For the first time sex workers from Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Sweden, Taiwan, Thailand as well as the UK will give direct evidence at a Symposium on decriminalisation of sex work in Parliament on 3 November.
They will be joined by prominent academics and representatives from a number of organisations who will present data and research on crucial issues such as: the safety and health of sex workers; the impact of policing and criminalisation; discriminatory implementation of the laws; the ability to leave prostitution; the impact of austerity on the numbers of people, especially women, going into prostitution; and the perceived connection between prostitution and trafficking.
The Symposium, organised by the English Collective of Prostitutes, was suggested by John McDonnell MP after an amendment to criminalise clients was defeated in the Commons last year. He reported then that he had received requests from MPs for well-referenced, easily accessible information on prostitution, especially on what measures could improve sex workers’ safety.
The event will take place in the aftermath of Amnesty International’s recent vote in support of decriminalising prostitution, and its call on governments to review the laws and provide resources in the form of “state benefits, education and training and/or alternative employment” to help sex workers leave prostitution if they want. This is particularly crucial at a time when so many people, particularly mothers and other women, are being pushed into sex work by austerity and extortionate rents.
Keynote speaker, Catherine Healy, is the founding member and co-ordinator of the New Zealand Prostitutes Collective, which spearheaded the coalition that won decriminalisation in NZ. She commented:
“I will be putting before UK parliamentarians the most up-to-date, comprehensive information which demonstrates the measurable improvements in sex workers health and safety since the Prostitution Reform Act decriminalised prostitution in 2003. Government reviews of the law have found that sex workers are more able to report violence and leave prostitution as convictions are cleared from their records.”
Laura Watson from the ECP said:
“Despite public opinion moving towards decriminalisation on grounds of safety, parliamentarians have been bombarded with misinformation, and pressured to follow the Sexköpslagen Swedish law which criminalised the buying of sex in 1999. We hope that MPs charged with the weighty responsibility of making laws, will want to hear evidence directly from sex workers, the experts on the ground, as well as from academics and other experts.”
The evidence presented to the Symposium will be published and lodged in the House of Commons for MPs to reference. It sets a standard of transparency that surpasses other parliamentary inquiries. The enquiry carried out by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Prostitution and the Global Sex Trade in 2014 recommended the criminalisation of clients but refused to publish the evidence on which their recommendation was apparently based.
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