that she can get off the streets. Instead of help she has been fined which means she will have to go back on the streets in order to pay the fine as well as get money for her drugs. What is the logic in that?
We need to have the debate on the way forward as well as making sure we are talking to the workers in the sex industry. Remember they are workers and have rights too. Prostitution and violence against women will continue whilst poverty and inequality in terms of power and wealth remain within our society breeding violence, abuse and economic and sexual exploitation. Some measures can make life less dangerous and harmful for women involved in prostitution but there will be no lasting solutions whilst poverty inequality and sexual exploitation continue to exist.
Judging by the supportive response of the vast majority of women on the march and passers-by to the banner leading the grassroots women’s contingent which read “Prosecute rapists and racists: not rape victims, asylum seekers, sex workers, children . . .” and the banner of the English Collective of Prostitute (ECP), Ms MacKay’s speech would have been warmly received. Full speech at: http://www.allwomencount.net/EWC%20Sex%20Workers/Teresa’sbannedspeech.htm.
When asked, the MWR Chair said that a decision had been taken by a few women that Ms MacKay should be removed from the speakers list because the MWR had not decided on their policy on prostitution. This is hard to believe since a speaker called for the closure of lap dancing clubs. In any case, why is it necessary to have a policy on prostitution to be concerned for the safety of sex workers? A woman in the MWR organising coalition complained that she had been excluded from the meeting where the decision to drop Ms MacKay was taken.
In Trafalgar Square, a group of women from the grassroots women’s contingent protested this censorship and were attacked. One woman was racially abused. Various accusations have circulated since but few address the central question of why Ms MacKay was banned from speaking.
Sex workers know best what is needed to ensure their safety and should be listened to, instead of others deciding on their behalf. All women are made more vulnerable when sex workers are denied support and their demands and struggle for protection and justice are excluded — when prostitute women aren’t safe, no woman is safe.
English Collective of Prostitutes Women Against Rape
I / we object that a woman trade unionist from Ipswich was prevented from speaking at the MWR march against violence because she was addressing sex workers’ safety.
Name / on behalf of Organisation (if appropriate)
Clare McKenzie, One25 Ltd, Bristol
Helen West, Students’ Union General Manager, Oxford Brookes University
Julia O’Connell Davidson, University of Nottingham
Laura Schwartz, Feminist Fightback
Maggie Ronayne, Global Women’s Strike Ireland, University of Galway, Ireland
Mary Partington, Left Women’s Network
Nik Peasgood (Ms), Chair, Leeds Domestic Violence Court Steering Group
Peter Saunders FRSA, Chief Executive, National Association for People Abused in Childhood
Rev Andrew Dotchin, Ipswich
Sister Eva Heymann
Sokari Ekine, www.blacklooks.org
Sue Johnson, Project Director, Prostitute Outreach Workers (POW) Nottingham
For more information please contact:
English Collective of Prostitutes
020 7482 2496
Women Against Rape
020 7482 2496